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Washington Football Team signs versatile, speedy wide receiver Curtis Samuel

Last December, Curtis Samuel had a long second quarter run to set up a Carolina touchdown during a victory over Washington in Week 16. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Football Team gave its wide receiving corps a much-needed boost Wednesday by agreeing to terms with versatile speedster Curtis Samuel on a three-year, $34.5 million deal, including $23 million guaranteed, according to a social-media post by Athletes First, the agency representing Samuel.

Samuel, 24, is familiar with many in Washington’s organization. He played for the Carolina Panthers from 2017 to 2020, and his skill set could help unlock offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s vertical attack. His elite speed (4.31 in the 40) will pair with top wideout Terry McLaurin’s (4.35) to stretch the field and stress defenses — and new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is not shy about aggressive throws downfield.

The addition was welcome news to McLaurin. Not only will he probably see less double and bracket coverage from defenses, but the move reunites him with an old friend. McLaurin and Samuel were members of Ohio State’s 2014 recruiting class, and though Samuel left in 2017, two years earlier than McLaurin, the pair remained in contact. They swapped jerseys after a Washington win over Carolina in 2019.

“We really talked about this in the dorms freshman year,” McLaurin wrote on Twitter shortly after the signing.

Beyond speed, Samuel brings the positional flexibility this coaching staff prizes. He has lined up everywhere — outside, in the slot, in the backfield — and his 330 rushing yards and 16 missed tackles forced on runs since 2019 are the most among wide receivers, according to Pro Football Focus.

The addition of Samuel puts Turner one step closer to his goal of having five versatile skill players on the field at once. The team began building toward that last season by signing all-around running back J.D. McKissic, developing former wide receiver Antonio Gibson as a running back and using McLaurin in the backfield on a handful of snaps. Turner now can use presnap motion and different personnel looks to more effectively exploit holes in defenses, though the team could also use another pass-catching tight end to complement Logan Thomas.

“Another Weapon,” Gibson wrote on Twitter in reaction to the addition of Samuel, adding flame and 100 emoji.

“Yessir bro bro,” defensive end and fellow Ohio State alum Chase Young added on Instagram.

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Samuel could spend more time in the slot than anywhere else. Washington received little production from the position last season while Samuel posted career bests in receptions (77) and receiving yards (851) while lining up in the slot 60 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. But he also has familiarity on the outside; in 2019, when Turner and his father, Norv, were with the Panthers, Samuel lined up in the slot only 31 percent of the time.

Wherever the team uses him, Samuel offers explosiveness as a gadget the offense lacked last season. The team’s passing yards (216.6) and points per game (20.9) were among the lowest in the NFL. Coach Ron Rivera even acknowledged his wide receivers’ limitations early last year, saying the offense probably wouldn’t look how the coaches wanted it to until 2021.

By next season, the wide receiver group will have undergone a modest makeover. New position coach Drew Terrell replaced Jim Hostler, who was promoted to senior offensive assistant, and the team will have Samuel as well as Kelvin Harmon, who is expected to return after missing last season with a torn ACL. Those two should be complemented by a group that includes McLaurin, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Steven Sims Jr., Isaiah Wright and Cam Sims, a restricted free agent the team tendered Tuesday. In late December, Rivera praised the progress of the young group.

“[The development] has been very pleasing just because of the fact that we were concerned [earlier in the year], obviously, because this was a very young group. A very young group,” he said. “They’ve done nothing but get better.”

Beyond the field, this helps position Washington for April’s draft. The team has four picks in the first three rounds and can focus on other positions of need, such as linebacker, quarterback, tight end or offensive line. Washington also could look to add those positions — or cornerback depth or a free safety — as free agency goes on.

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