For the past two offseasons, I’ve done analyses looking at the Washington players who provided the best value in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Last year, Cole Holcomb and Terry McLaurin came out on top, with Jon Bostic close behind. The full 2019 evaluation can be found at the link here. The 2018 evaluation is here.
This is a re-run of that same exercise with the same rules of the road. Despite its shortcomings, “performance” will be based on Pro Football Reference’s “approximate value (AV),” which is one of the few broadly available tools to try to quantify player performance from year to year.
A description from the PFR site is below:
“Essentially, AV is a substitute for --- and a significant improvement upon, in my opinion --- metrics like ‘number of seasons as a starter’ or ‘number of times making the pro bowl’ or the like. You should think of it as being essentially like those two metrics, but with interpolation in between. That is, ‘number of seasons as a starter’ is a reasonable starting point if you’re trying to measure, say, how good a particular draft class is, or what kind of player you can expect to get with the #13 pick in the draft. But obviously some starters are better than others. Starters on good teams are, as a group, better than starters on bad teams. Starting WRs who had lots of receiving yards are, as a group, better than starting WRs who did not have many receiving yards. Starters who made the pro bowl are, as a group, better than starters who didn’t, and so on. And non-starters aren’t worthless, so they get some points too.”
For 2020 (and where applicable, 2021) salaries, I am using information from Overthecap.com. For the purposes of this article, I am using “cap hit” interchangeably with “salary.” Throughout the rest of this article, “value” will be calculated as “cap hit($)/AV.” Players with an AV below 4 were generally eliminated from this exercise unless there was some specific reason to include them.
High Production, Low Costs, Great Value
Given Washington’s excellent drafting over the course of the past two years, it’s not a surprise that they again have a significant number of players - seven, to be exact - who fall in this category, comprised of individuals with an AV above 4 and a value below $300,000.
Six of the seven players were on their rookie contract, with the top player on the list Kam Curl posting an AV of 7 - matching the highest AV on last year’s team - and a value of around $91,000/AV. Cole Holcomb (AV 6) and Terry McLaurin (AV 7) were once again two of the best values on the team, at $122,000/AV and $133,000/AV, respectively.
Three more players on rookie deals bolstered the middle of this group, with Antonio Gibson (AV 5, $180,000/AV), Troy Apke (AV 4, $231,000/AV), and Montez Sweat (AV 10, $265,000/AV) all providing very solid value. The first two, because they were later round picks who provided reliable production, and Sweat because, even at a first round pick’s inflated salary, he had a massively impactful season.
For the second year in a row, vet Jon Bostic (AV 9) played well at a very reasonable salary, delivering at $293,000/AV. In many respects, Bostic’s signing in 2019 presaged the remarkably effective free agent signings by Washington in 2020: A solid starter/reliable depth signed for $2-3M per year for a 2-3 year deal.
All of these players are under contract through 2021, with most (except Apke and Bostic) signed through 2022.
Though they didn’t meet the 4 AV cutoff, it should be mentioned that Tim Settle (AV 3, $245,000/AV), Jimmy Moreland (AV 3, $233,000/AV), and Cam Sims (AV 3, $199,000/AV) all nearly fell into this category as well.
Cheap Vets, Expensive Rookies, and Good Production
The massive expansion of this group in 2020 was likely a huge part of Washington’s four game improvement from 2019 to 2020 and its ability to seize a division title. In 2019, Washington had six players in this category. In 2020, it grew to eleven, most of whom were vets signed to reasonable contracts and who produced well.
That group includes JD McKissic (AV 5, $322,000/AV), Ronald Darby (AV 7, $402,000/AV), Cornelius Lucas (AV 4, $415,000/AV), Wes Schweitzer (AV 5, $494,000/AV), Kevin Pierre-Louis (AV 6, $498,000), Kendall Fuller (AV 7, $589,000/AV), and Logan Thomas (AV 4, $634,000/AV). All of these vets, except Darby, are signed through at least 2021, and figure to be significant pieces of the team’s plans next year. Darby has expressed a strong interest in signing another contract with the team as well.
The other players in this category were three first round picks, Jon Allen (AV 10, $369,000/AV), Daron Payne (AV 9, $467,000/AV), and Chase Young (AV 13, $483,000/AV). Young’s AV of 13 was the highest on the entire team. Chase Roullier, in the final, higher salary year (~$4M), of his rookie deal, rounded out this group (AV 6, $662,000/AV).
High Priced, High Performers
Last year, this group was “Moderately Priced, Middling Performers.” This group shrunk the most dramatically in 2020, with Payne graduating into the “good production” category this year. Several players who fell into this category last year (Keenum, Chris Thompson, and Dunbar) were allowed to walk in free agency before the season.
Only two players fell into this new category this year, Morgan Moses (AV 7, $1,236,000/AV) and Brandon Scherff (AV 9, $1,670,000/AV). Both players played very well in 2020, with Scherff garnering his first All Pro honor. The primary issue is, in order to remain in this category, and avoid slipping into the one below, that level of performance has to be retained. Whether Scherff can remain a good value proposition into the future is almost entirely contingent on his ability to stay healthy AND play at a level that keeps him in the top 2-3 best guards in the league.
Very Poor Value
Only one player really fell into this category this year, and it was largely the result of having been moved into a part-time role as a result of the team’s transcendent, young talent at his position. Back up players shouldn’t be getting paid $11.6M/year, but that’s what Ryan Kerrigan received in 2020, severely impacting his value (AV 3, $3,896,000/AV). Kerrigan’s tutelage of the team’s young pass rushers surely provided a benefit to their development, but the reality is that he’s no longer a good value proposition for the team and will likely be allowed to walk in free agency this offseason.
The Walking Wounded
Two of the top three paid players on the team, Alex Smith and Landon Collins were unavailable for much of the season as a result of injury. Alex performed admirably during the course of the season, and had an important hand in the team’s ability to make the playoffs this year. Collins, whose overpriced contract is going to haunt the team for at least one more year, was ultimately outplayed by a rookie.
Given Smith’s obvious limitations at the end of the year, I suspect he retires or is cut this offseason. Collins’ contract terms almost require that he be kept around at least one more year. It will be incumbent on the coaching staff to figure out how to get the most production out of him in 2021.
Here’s hoping there is no “walking wounded” category in next year’s piece.
Amazingly, Washington didn’t have a single quarterback with an AV above 1 (Alex’s AV was 1). I would be shocked if that could be said of any other team in the league. It’s abundantly obvious to everyone familiar with the team, but on a team otherwise headed very much in the right direction, stability and reasonable play at the QB position is a must in order to take the next step.
Many of the past two years’ conclusions hold this year as well, but there are some refinements to note:
- As was the case in 2019, great drafting can have an immediate impact and lock high value performers in place for years. Fully five of the top value players were drafted in 2019 or 2020 (Curl, Gibson, Sweat, Holcomb, and McLaurin). All of those players are on rookie deals for at least two more years. That’s basically a quarter of the team’s starters. Another draft of similar quality could push that percentage closer to a third.
- Finding and signing “value vets” can be a huge element of team success. The 2019 signing of Jon Bostic was multiplied several times over in 2020, with the team adding an amazing 7 vet starters this year, all paid under $4.2M apiece this year.
- It’s really difficult for first round picks to hit the highest value proposition category (though it can be done. See: Sweat, Montez) because of their sizeable contracts, even on their rookie deal. Nonetheless, as long as those guys can produce at a high level, they’re still a very good value, and a critical part of team building. We’re very fortunate to have 4 guys in that category (or above) right now. We have to keep our first round picks - and hitting on our first round picks - the see future success.
- When expensive vets hit a fork in the road, it’s important to ask if they are capable of achieving a performance level that can justify their salary. Often times, the answer is “no.” In those instances, if the team has an escape route, or option to move on, it should be given strong consideration. In retrospect, considering the situation of a player like Ryan Kerrigan last year, there may have been an opportunity to return more value by trading him before the final year of his contract. As the team develops more players who will be sought by other teams in the league going forward, it’s important to be thinking about their eventual role with the team well before their final contract year.
The full value table for the team is included below:
WFT Player Value - 2020