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Building a 2021 WFT the Rivera Way

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Coming off an inspiring 2020 season, led by Ron Rivera and a team built on youthful enthusiasm, things are looking up for the Washington Football Team in 2021, but, there’s work to be done this offseason.

First up will be free agency, then the draft, and eventually the off-season competition for various roles. The strength of this team - one which pre-dates Rivera’s arrival - has been the ability to identify and acquire talent, through the draft for the past couple of years. It’s important to give those personnel evaluators - in conjunction with the coaching staff - as many chances as possible to add low-cost talent to the roster. Trading away top picks in the hopes of acquiring a saviour QB, or to trade up for a saviour QB, are short-sighted and should be resisted. We need to take the long view.

Using the template Mark developed for his article on the team’s 2021 composition, I’ve taken my own crack at its construction below, following an approach I believe is more likely to be reflective of the one Rivera will pursue:

2021 Salary Cap: is currently estimating the 2021 salary cap will be $176M, an 11% reduction from 2020’s cap of $198.2M, as a result of the pandemic.

Cutting/retiring Alex would take the WFT to about $140M in cap obligation, leaving it with $36M in cap space to re-sign the team’s free agents and players from outside. That number includes the already extended Chase Roullier ($4.5M cap hit in 2021).

Re-signing our own:

With $36M in cap space, and a number of large contracts looming on the horizon for the defensive line, I think a judicious approach to free agency in 2021 makes sense. After earning his first All Pro recognition, and being the top paid guard in the NFL in 2020 at $15M/year, Brandon Scherff has likely priced himself out the range where he’s a good value proposition. He should have been locked up years ago, but since he hasn’t been, I think, at over $15M per year, we need to wish him well and let him test the market elsewhere.

I think that Ronald Darby has played well enough - and we’re thin enough at CB - to earn himself an extension, as has Kevin Pierre-Louis.

Ronald Darby: 2 years, $16M ($8M cap hit in 2021)

Kevin Pierre-Louis: 2 Years, $8M ($4M cap hit in 2021)

I would also make a point of signing both Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke through at least 2021, for a total cap hit of around $3M.

*Projected New Cap Space: $21M

2021 Key Free Agent Acquisitions:

I would focus the remainder of my free agent dollars on two primary positions, QB and TE, and I have two particular targets in mind:

- Ryan Fitzpatrick (MIA) Age 38: 2 years, $18M ($9M cap hit in 2021)

- Jonnu Smith (TEN) Age 25: 3 years, $24M ($8M cap hit in 2021)

Ryan Fitzpatrick is getting up there, but like a fine wine, he seems to get better with age. His 95.6 QBR was the second highest of his career, and had the Dolphins started him all season, they likely would have made the playoffs. Fitzpatrick is a near ideal fit for our situation. He can compete on a level playing field with Allen and Heinicke for the starting role, and if he doesn’t win the job, he can mentor the winner throughout the season. Grabbing Fitz also takes pressure off Rivera/Smith to draft a near term starter this year, instead allowing them to continue to build out the rest of the team. Finally, Fitz absolutely embodies Rivera’s “guys who like playing football” ethic.

Pairing Smith with Logan Thomas gives the team two legitimate tight end threats for the first time in years. Smith is uber athletic, and helps expand the team’s weapons dramatically. Given the length of time it takes to develop TEs, a free agent here is really our only option.

Any of these free agent deals could be constructed to shift cap hit to later years, but given our healthy cap situation at this point, I actually think there’s a logic to taking the cap hit earlier.

*Projected New Cap Space: $4M

2021 NFL Draft:

Round 1: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State - Considered by many the best defensive player in the draft. Will he slip this low? It’s doubtful, but he did in this mock.

Round 2 (Traded to the Packers for R2, P31 and R3, P30): Jaylen Mayfield, OT, Michigan - Mayfield has the potential to play tackle on either side, or to move in and play guard. One expert has declared him a “scheme transcendent talent.”

Round 3: Richard LeCounte, S, Georgia - LeCounte is a bit on the small side (5’11”), but his ability to anticipate has drawn comparisons to Tyrann Mathieu.

Round 3: Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU - Marshall has played opposite some of the best young college WR talent for the past couple of years, but is a stud in his own right and is scheme versatile.

Round 3: Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson - Slot WR - Rodgers could be just the answer the WFT is looking for at slot WR.

Round 4: Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern - Newsome has been a lock down corner for Northwestern this year, and goes into the CB mix for the WFT.

Round 5: Larry Borom, G, Missouri - Borom was one of 4 tackles who allowed QB pressures on less than 1% of snaps this year. He’s a beast, but he goes inside to compete for Scherff’s old job.

Round 7: Chase Allen, TE, Iowa State - Lauded as the best blocking TE in college at one point, Allen goes into the TE factory.

*Draft was done using Fanspeak’s On the Clock Mock Draft

2021 Projected Starting Lineups:


QB - Fitzpatrick/Allen/Heinicke

RB - Antonio Gibson

WR - Terrace Marshall (R)/Kelvin Harmon

WR - Terry McLaurin

Slot - Amari Rodgers (R)/Steven Sims

TE - Logan Thomas/Jonnu Smith

LT - Cornelius Lucas/Jaylen Mayfield (R)

LG - Wes Schweitzer

C - Chase Roullier

RG - Saahdiq Charles/Larry Borom (R)

RT - Morgan Moses


EDGE - Chase Young

DT - Jonathan Allen/Matt Ioannidis

DT - Daron Payne

EDGE - Montez Sweat

MIKE - Micah Parsons (R)

SAM - Cole Holcomb

WILL - Landon Collins

CB - Kendall Fuller

CB - Ronald Darby

Nickel - Jimmy Moreland

S - Deshazor Everett/Richard LeCounte (R)

S - Kamren Curl


Is this the sexiest configuration of the WFT? Absolutely not, but it’s built on the premise that solid quarterbacking and the fleshing out of the rest of the roster with solid drafting and measured free agent acquisitions is the best way to build the team for the long haul. This approach adds one immediate starter (Smith) and another potential one (Fitzpatrick) in free agency and shoots for aiming to add 3 to 4 through the draft, in part by trading down in the second round.

The draft includes a health dose of loading up on offensive linemen, as well adding some WR help, which is a significant need for the team.

Tell me what you think in the comments below:


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