WFT's Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free AgencyMarch 14, 2021
WFT's Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency
With NFL free agency set to kick off—it officially begins Wednesday, though the contract period begins two days earlier—the Washington Football Team should be on the verge of making some moves. Washington only won seven games in 2020, but it did take the NFC East crown.
With a strong defense and a respected head coach in Ron Rivera, Washington should be an attractive landing spot for notable free agents. The Football Team also has a fair amount of cap space, even after locking up Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff with the franchise tag for the second straight season.
Still, plenty of work lies ahead for new general manager Martin Mayhew and the Football Team. Many of the league's other 31 franchises will be vying for the top players on the open market, and Washington cannot afford to plug every hole at once.
Here we'll highlight Washington's holes and take a look at the team's cap situation, potential free-agent targets and top players headed to market.
Projected Cap Space: $27 million
Compared to many other teams, Washington is in a tremendous cap situation. Even after giving Scherff the franchise tag, the Football Team has roughly $27 million available. That ranks 12th among the league's 32 franchises and should allow Washington to be a major player in free agency.
Washington has enough cap space to go after one or two of the top players expected to be available. This doesn't mean it will, but don't be surprised if the Football Team makes at least one splash in the first few days.
The Football Team will likely look to fill as many holes as possible in free agency because it won't be on the clock until the 19th overall pick in the draft. Washington should have a shot at a premier prospect there, but it may not be able to land the top player on its draft board at any position.
The first challenge up for Mayhew—now that Scherff is guaranteed to be back—will be sorting out which other incumbent free agents will return.
Notable Free Agents
- Edge Ryan Kerrigan
- QB Alex Smith (released)
- CB Ronald Darby
- K Dustin Hopkins
- LB Thomas Davis (retired)
- RB Lamar Miller
- CB Fabian Moreau
With Scherff back in the fold, the top internal priority will likely be cornerback Ronald Darby. He allowed an opposing passer rating of just 81.0 in 2020 and played a significant role in Washington's defensive turnaround.
Linebacker Thomas Davis has announced his plans to retire, while quarterback Alex Smith was released ahead of free agency. Neither player is likely to be back, though it wouldn't be a shock to see Smith return if he doesn't find work elsewhere.
Kicker Dustin Hopkins may be replaceable after making less than 80 percent of his field-goal attempts this past season. Edge-rusher Ryan Kerrigan could be back, though he shouldn't be a free-agent priority. With pressure men like Chase Young and Montez Sweat on the roster, he should be considered a potential luxury and not a necessity.
Running back Lamar Miller probably won't be a priority, as Washington can find cheaper and younger complementary backs in the draft. Cornerback Fabian Moreau was a part-time contributor in 2020 and likewise probably won't be a free-agent priority.
Biggest Needs and Potential Targets
Washington's biggest need—both in the short and long term—is at quarterback. With Smith off the roster, the Football Team is looking at Taylor Heinicke as its opening-day starter. While Heinicke flashed plenty of potential during the team's playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he has just two career starts under his belt.
Unfortunately, Washington's position in the draft could make it difficult to guarantee a pro-ready quarterback prospect. Even if Washington's plan is to draft its quarterback of the future, it would be wise to add a veteran signal-caller to the mix.
Journeyman supreme Ryan Fitzpatrick could be an ideal option, as he's become accustomed to being the placeholder while still performing at a high level. Other veteran options include Mitchell Trubisky, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.
Washington's other big need is at wide receiver. The team has a budding star in Terry McLaurin but little else to speak of at the position. Cam Sims was second among Washington receivers with just 477 receiving yards in 2020.
This could be an area where the Football Team splurges. While Allen Robinson II and Chris Godwin both received the franchise tag, players like Kenny Golladay and JuJu Smith-Schuster will be available.
Since there's a good chance Washington will target a quarterback early in the draft—and in doing so, wouldn't target a receiver in Round 1—this could be an ideal need to fill in the coming days.
While Washington's defense—which ranked second overall—was dominant at times in 2020, it could need some reinforcements on the back end. If Darby departs in free agency, the Football Team will need at least one new starter on the perimeter.
This is an intriguing position in 2021 free agency, as the headline cornerbacks include aging players like Richard Sherman and former Washington starter Josh Norman. If the Football Team is looking to build for the long term, they may be best avoided—though not entirely out of the question.
Expect Washington to prioritize bringing back Darby before foraging in the open market. Instead, the team's top external free-agent targets will likely be on the offensive side of the ball.
Cap information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference