One week has passed since the official start of free agency and the opening of the “legal tampering” period. The Washington Football Team, coming off a surprising NFC East title, entered the offseason with optimism, but also with a lot of questions.
It’s rare that a team that won a division title the year prior would release it’s incumbent quarterback, and essentially be left with two journeymen as starters. It’s also rare for a team to let arguably it’s best cornerback of the last season hit free agency without a backup plan. Nevertheless, Washington did an excellent job–and then some– so far this offseason and the team looks like it’s poised for success in 2021.
Let’s take a look at the offseason moves so far, and reflect upon them:
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Signed: 1 Year/ 10 Million Dollars)
Ryan Fitzpatrick agreed to contract terms late Monday night on the first day of the legal tampering period. The 17-year journey man will now join his ninth team at the age of 38.
On paper, this type of signing may not typically receive kudos around the league due to his age and resume’, but Fitzpatrick provides more value to the Washington Football Team than any other program.
Washington has desperately sought an influx of talent, or even a credible threat, at the QB position since Kirk Cousins’ departure in 2017. Since then, Washington has trotted out nine signal callers to try and replace him. Definitely not a recipe for stability and production.
Although Fitzpatrick may not be a long-term solution, he is poised to be a good one for the time being. The QB has a had a late career renaissance and has been performing at high-level. His last three seasons were the three highest grades of his career per Pro Football Focus (PFF), and if he can provide this steady production in DC, fans will be thankful.
Over the last three seasons Fitzpatrick has graded out as a 83.9 (2018), 76.5 (2019) and 75.1 (2020) in terms of offensive production. His three-year average places him at 7th in the league at this time.
My take is that the Fitzpatrick addition was an excellent choice, and serves the team on many levels. Not only does he provide a steady presence for this season, but his cap hit and NFL experience provides the team flexibility moving forward. Fitzpatrick has started, been benched, came into games in a pinch, and even mentored young QBs. The man has seen it all, and it’s rumored that players love playing with him.
William Jackson III (Signed: 3 years/ 45.3M)
In an unexpected move, Washington added William Jackson III to an already elite defense. Washington had the second ranked passing defense in the league last season with 3,068 yards given up. They also had the second fewest touchdowns surrendered at 21.
You’d think they would try to keep the unit intact, but free agent Ronald Darby had other ideas. The starting cornerback decided to join the Denver Broncos for a three-year deal worth 30 Million. Good for him, he deserves it.
But Coaches Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio did not want to be caught unprepared. Within 24 hours, the team locked up arguably the best cornerback of the free agent class in Jackson.
William Jackson III, PFN's No. 6 DB this free agency, officially signed with Washington. Contract details:
$15M signing bonus
$16M guaranteed at signing
$26M total guarantees
2021 base salary: $1M
2022 base: $5M
Potential out after 2022 w/ $5M dead cap
2023 base: $9.25M pic.twitter.com/T9eUEG3Gbl
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) March 19, 2021
Jackson had a rebound season after a down 2019 in which he struggled to mesh with his new defensive coordinator, Lou Anarumo. As a unit, the Bengals underperformed under Anarumo and Jackson was the lone bright spot.
The 28-year old offers impressive speed (4.37 40-yd dash) and thrives in press man-to-man coverage. It will be intriguing to see how he meshes in Washington. Del Rio deployed a primarily zone coverage scheme and relied on Cover-3 coverage to protect the deep shots down field. Will that adjust with Jackson? It will be interesting to see how this transpires.
If the Washington DBs can disrupt the opposing wideouts even by a second, their stout defensive line will be more likely to feast. Jackson had statistically one of “all the time” seasons in coverage in 2017 when he allowed only 15 catches on 40 attempts (90.2 PFF Grade). If he can replicate that in the nation’s capital, the defense will be humming.
Curtis Samuel (Signed: 3-year/34.5 M)
The last of the “big three” to sign thus far in free agency is Curtis Samuel from the Carolina Panthers. The 24-year old Swiss Army Knife brings an added element to the Washington offense.
Coming into this offseason, one could argue that receiver was the biggest area of need for Washington. Over the last two seasons, Terry McLaurin had to shoulder the load of not only being a locker room leader and captain, but also as the team’s primary weapon. In fact, McLaurin’s receiving totals (1,118 yards) doubled the next two receivers in line, Cam Sims (477) and Steve Sims Jr (265), so the team needed an upgrade.
Enter Samuel. The former Ohio State Buckeye will now reunite with his college recruiting class peer in McLaurin, and the two should offer problems to opposing defensive coordinators.
Samuel had a career year under offensive coordinator Joe Brady in Carolina, and hopefully he continues his trajectory in DC. Samuel was deployed primarily as a slot option last season, a contrast to how he was used under current Washington OC Scott Turner. In 2020, he was used in the slot on 71.4% of his routes, or 332 snaps. This is a stark difference to 2019 when Turner primarily used him as a boundary receiver. Under Turner, Samuel was used in the slot only 28.7% of the time or 193 snaps.
Washington would be wise to maximize Samuel’s skillset and manufacture touches to get the ball in his hands. With 4.3 speed, the wideout can create after the catch, and he has a bulky frame at 195 pounds standing at 5’11”.
Lookout for the Fitzmagic bombs 💣
Curtis Samuel had a 77% catch rate on deep targets in 2020
Highest among all WRs 🚀 pic.twitter.com/yciXTvNouJ
— PFF Washington (@PFF_Washington) March 18, 2021
This addition was a prudent one for Washington, and now it’s up to the Football Team to use him wisely. I’d like to see him get some touches in the backfield as a rusher. Jet Sweeps, stretch runs, or even wheel routes out of the backfield should be the name of the game for this special player.
In all, the first week of free agency was a homerun for the Washington Football Team. Two of their primary concerns– Quarterback and Wide Receiver– were addressed this offseason. Resolved? Not so sure. But at the very least covered with interesting solutions that provide upside and improvement from last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, you could argue that Jackson is an upgrade to Darby and the team should have more flexibility in terms of coverage.
Now we wait on how they will improve their LB, LT and Safety position moving forward. Stay tuned.