The Washington Commanders are embroiled in a contract dispute that could potentially derail their 2022 season before it even gets off the ground.
Star wide receiver Terry McLaurin did not report to mandatory minicamp on Monday, which could mark the first step in an extended holdout.
McLaurin is reportedly unhappy with how his contract negotiations have gone. On Sunday, the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala reported the two sides "are still far apart" on an extension, so McLaurin is currently training in Florida rather than with teammates in Ashburn, Virginia.
The fourth-year wideout recently became eligible for an extension as a member of the 2019 draft class. McLaurin has exceeded expectations since coming into the league as a third-round pick and is now seeking both long-term security and a pay increase over the $2.79 million base salary that he is slated to make in the final year of his rookie deal.
The No. 76 overall pick in 2019 has racked up an impressive 3,090 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns on 222 receptions over the last three seasons despite Washington's unstable quarterback situation.
McLaurin has played with eight different starting signal-callers since entering the league. That number will increase to nine with Carson Wentz set to take the reins in 2022 after coming to Washington in a trade back in March.
Wentz said he's spoken with McLaurin a bunch this offseason, according to The Athletic’s Ben Standig, and they've participated in workouts together as well. The quarterback is confident that his top weapon will be ready for the upcoming campaign, but their chemistry won’t benefit from an extended holdout.
Getting a rapport established between McLaurin and Wentz should be near the top of Washington’s to-do list during training camp. The wideout is a foundational piece of this offense, and he will be instrumental in keeping the Commanders competitive in a tough NFC East race.
While Washington did add another playmaker by drafting Penn State wideout Jahan Dotson at No. 16 overall during this year's draft, McLaurin is still the unquestioned No. 1 option in Washington. He should remain as such if he’s on the field in 2022.
As one of the Commanders' few reliable weapons outside of running back Antonio Gibson, the 26-year-old is in line for even more targets after amassing 264 in the last two seasons alone.
No Commanders wideout outside of McLaurin drew more than 71 total targets between the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Running back J.D. McKissic was the only other player to eclipse the 150-target mark in that span.
Getting an extension worked out could prevent a rift between the club and its rising superstar. The organization is intimately familiar with how quickly things can go south when a player skips mandatory minicamp.
Albert Haynesworth (2010) and Trent Williams (2019) have been the only two Washington players to miss mandatory minicamp over the last 12 years, according to Al Galdi of the Al Galdi Podcast. The Commanders traded both players within a year of their holdouts.
Haynesworth’s deteriorating relationship with the organization was on full display leading up to the 2010 season. Although he did eventually report after protesting Washington’s conversion to a 3-4 scheme, the defensive tackle had a career-worst campaign and was subsequently dealt to the New England Patriots the following offseason.
Williams’ situation was arguably even more untenable. The franchise left tackle began holding out in early June 2019 and demanded a trade following a disagreement with the Washington medical staff’s handling of a cancerous growth on his head. Williams never suited up in 2019 due to scalp discomfort and was eventually traded to the San Francisco 49ers in April 2020.
The Commanders should keep these disputes in mind while doing everything in their power to avoid another one with McLaurin.
Washington technically holds the cards in terms of keeping McLaurin on the roster. The team can even go as far as franchise-tagging him in both 2023 and 2024 if it doesn't work out a deal with him before then. But agreeing to a long-term contract would be the best move for both sides.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed that McLaurin is seeking a comparable deal to the ones that other high-end wideouts have signed recently. Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, Mike Williams, Christian Kirk, Hunter Renfrow and Allen Robinson II have all received new contracts worth at least $15 million annually this offseason.
A.J. Brown became the first wideout from the 2019 class to get a new deal, coming to terms on a four-year, $100 million contract with Philadelphia Eagles after the Tennessee Titans traded him during the 2022 NFL draft.
Brown’s deal should be a starting point for the one Washington eventually offers McLaurin. While Brown went 25 picks ahead of McLaurin in the draft, the Commanders wideout has surpassed his Eagles counterpart in games played (46 vs. 43), offensive snaps (2,723 vs. 2,042), receptions (222 vs. 185) and receiving yardage (3,090 vs. 2,995).
McLaurin has been a consistent and reliable wideout, proving equally if not more deserving than Brown to earn top-five money at his position. The Commanders should get an extension done for him before this holdout negatively impacts their 2022 season.