Coach Ron Rivera’s third offseason at the helm of the Washington Football Team will be all about the search for a franchise quarterback. Rivera talked about pursuing one last year, too, and the team did make a run at Matthew Stafford before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. But this year he seems willing to be even more aggressive.
The other big difference this year is that the front office is already in place. Rivera’s handpicked unit, headlined by General Manager Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney, the team’s executive vice president of football and player personnel, has substantial resources to fortify a roster that was more talented last season but didn’t produce up to expectations.
Here’s what to know as Washington prepares for a busy offseason:
Salary cap situation
The NFL’s salary cap is expected to increase 14 percent this offseason, to $208.2 million per team. According to contracts website OverTheCap.com, Washington is projected to have roughly $44.6 million in cap space and could find more with some veteran cuts and contract restructures. In other words, Rivera has plenty of room to remake the roster.
It’s worth noting that while the cap is the most frequently used measure for offseason moves, it’s not the primary one for teams. The cap can easily be manipulated with the structure of contracts. Ultimately, cash rules all.
Notable free agents
Unrestricted: RG Brandon Scherff, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB J.D. McKissic, LB Jon Bostic, S Bobby McCain, OT Cornelius Lucas, WR Adam Humphries, WR Cam Sims, WR DeAndre Carter, DT Tim Settle, CB Danny Johnson, CB Darryl Roberts, C Tyler Larsen, TE Ricky Seals-Jones, ST Troy Apke, LB David Mayo, LB Jared Norris, CB Torry McTyer, RB Jonathan Williams, DE Nate Orchard
Restricted: QB Kyle Allen, QB Garrett Gilbert, K Joey Slye
Exclusive rights: C Keith Ismael, K Brian Johnson, DL Daniel Wise, DL Bunmi Rotimi
Washington has the 11th pick in the first round and all of its own picks except for its fifth-rounder — which it traded to Philadelphia last year for sixth- and seventh-rounders. The team used those to select long snapper Camaron Cheeseman and defensive end William Bradley-King.
While Rivera insisted that the team is leaving all options on the table to find a franchise quarterback, it seems likeliest Washington would find one via trade or the draft.
If it trades for a veteran, the price figures to be high. Last January, the Rams outbid Washington for Stafford — in part because Rivera balked at trading multiple early-round picks and a veteran player. This year, Rivera said he would be more willing to give up valuable assets, though Mayhew added that the team will remain “selectively aggressive.”
Veteran quarterbacks who could be on the move include Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Houston’s Deshaun Watson, Las Vegas’s Derek Carr and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.
If the team chooses to target the draft as a means of acquiring a quarterback, it could find itself in a tough spot. The draft lacks a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback prospect, according to many analysts, but if Washington does identify one it wants to take, it might not be able to sit back at the 11th pick and risk another team selecting him first. Trading up within the first round could be just as costly as trading for a veteran. Last year, one month before the draft, San Francisco traded the No. 12 pick and first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 to Miami for the third selection.
Mississippi’s Matt Corral, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Liberty’s Malik Willis are considered the five best quarterbacks in this year’s class.
Other positional needs
Middle linebacker: Washington thought it solved this problem when it drafted Jamin Davis in the first round last year. But Davis struggled to adapt to the “Mike” position as a rookie, and Rivera said after the season that he’s better suited to play outside, along with Cole Holcomb. Bostic is poised to hit free agency, and other veteran options on the open market are slim.
Guard: Scherff could be on the move unless he and Washington can agree on a long-term contract, and filling his spot wouldn’t be easy. Wes Schweitzer showed promise in filling in for him for four games last season, but Rivera didn’t crown him a potential starter when asked late in the season. The draft might be Washington’s best option.
Wide receiver: Washington is hopeful Curtis Samuel returns fully healthy to complement Terry McLaurin next season, and the team has had early discussions with DeAndre Carter’s agent about a new deal. But it needs more depth. Humphries and Sims are free agents, and Dyami Brown was a non-factor his rookie season.
Safety: McCain will be a free agent if the team doesn’t re-sign him, and Landon Collins’s future is uncertain.
Veteran contracts to monitor
Brandon Scherff, right guard: Washington franchise-tagged Scherff for two consecutive seasons, inflating his salary to more than $18 million in 2021. Keeping him on a third tag would put him into quarterback range ($21.6 million), a wholly unfeasible number for a guard. Signing him to a new contract will be costly, too, considering he has averaged $16.5 million the past two years.
Landon Collins, safety: Collins has three years remaining on his deal with cap charges of $16.2 million, $17.2 million and $15.2 million. But his salary isn’t guaranteed, so if Washington were to cut him, it would save $6.6 million in cap space this year. Collins played well for Washington after he shifted to a hybrid role with the majority of his snaps in the box. He has said he likes the role but still views himself as a safety. The team could propose revising his contract, but Collins would have to be open to taking less to stay.
Ereck Flowers, left guard: The veteran returned to Washington in a trade with Miami last season and proved to be a valuable piece of its offensive line. But he has one year left, and it comes with a $10 million cap charge, a high price when Washington also needs many other pieces. If it wanted to keep him but lower his cap hit, he would have to take a pay cut for 2022. But the team also could extend him another year or two to keep the left side of the line intact.
Montez Sweat, defensive end: The deadline for his fifth-year option is May 3. If Washington exercises the option, the projected salary of $10.5 million for 2023 is guaranteed immediately. If it declines, Sweat will be a free agent after this season.
Terry McLaurin, wide receiver: He’s eligible for a new deal, but rarely do teams re-sign draft picks before the start of their fourth season. McLaurin has developed into a franchise cornerstone, and Rivera has said, “Terry is somebody that we most certainly do want to make sure we get something worked out going forward.” But the most plausible time would be near the end of the 2022 season, just as Washington did with Chase Roullier in 2020 and Charles Leno Jr. earlier this month.