But it also has holes to fill across the roster. The good news is that Washington is projected to have more than $38 million in salary cap space — the fifth most in the NFL — based on a cap projection of $180.5 million, according to Over the Cap. It also has eight draft picks, with an extra third-rounder it received in the Trent Williams trade last year.
The bad news? Many of the spots that need help are premium positions, and it won’t be long before Washington has to pay big money to keep its talented defensive line intact. Here are Washington’s most glaring needs outside of quarterback this offseason.
A No. 2 wide receiver
Terry McLaurin topped 1,000 receiving yards, had the fifth-most yards after the catch (478) among starting wideouts and accounted for 21 percent of Washington’s yards from scrimmage last year. And he did it while starting alongside four different “No. 2” wide receivers who had little experience, leaving him vulnerable to double teams and bracket coverages.
Kelvin Harmon (ACL) is expected to be healthy in time for training camp, and Washington found potential in Cam Sims and Isaiah Wright. But they alone won’t suffice. Washington made a competitive offer to Amari Cooper last offseason, so it could look to spend big again and sign Chicago’s Allen Robinson, Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin or Detroit’s Kenny Golladay — if any actually make it to free agency and aren’t franchise-tagged or re-signed by their respective teams.
Another impending free agent to watch is Curtis Samuel, who was drafted in the second round by the Carolina Panthers in 2017, when Rivera was their head coach, Marty Hurney was their general manager and Scott Turner was their quarterbacks coach. With his ability to be used in multiple ways, including as a runner, Samuel has the type of versatility that Rivera has valued with Washington.
“With Samuel, you’re probably looking at the $9 million-$10 million a year range,” Over the Cap founder Jason Fitzgerald said. “He’s probably looked at like a ‘No. 2-plus’ wide receiver, a little bit of a gadget guy. With Robinson, you’re talking probably close to $20 million a year. Robinson, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay — those guys are all going to be like $17 million, $18 million, $19 million, $20 million players.”
More tight ends
In signing him as a free agent last offseason, Washington believed Logan Thomas, a former quarterback, could be a productive tight end in Turner’s system, which relies heavily on the position. The team was right. Thomas was one of the most productive in the league in his first full season at the position. But behind him, Washington received little offensive production from Jeremy Sprinkle, who is more of a blocking tight end and will be a free agent in March, and Marcus Baugh and Temarrick Hemingway.
Tight ends can be costly in free agency, but Washington could be among the teams interested in Hunter Henry if he isn’t tagged or re-signed by the Los Angeles Chargers. Tennessee’s Jonnu Smith has been productive in recent seasons and could become an unrestricted free agent. The draft class has some notable talent, led by Florida’s Kyle Pitts and Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, and Miami’s Brevin Jordan has the type of versatility that could intrigue Washington.
A new deal for Scherff
Washington wants to keep starting right guard Brandon Scherff on a long-term deal, but it still could use the franchise tag on him for a second time, if only to buy more time for negotiations. The deadline to designate franchise players is March 9, but teams and players have until July 15 to try to reach long-term deals instead.
Scherff will get paid handsomely one way or the other. On a long-term deal, the floor is probably $15 million in average annual value. The second franchise tag would be costly for Washington, at $18 million for next season.
“If you want to ensure he’s around for another year, yes, but when you do that, you’re setting the negotiations at something which is way above the guard market because there’s not even a $15 million-per-year guard, and if you tag me for $18 million, I’m using that as, ‘Hey, that’s what we should be talking about as a long-term deal,’ ” former agent and current CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry said.
While $15 million is a hefty price to pay for a guard, it would solidify the right side of Washington’s line through at least 2022; center Chase Roullier just signed a new four-year contract, and right tackle Morgan Moses has two years remaining on his deal. And replacing a player such as Scherff — who fits the mold of player Rivera is searching for in his cultural rebuild — will be difficult.
The rest of Washington’s patchwork line surprisingly held up last season, but its left tackle job remains unsettled. Cornelius Lucas finished the year at the position while Geron Christian Sr. recovered from an injury. Saahdiq Charles, who is recovering from knee surgery, could be an option at left tackle, but in his two snaps last season, he played guard. With few options under the age of 30 in free agency, Washington could look to the draft for help at tackle.
Washington is still stacked on the defensive line, even with the likely exit of Ryan Kerrigan. But the second level was a problem last year. Rivera was publicly critical of the inside linebackers early last season, especially against the run, although he did note their improvement as the season went on.
But Kevin Pierre-Louis will be a free agent, Thomas Davis Sr. is retired, and Shaun Dion Hamilton is gone. Jon Bostic has a year left on his contract, but the team would save close to $2.7 million if it cut or traded him, leaving Cole Holcomb as the centerpiece of the group.
Washington needs an upgrade at the position but also depth. One potential option in free agency is Matt Milano, the former safety who converted to linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. Corry says the average pay for a player such as Milano is $12 million-$14 million a year. Washington — unlike Buffalo — has the cap space to make it happen, but it could turn to the draft for help.
Washington’s most expensive free agent last year proved to be one of its most valuable. Kendall Fuller’s versatility and experience bolstered a group that featured many young and relatively inexperienced players, and stabilizing the group around him is paramount.
Ronald Darby, who signed a one-year contract with Washington last season, received praise from Rivera at season’s end, and the team could look to re-sign him on a longer-term deal. Doing so could come at a steep cost; Corry believes Darby would want close to $10 million a year, similar to what Bradley Roby received from Houston last year.
“And the other thing is this really isn't a good year for cornerbacks in free agency,” Fitzgerald said. “It's guys like William Jackson and Desmond King, a lot of uncertainty. They might not see an easy path to replace him.”
Washington also could use a reliable slot corner, a position that has become an unofficial starting job in the NFL because teams play the majority of their defensive snaps in subpackages. Jimmy Moreland was used most in the slot last year, with mixed results. Fabian Moreau dabbled in the slot late in the year, but he will be a free agent.