The Washington Commanders’ first session of organized team activities that was open to reporters was more notable for its absences than its participants. The most significant absentee was wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who is apparently unhappy with contract negotiations and has escalated his holdout by not attending workouts in Ashburn, including a rainy one Tuesday morning.
“We’ve had communications with [McLaurin and his agent],” said Coach Ron Rivera, declining to get into specifics. “We’ve been working with them. It’s just a matter of time.”
The three other absent players — defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat and wide receiver Cam Sims — had extenuating circumstances. Rivera said Sims was attending the birth of his child, Sweat had a “personal thing” and Young, who has been rehabbing the torn ACL in his right knee in Colorado for a significant portion of the offseason, was following a plan recommended to him by doctors.
Rivera said he expects Sweat and Sims to return soon and for Young to join his teammates before the end of voluntary OTAs on June 8. Washington has mandatory veteran minicamp scheduled for June 16 to 18.
Also, defensive tackle Daron Payne did not participate in team drills, seemingly because of his unresolved contract situation, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
A few players, including running back Antonio Gibson, said it felt odd to be on the field without McLaurin. The 26-year-old has been one of the franchise’s most reliable players since he arrived in 2019, as well as, by all accounts, a model teammate.
Negotiations have, in a small way, already begun affecting the team. Washington’s first-round draft pick, Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson, said he hasn’t had the chance to speak with McLaurin. Washington wants to avoid missing any offseason practice time — defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio recently blamed that for the unit’s slow start last year — especially with new quarterback Carson Wentz.
But defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who was negotiating a new contract last offseason, said he understood McLaurin’s decision. Last spring, amid frustrating negotiations, he sat out a week of OTAs, eventually signing a new contract just before training camp.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Everyone says, ‘Don’t take it personal,’ but your whole life is about to change, so it’s a very personal experience. And I see it from both sides — the organizational side and the player side. I’m always going to side with the player because I’m a player. But I’m sure they’re going to handle it the right way. Terry’s a guy that you want to build a team around. He represents everything we want to build here, so I’m confident we’ll get something done.”
Wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who was roommates with McLaurin at Ohio State and still refers to him as a brother, said he has spoken with McLaurin but wanted to keep those conversations private.
“[The contract is] just something he got to take care of,” he said. “I’m looking forward to whenever he comes back, and I’m wishing the best for him.”
Payne, a 2018 first-round pick, attended Tuesday’s workout and participated in stretches with his teammates but later went to the side field. It’s plausible that, as he enters the final year of his contract, he opted to not take part in on-field team work to lower his risk of injury while workouts remain voluntary.
Payne rejoined the team in meetings afterward, people with knowledge of his situation said, and he participated in weight room workouts throughout the first two phases of the offseason program.
This season, Payne, who turns 25 this week, is slated to play on a fifth-year option that comes with a fully guaranteed $8.529 million salary. He is in line to be an unrestricted free agent in March. His future in Washington became precarious when the team re-signed fellow tackle Allen to a four-year deal last summer.
Possible stadium target in Loudoun
The Commanders are negotiating an option-to-purchase agreement at Waterside, a planned development of shops and offices in Loudoun County, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person also confirmed a Washington Business Journal report that the franchise made a previous offer to acquire Waterside, which is now Loudoun Quarries, but that it was rejected by Chantilly Crushed Stone, owner of the quarry.
Washington recently struck a similar agreement with Woodbridge in Prince William County.
Rivera’s stadium wish list
Rivera said his only involvement in the stadium search has been to champion what he would like in a new facility. He listed the team’s extensive needs, including office space, meeting rooms, an equipment room, a training room, a weight room and a locker room.
“Room. Lots of room,” he said of his primary focus. “Seriously, because you run out of it very quickly. … We’ve got to make it adequate for our players.”
Rivera was asked whether he thought putting a stadium in Virginia would alienate parts of the fan base.
“If we go out and play hard and play good football and win some games, I don’t think it matters where we are, as long as we’re in the DMV,” he said. “We’ll be able to get our fan base back. And again, we’ve got to do our part.”
Allen, who grew up in Northern Virginia and attended Stone Bridge High in Ashburn, said he would “love” a stadium in the area.
“I hope I’m here when the stadium is finished,” he added.
Wentz takes the field
The six-year veteran threw his first passes in a Commanders practice jersey Tuesday. He looked poised despite the rain, and several teammates, including Samuel, said they noticed his presence and arm strength.
Near the end of practice, depth cornerback Corn Elder made a leaping interception over the middle — unofficially the first pick of Wentz’s career in Washington. Top cornerback William Jackson III grinned and joked that the defense enjoyed welcoming Wentz.
“That was very important,” he said. “That was a tone-setter right there.”
No joint practice
The Commanders will not hold joint practices this preseason, Rivera said. The Commanders’ preseason schedule — vs. Carolina, at Kansas City, at Baltimore — will be their whole program. Washington’s deal to host training camp in Richmond expired last year, which means it may spend the entire preseason in Ashburn.