Looking ahead to the coming months, the 2021 Draft and Free Agency periods will prove crucial in determining Washington’s next step. With a young, promising core in place, now seems like the perfect time to go all in on contending for the next few years. With an intelligent draft strategy and a few notable free agency signings, the Football Team can take that next step.
The NFL Draft is usually the perfect place to find a young franchise quarterback that will take the reins of the franchise for the next 10-12 years. However, by having the unexpected success that they had this past season, many of the stud prospects in this year’s loaded class such as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson will likely be gone by the time Washington’s first round pick comes around at #19. That is not to say there will be no quarterback prospects available. Two names in particular come to mind when assessing who Washington could pick at quarterback.
The first is Trey Lance, the dual threat QB out of North Dakota State. Not highly touted out of high school, a 16-0 season capped off with an FBS title has catapulted his name into the first round conversation. Scouts hope that his success in the FBS will translate to NFL production, the same way it did for quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garropolo.
Although perhaps not on the same level as Lance and the other three, Florida QB Kyle Trask is an intriguing prospect for Washington to consider on Day 2 of the draft. Much like Lance, Trask was not highly recruited in high school, nor made a big impact in college up until this past season. However, his 2020 campaign was so dominant that he gained Heisman buzz and comparisons to last year’s rising star Joe Burrow, who ended up being a number one overall selection in the 2019 draft. Although a lot of that midseason buzz died down due to a shaky finish, Trask nonetheless put together an amazing year. He flashed great accuracy and has great size for a quarterback. Should Washington want to look elsewhere in the first round and in free agency, Trask could be a guy worth taking a mid round flier on.
I’ve mainly spoken about quarterbacks in this draft because that is Washington’s glaring hole, but there are plenty other great players at other positions in this class that can fill needs for the Football Team. An important need for this team is a second wide receiver opposite McLaurin who can take the focus away from him in the secondary. Toward the end of the year, teams were better able to neutralize Terry, as he was the only real pass-catching threat. This year’s receiving class is loaded with top-end talent, and with receivers known to slide on draft boards in recent years, Washington should be optimistic it can land one of these prospects. At pick number 19, Washington should be targeting Jaylen Waddle out of Alabama. He missed all but a few games this year, but has the breakaway speed and precise route running skills necessary to be a star in the NFL. Should Waddle get picked before Washington’s selection, they can look into Rashod Bateman, one of the top receivers in this class as well. His elite route running and release off the line has drawn comparisons to the great receivers in the NFL today, and his skills look to be very translatable to the next level.
Before we can dive into the offseason moves and upgrades that Washington can make to reach contender status, it’s important to note the Football Team’s impending free agent class, and who they should and shouldn’t prioritize re-signing. At the top of their list should be All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff, who has been among the most reliable offensive linemen since he entered the league in 2015. Playing under the franchise tag last year, it is crucial that Washington signs him long term and keeps their O-line strong for the upcoming seasons.
After Scherff, it gets a bit murky, as a few key pieces on defense enter free agency. CB Ronald Darby and DE Ryan Kerigan are the two starters whose contracts are expiring, and with limited cap available, Washington will likely have to pick between one of them. Although a fan favorite, a former Pro Bowler, and among the longest tenured players on the team, it would be in Washington’s best interest to let Kerigan walk, and re-sign Darby. Although Kerigan can still play at a high level, he is six years older than Darby, and has been injury prone over the past couple of seasons. Furthermore, by using the 2nd overall pick last year on pass rusher Chase Young, it is clear Washington sees Young as Kerigan’s successor. While having a young star to take his place, spending that money on Darby would be a much smarter investment. Darby is a solid, albeit unspectacular corner, but extending his contract would help the secondary, which was highlighted as a weakness in last week’s article.
Although Washington may be unable to grab a top QB prospect in this draft, this off-season poses a unique opportunity, as an unusual number of franchise quarterbacks are either on the trade block or hitting free agency. With Washington appearing one star QB away from contention, one blockbuster deal could be all that they need.
Deshaun Watson is the biggest name of the bunch, a top tier quarterback who is seemingly still improving every year. Only 25 years old, any team that can land him will be greatly boosting their championship odds for the next decade. Although the Football Team has plenty of resources for a potential deal, acquiring Watson might subtract from the core that they successfully built up this past season. If Washington were to engage in talks with Houston, I would predict that the asking price would be multiple first round picks, as well as some sort of player package centered around young, proven talent such as Chase Young and Montez Sweat.
While many fans would be thrilled at the opportunity to acquire someone as great as Watson, others would argue the asking price is simply too high. In my opinion, Washington giving up multiple defensive building blocks as well as heavy draft capital is too steep of a price to pay, even for a top five quarterback. Washington’s newfound success has been built on great drafting and defense, and giving up some of their best selections, as well as their most valuable future picks in the upcoming years, doesn’t guarantee future success. If they do indeed have to give up Chase Young and other proven players, the defense will be a shell of what it was last year, leaving Watson in a similar situation to the one he is trying to escape in Houston.
An alternative for Deshaun Watson would be trading for a different, less established quarterback that is on the trade block. Although none possess the ability or star power of Watson, in the right situation there are quarterbacks available who can thrive. Eagles’ disgruntled QB Carson Wentz could be worth taking a chance on. He flashed MVP potential in 2018, but hasn’t been the same since his ACL injury later that year. Similarly, former Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who was a backup last year, is certainly looking to reassert himself as a starter. Taking a chance on one of these underachieving, yet super-talented guys, could pay off given Washington’s strong supporting cast. A change of scenery could be all these guys need to regain their form, and this would be a great buy-low opportunity for the Football Team. At most, I would imagine either of these guys requiring one first round pick, which is a fraction of the price Watson is commanding. Should Washington prioritize keeping its young core and draft picks, either of these guys could be the answer.
Regardless of which quarterback they get, whether it be Watson, or the plethora of other disgruntled QBs like Wentz, Jameis Winston, or Cam Newton, a new quarterback means an attractive free agent destination. With the fifth highest cap space in the league this off-season, Washington can look to free agency to fix any remaining holes. In a stacked free agent class, particularly for receivers, Washignton should be optimistic about their chances to land one of Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith Schuster, or Will Fuller. All pro bowl level talents, pairing one of these guys with McLaurin would form a dynamic receiving duo, and make the offense more balanced and dynamic. Furthermore, this move would allow Washington to draft other positions of need including linebacker and defensive back.
Overall, Washington is full of opportunity due to a promising young core on both sides of the ball paired with the chance to acquire big time talent at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. With a big free agency and trade period, along with a successful draft, Washington could very well be on the cusp of Super Bowl contention come 2021.