With Super Bowl LV complete, the Washington Football Team’s slate is clean. They are the reigning NFC East champions, but that does not give them an upper hand heading into the 2021 season.
According to very early power rankings from ESPN, the Football Team is ranked No. 21 overall heading into next season. They are behind the 19th-place Dallas Cowboys, but ahead of the New York Giants (25th) and Philadelphia Eagles (26th). The 2021 offseason has yet to start with free agency beginning March 17 and the NFL Draft scheduled for April 29. Significant changes are expected around the division though, particularly in Philly where Carson Wentz’s future remains uncertain, and in Dallas where they have yet to sign Dak Prescott to a long-term contract.
The adjustments each team can make this offseason are somewhat dependent on their cap space. Adam Schefter reported that though the NFL’s salary cap is not expected to be officially set until next month, it is believed to be roughly $180-$181 million for 2021. This projected cap is a drop from last season’s $198.2 million, but is higher than the $175 million that was expected. The cap adjustment is an $18-19 million decrease from last year and a $28-30 million reduction from what teams likely expected it to be before the pandemic.
Washington enters the offseason with an important advantage in terms of salary cap. Based off of a projected base salary cap of $180.5 million per Over the Cap, the Football Team is fifth in the league in cap space available with $39.6 million. The Cowboys are 13th with $18.4 million available. The Giants are ranked 19th with $1.1 million available and the Eagles are 31st in the league with $49 million over the projected cap.
Because of Washington’s ample cap space, it is the best-positioned of any team in the NFC East to make significant moves this offseason whether that be in re-signing a player or making a splash in free agency. Poised to be a buyer, the Football Team’s salary cap awards them different options than their division counterparts.
Let’s take a look at two key offensive positions that Washington could target this offseason with the extra cap space.
The most important, and uncertain, position for Washington is the quarterback. Alex Smith, who led the Football Team to a 5-1 record in the games he started last season, has not yet announced whether he is going to retire. Regardless of his decision though, Smith is 36 years old and the 17 surgeries sustained by his right leg have limited his mobility in the pocket. If Smith retires or is released, Washington will gain $14.7 million – some of which would likely go to his replacement.
The Football Team already missed out on Matthew Stafford and it does not have the draft capital to make Deshaun Watson a compelling offer. But other signal-callers remain available.
Head coach Ron Rivera made clear in a press conference with the media last week that the Football Team is not going to rush its quarterback search.
“We’ve got to make sure we find the right one,” Rivera said. “That’s the key. Is it imperative to find the guy right now? No, not necessarily. We would love to, but as we go through this process, we are going to exhaust all avenues. We’re going to take nice, long looks at every option we have out there that’s available to us.”
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott will be the highlight of the open market if Dallas does not manage to sign him. But assuming that the Cowboys do retain their franchise quarterback, let’s consider two other options: Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.
Newton, of course, would not be the long-term solution for Washington at quarterback but he could serve as a bridge QB for a season. The 31-year-old threw for 2,657 yards with eight touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 592 rushing yards and 12 rushing scores. The numbers are not staggering, but they are good enough for a transition quarterback. It also would help that Rivera knows Newton from their time together in Carolina.
“Nothing is off the table,” Rivera said when asked about Newton.
Winston, however, could potentially stick around in Washington for a while. He is just 27 years old and has 70 career starts with 19,812 passing yards. Winston throws too many interceptions but could be an asset to the Football Team if they can correct his turnover issue.
Washington was in need of an elite wide receiver to complement Terry McLaurin when Rivera joined the team as head coach and they still need one. McLaurin led the team last season with 87 receptions and 1,118 yards. The next-best receiver was tight end Logan Thomas, who recorded 670 yards.
Tampa Bay wideout Chris Godwin is the highlight of the receiver free agency class this offseason, but rumors have already begun to surface about the Bucs retaining him.
Another top free agent to consider is Detroit wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who reportedly rejected a contract extension from the Lions last week. A 2017 third-round pick out of Northern Illinois, Golladay was limited to just five games last season due to injury but his production in both 2018 and 2019 was significant. In both seasons, Golladay had at least 65 receptions and finished with over 1,000 yards receiving. In 2019, Golladay led the NFL with 11 receiving touchdowns in the season.
But Golladay is a particularly strong fit in Washington due to his ability to make explosive plays. In 2019, 53% of Golladay’s total receiving yards came on pass plays of 20 yards or more. His yards per reception (18.6) and yards before reception (13.6) were the third-highest in the NFL in 2019.
Golladay will likely get high offers on the open market but that should not scare off Washington. The Football Team made a big offer to Amari Cooper last offseason and has the cap space to make another sizable bid to a receiver this year.
The debate over potential fits at both the quarterback and wide receiver position will likely continue into the weeks and months ahead. But Washington’s cap space puts them in a position to pursue some elite playmakers this offseason.