Let’s get a head start on the 2022 offseason planning
The 2021 season was a struggle for the Washington Football Team, and regardless of the outcome of this week’s final game against the Giants, it would have to be considered an unsuccessful year. The Football Team will finish with 6 or 7 wins, in 3rd place in the division, and out of the playoffs.
Ron Rivera has raised the expectations for his third year in Washington:
I know expectations will be high. I know people will say well it’s your third season. This is what happens in the third season. And again, I get it.
At the end of the day, we have some holes that we want to fill. We have some players we wanna make sure these are the right kind of guys that are gonna be out on the football field. That’s all part of the process that I believe in.
I didn’t come here thinking that it’s gonna be an easy turnaround [and that] those first two years were gonna be great. I think we out did the expectations our first year. I thought coming into the second year, I said to you guys, that there’s certain things that I was still concerned with.
Now going in the third year, I’d like to believe that we’ve taken some big steps. There are some things that we wanna do in free agency, some things we wanna do in the draft I think that can help us. We’ll see. We’ll see where everything falls into place.
Because of Ron Rivera’s practice in his first two season of signing most veteran free agents to short-term contracts, the 2022 Red Commandos have only 36 players under contract after re-signing left tackle Charles Leno this week.
Still, these 36 players represent a strong core, with 21 of them being, in my estimation, legitimate NFL starting quality players. In other words, Washington should be able to use free agency and the draft to find a couple of starters, and to fill out the rest of the roster with quality depth.
The team, at this point, has 6 draft picks (they traded away the 2022 5th round pick to select LS Cameron Cheeseman and DE William Bradley-King) and estimated cap space (per OvertheCap) of about $53m (after allowing for Leno’s contract).
So, what does the projected depth chart look like ahead of free agency?
(players in grey with dotted lines are projected free agents)
Note: I have not listed every upcoming free agent; I have omitted players that I considered to be practice squad level or below replacement level backups.
Numbers to the right of player names are 2022 cap hits above $1m
Major needs – QB, LB, FS
I don’t think many people would argue that the Fighting Burgundy Destroyers’ biggest hole going into the offseason will be at quarterback.
While it has been a certain kind of fun to watch backup Taylor Heinicke battle though 14 starts this season, the takeaway seems to be that his place in the NFL universe is clealy as a quality backup. I’d be shocked to see him start for the DC Admirals next season unless it was as a placeholder while a newly-drafted rookie got up to speed.
While the team could go out and sign a veteran quarterback for 2022, the recent attempts to do that (Alex Smith, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick) have had a few things in common. First, they have failed to unite or excite the fan base. Second, they have resulted in a lot of time lost to injury and not much offensive production.
The time seems right, organizationally, to look to the draft for a new young quarterback, and Washington will have a pretty favorable draft pick (likely between 9th & 13th). This puts the team in the range where they can move up and probably get into position to grab a top-3 QB by trading away some 2023 draft capital.
Of course, the issue this year is that the 2022 quarterback class is generally regarded as being below-average. I do not watch college football and am no kind of draft expert, so I will not try to make any meaningful comment about this. It is discussed daily in the comments section, and that conversation will continue (and accelerate) up to and beyond the draft.
Whether via trade, free agency or the draft, though, Washington needs a starting quarterback for 2022.
My preference is to see the team acquire their new guy through the draft, partly because I’m not excited about any of the veteran options, and partly because of the energy a young drafted quarterback will add to the upcoming season — new team name, new signal caller, now era of Washington football.
One problem with waiting for the draft to get the new guy is that it may make it harder to attract key veteran free agents (especially wide receivers) in March since they won’t know who will be under center for the Red Armada in the coming season. One way to deal with this would be to trade up to a top-5 draft slot before March rolls around in order to signal the team’s intent.
I think you can believe in Jamin Davis as a player and still recognize that the team has issues at linebacker. If you have already put the “bust” label on Davis (I think that’s premature), then you should absolutely see a hole at the position.
Davis was unable to get up to speed as a MIKE linebacker this season. In recent days and weeks, head coach Ron Rivera indicated that the coaches may reevaluate his role and use him more as an outside 4-3 linebacker.
Rivera says Washington has to consider if playing Jamin Davis at MLB going forward makes the most sense or if he’s better suited on the outside. This year looked like he was
— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) January 3, 2022
Ron Rivera is asked if the middle linebacker spot is still the long-term vision for Jamin Davis after this season: “I think that’s something we really have to look at.”
— Matthew Paras (@Matthew_Paras) January 3, 2022
Cole Holcomb has developed into the best linebacker on the team. Mark Tyler has suggested that he can be the MIKE linebacker in the 2022 season.
I see all this talk about our current LB’ers in completely different positions next year… and new ones coming in
But what is wrong with Holcomb as our MIKE? He can fill gaps, run blitz, and drop high-hole. Play Davis as the WILL, have Collins as our Hybrid and Shaka at SAM
— Mark Tyler(Hogs Haven) (@Tiller56) January 4, 2022
For the moment, I’m inclined to list the MIKE position as “vacant”, with Holcomb and Davis listed at the two outside positions, but that’s not a hill I plan to die on; it just seems to be an appropriate place to start this initial look at the upcoming roster.
As for Shaka Toney at SAM, I know that this has been a common theme here on Hogs Haven almost since Toney was drafted, but Toney played only 105 defensive snaps in 2021, with about half of those coming in the Week 14 game against the Cowboys when the top four DEs were all out due to injury and COVID. Even in Week 16, when Davis, Holcomb and Landon Collins were all unavailable, Toney did not play linebacker. He seems to currently be like most 7th round rookies — fighting to stay on the team and get playing time. It’s hard to see the current coaching staff making a strong commitment to a position change for him next season.
Looking to free agency for another linebacker
Washington needs another starting quality linebacker. I’d be inclined to look for that guy in veteran free agency; we need a player who can make an impact from Week One. If that guy is a natural MIKE linebacker, that’s great. We all saw what Cole Holcomb was able to do against the Eagles last week when Mayo was at the MIKE position. If, however, the new guy is a natural OLB, then Holcomb is capable of playing the MIKE position.
Regardless (irregardless, even), linebacker looks like a priority need again this offseason.
Bobby McCain was signed this past offseason to bring stability to the free safety position. While he struggled with both coverage and tackling early in the season, he seemed to get more comfortable as the season went on, and has played much better in the second half of the season.
While I’m not opposed to upgrading any position, part of 2021’s early season defensive struggles seemed to stem from a lot of DBs who hadn’t played together before not playing well as a unit. The rest of the starting DBs should be back in 2022; I’d be inclined to re-sign McCain in an effort at continuity that should help the Redhawgs’ defensive secondary start faster next season. I’d be pleased to see the team use a mid-round pick (4th or 6th round) on a young free safety that could develop behind or challenge McCain for the starting job.
If McCain isn’t re-signed, then the team needs to target a quality veteran free safety in the March free agency and still draft a young guy to develop.
Priority positions – WR, RB
The problems at wide receiver this season were every bit as troublesome as they had been in 2019. Once again, Terry McLaurin was the only genuine threat to most defenses, and once Logan Thomas and JD McKissic were gone, Scary Terry was the only weapon that needed to be stopped to destroy Washington’s passing attack.
The issues were that Curtis Samuel, one of 2020’s key free agent signings, was simply never healthy, Dyami Brown never produced (perhaps because Fitzpatrick wasn’t there to throw the ball downfield to him), and no one else rose above the level of WR4, despite several players like Cam Sims, Adam Humphries and Deandre Carter playing reliably.
Even if Samuel is healthy in 2022, the Red-tailed Hummingbird offense will need a 3rd talented weapon. That guy could turn out to be Dyami Brown if Washington can get the passer they need to take advantage of Brown’s downfield skills. If Brown can’t make the leap in his sophomore season, however, finding that guy will probably mean using a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick, or spending a lot of money in free agency.
Free agency options
Top names in free agency include Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Mike Williams, and Michael Gallup. Proven receivers are expensive; I’d prefer to draft a guy and rely on the development and consistency of returning players to give the rookie room to develop.
One example of a draft prospect I like
Again, I am no draft expert, but an example of the kind of guy I have in mind would be George Pickens, a 6’3” receiver out of Georgia who plays wide, can threaten downfield, and seems to be projected for the 3rd round. There’s nothing magic about Pickens; I read a few profiles to find the kind of guy that I have in mind, and he seems to be the right kind of receiver in the right round of the draft. Many other people will be much better informed about the available players and how they will fit into Washington’s offense.
Re-signing Washington’s own pending free agents
Of Washington’s pending free agent receivers, I’d be inclined to try to re-sign Cam Sims, Adam Humphries and DeAndre Carter.
Job 1: re-sign McKissic
90% of the job will be done here if the team re-signs JD McKissic. In my mind, McKissic was the key to the offense this season, and he can continue to be an important component of it going forward.
McKissic has had the two best seasons of his career in Washington. It seems as if he should be motivated to return, and I can’t imagine that the coaches would want to lose the 28-year-old who has produced 1,563 scrimmage yards and 7 touchdowns in 27 games.
Second priority: get a backup or competition for Gibson
But Washington needs to bring another back to camp this summer who can back up Antonio Gibson or challenge him and Jaret Patterson for the starting role. There should be a number of veteran free agents who could be attractive this offseason, but, once again, I’d be inclined to look for a guy in the 3rd or 4th round of the draft.
One example of a draft prospect I like
The draft profile I read on Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker had him listed as a 2nd round talent, but he offers the size and skills that seem to fit the team. Again, there’s nothing magic about this particular player; he’s just an example of the kind of guy I have in mind.
The rest of the roster
The backups – Bates & Reyes
The injuries that occurred this season certainly will have helped push along John Bates’ development. I was higher on him than most people from the time he was drafted; his development seems to have even surprised the coaches. Sammis Reyes seems to still be a work in progress.
The starter – Logan Thomas
With Logan Thomas’ injury having come late in the season, I’m not sure how likely he is to be ready for the start of the ‘22 season.
Ricky Seals-Jones played well in relief of Thomas this season. I’d be happy to see the team re-sign him, but I’d be equally satisfied if they picked up a veteran free agent this offseason, much as they did with RSJ this year. I have a lot of faith in TE position coach Pete Hoener to identify the right guy and help him develop.
Speaking of having faith in a position coach — John Matsko has done an impressive job delivering pretty consistent offensive line play for two seasons despite constant injury challenges.
It looks to me as if Washington has 5 starter quality offensive linemen in Leno, Flowers, Roullier, Schweitzer, and Cosmi, with pretty capable backups in Larsen (an upcoming free agent who would need to be re-signed) and Charles.
Rivera’s front office and coaching staff seem to have a knack for finding veteran free agents to provide quality depth. I’d like to see the team sign a veteran swing tackle to replace Lucas, and invest a draft pick into a guard.
Of course, that leaves Brandon Scherff. I like Scherff, but we all know that the issues here are salary cap and injury history. If he re-signs, I’d be fine with that, but not if he gets the kind of money he’s likely looking for.
The problem with letting him walk is that his contract value is likely to qualify for a 3rd round compensatory pick, but the only way Washington will qualify for a comp pick is if they lose more qualifying compensatory free agents than they sign. With only 36 returning players and 5 draft picks, the team will need to sign a dozen or more veteran free agents. To have a shot at getting a comp pick for Scherff, most of those dozen or so signings will need to be re-signing players from the 2022 roster — guys like Joey Slye, Bobby McCain, Cam Sims, Deandre Carter, Troy Apke, Danny Johnson, etc.
Keep your eye on the front office to see if they keep a lot of these guys; if they do, it could signal an effort to “protect” the expected 3rd round compensatory pick, much like the front office did when Kirk Cousins left after the 2017 season.
The question on the defensive line is what happens with Tim Settle, who is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season.
Like most Washington fans, I’d love to see the former Virginia Tech Hokie extended this offseason, but I think Settle is going to want to sign with a team where he can get more playing time. Settle played only 193 defensive snaps through Week 17. By contrast, Daron Payne played 794.
If Settle is willing to stay, I’m all for it, but I think he’ll go in search of greener pastures. I think the best that Washington could hope for is a compensatory pick if he leaves, but with so few returning players, as discussed above with Brandon Scherff, it will be a struggle to get the math to work out for Washington to earn any comp picks this offseason. If Settle and Scherff both leave, however, that would provide added incentive to manage free agency to ‘protect’ the two potential comp picks.
At defensive end, I was pretty impressed with what James Smith-Williams was able to do as a backup this year. I think there’s an opportunity to upgrade the spot(s) behind him currently filled by William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney.
The top of the depth chart here will remain William Jackson, Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste.
Upcoming Free agents
Torry McTyer, Danny Johnson, Troy Apke and Darryl Roberts are all free agents this offseason.
Apke (special teams ace)
I suspect that the coaches will want to re-sign Troy Apke for his special teams prowess; he probably won’t have a big market this offseason, so that seems pretty likely to happen.
McTyer, Johnson and Roberts are all replacement level backups, so, whether the team re-signs them or looks to free agency is probably immaterial. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a late round pick (6th or 7th round) used on a developmental cornerback.
Kicker Joey Slye
Joey Slye is slated to be a free agent. I suspect it will be a mere formality for the team to sign him to a market-value extension.
He seems to be a slight upgrade from Dustin Hopkins; Slye is reliable on kickoffs, consistent on field goals, and appears to be more reliable over 49 yards. At 25 years of age, he could bring renewed stability to the kicker position for the next half decade.
Don’t be shocked to see some guys you think of as bad players being brought back. This includes players like linebackers David Mayo and Jordan Kunaszyk. That could also extend to the backup corners like Roberts, McTyer, and Johnson or 5th string center Jon Toth. Resigning guys like Mayo and Kunaszyk would be almost exclusively for special teams, but all of these replacement level resignings could support a strategy of protecting potential comp picks for Scherff and Settle.