Everyone will remember that Ron Rivera’s first attempted big-name free agent acquisition for the Washington Football Team was Amari Cooper, who eventually decided to stay in Dallas in hopes of being with a team with an early draft pick and a chance to select a QB in the ‘21 draft and begin a rebuild, rather than joining a playoff-ready team like the Footballers of Washington.
Well, aside from quarterback, linebacker, tight end and, perhaps, offensive line, wide receiver remains Washington’s most glaring need in 2021. The team has Terry McLaurin, and that would be a great start for any team. Kelvin Harmon will be trying to rebound from his ACL injury from a year ago, AGG will be trying to establish himself, Cam Sims will be aiming to offer the consistency that would make him a weekly threat, and Steven Sims will be looking to re-establish the magic that made him one of the most successful slot receivers in the NFL for the month of December of 2019.
In short, the team needs a veteran receiving threat to pair with Terry McLaurin this season. No offense can be truly dangerous with just one great receiver, one very good tight end, and a strong receiving threat at RB. Washington needs another wideout, and the team needs to upgrade the slot receiver position.
I decided to look at some of the options that may be out there when free agency opens up when the new league year opens up in about four weeks.
Let me tell you this — the potential shopping list is huge. But it will be pared down by a number of factors. A lot of potential veteran free agents will re-sign with their current teams in the next few weeks, taking them out of the free agent pool. Some are too old to be the sort of long-term dangerous weapon the WFT is looking for. Some are too expensive to offer good value. Others just aren’t good enough.
Trying to offer a comprehensive list isn’t very useful here; you can Google that list easily enough, and you will find about 60 or 70 guys, most of whom won’t fit the bill for the burgundy & gold. So I’ve scanned the list in hopes of presenting a “short list” of candidates for you to consider today.
This won’t be the only short list we look at between now and mid-March. Furthermore, I’m not even suggesting that these should be our top five options. These are just five players that jumped out when I applied a set of criteria.
You might wonder how I went about generating today’s short list of candidates.
As I mentioned, I plan to write a few different articles offering a different set of candidates each time. In each article, I plan to get there by prioritizing different factors.
Here’s today’s priority list:
- Snap counts - I decided to use 2020 snap counts as a proxy for ability and availability. Basically, guys with higher snap counts were valued by the coaching staff and were healthy enough to play the bulk of the season’s plays.
- Age - This isn’t a simple “younger is better” bias, but it isn’t much more nuanced than that. Basically, any guy who is an unrestricted free agent already has at least 4 years in the league, so the pool is pre-selected as guys with experience. Washington is looking for a bookend for Terry and a talent upgrade in the slot, and we need a guy (or two) who can contribute at a very high level for 3 or 4 years at a minimum. For that reason, I set the top-end cutoff for age at 28 years old.
- Production - More is better. I want a guy who put up a lot of catches, yards or touchdowns in 2020 — preferably a guy who put up a lot of all three.
With that in mind, here’s today’s the “short list” of wide receiver candidates I’d like to submit for your consideration today:
Here are a few names I passed up that might’ve been good choices:
JuJu Smith-Schuster - I don’t think the Steelers will let him go. If they do, I’m not sure he’s a good fit for the Rivera culture. Otherwise, he’d be near the top of the list.
Zach Pascal - This guy would have absolutely been on my list this week. I profiled him as an udrafted free agent out of Old Dominion University in 2017 when he signed with the Redskins. He played with Taylor Heinicke for the Monarchs and spent his first NFL off-season in Washington.
He’s a local kid from Maryland, played over 800 snaps in Indianapolis last year, going for over 600 yards for the second year in a row, and pulling in 5 TD passes for the second year in a row. The problem is that he is a Restricted Free Agent, and a core element of the Colts offense. Maybe we can get him back in DC next year.
Tim Patrick - this Denver Bronco, like Zach Pascal, is a high-performing Restricted Free Agent. Maybe next year...
Josh Reynolds - The criteria for 2020 put him on my radar, but he has just 1,450 yards and 9 career touchdowns in 4 seasons. I’m looking for a guy with the potential to do that in a single season.
Keelan Cole - This Jax Jaguar had a high snap count, but on probably the worst team in the league. He had his career high in catches in 2020, but his career low in average yards per reception. He’s a decent receiver, but I don’t think he’s the big threat the team is looking for to upgrade the receiver room.
Nelson Agholor - The 28-year-old had a good 2020 season for the Raiders, with 896 yards and 8 TDs; I just can’t get past all the years I spent laughing at the Eagles for having him on their roster.
Demarcus Robinson - 27 years old, and he was on the field for 711 snaps, but, as sort of the anti-Keelan Cole, Robinson put up only middling production with 466 yards and 2 TDs in Kansas City’s explosive offense and the most gifted quarterback in the league.
Chris Godwin - I think he’d be a great addition to Scott Turner’s offense, but following the public proclamation by Bruce Arians, I don’t know how TB can let him walk out of the building.
Allen Robinson, Bears
I don’t think anyone can write a free-agent wide receiver article in 2021 that includes the Washington Football Team but doesn’t include Allen Robinson. I suspect he’s the most frequently considered target in articles across all media.
Robinson has been Chicago’s best offensive player since arriving in 2018, and it’s a surprise that they haven’t locked him up with a contract extension.
Robinson has made it clear that he’d still like to remain with the Bears, if they’ll have him. But he’s also explained that every option is on the table this offseason as he seeks a contract that’s worthy of his performance over the last couple of seasons — back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in one of the league’s worst offenses.
He isn’t ruling out a return to the Bears, but the man wants to get paid.
“I would say it’s an open line of communication,” Robinson said. “We haven’t spoken to them for some time now, but there’s definitely an open line of communication. I’ve always said that I’ll be here if they’ll have me. That’s the main thing. Even dating to the season for myself, it wasn’t too much of frustration. I was just trying to do what was best for myself. At the same time, as far as the contract and things like that, if I wasn’t going to get a contract extension, I understood that.
“For myself, it was just weighing all my options and weighing as far as what would be best. I’ve got nothing but respect and appreciation for the franchise and for the organization. I think things get twisted with players when they start talking about frustration and things like that, rather than a player just trying to figure out what’s best for themselves and for their career at that specific time. It’s never been too much frustration. It’s a business.”
So, is Washington a possibility for Robinson?
“I’m not 100 percent sure what will happen in the next coming weeks as far as being a free agent and things like that, but as everything stands today, I definitely will [be] open to everything on the table.”
Washington is currently estimated to have the 5th most cap space available in the NFL, so they are among the small group of teams that have some money to work with in free agency in this unusual off-season when the salary cap is expected to shrink by about 9% from the previous year. Most teams are burdened with escalating contracts for a substantial group of core players. Largely due to the approach to last year’s free agent market, Washington isn’t. This is a team with a young core that has both cap and draft resources available - if not quite in abundance, at least in relative sufficiency.
Robinson has proven to be an extremely productive receiver despite inconsistent play at quarterback. He was drafted by the Jaguars in the second round back in 2014 and then signed with the Bears as a free agent in 2018. Neither the Bears or Jaguars provided him with consistently reliable quarterback play, but he still managed to produce 5999 receiving yards in his career to date, at an average of 13.1 yards per catch, along with 39 touchdowns.
Robinson is a technician. He works multiple different release techniques to get off of press coverage at the line of scrimmage and shows terrific route running ability as he smoothly works in and out of his breaks. These two traits combined allow him to consistently create separation from his defender, making him a trustworthy target for whoever is throwing him the ball.
Robinson is the complete package as a receiver. He wins consistently with his ability to release off the line of scrimmage from press coverage along with his route running prowess. He makes himself a friendly target for whoever is throwing him the ball thanks to his reliable hands and toughness to withstand hits over the middle. Whichever team does sign him can feel comfortable about getting value in the contract, as he has a natural progression from X receiver outside to a big slot receiver inside as he ages if need be. He should be a true No.1 X receiver wherever he goes.
From a Washington perspective, the team clearly needs another threat at receiver to take some of the pressure off of Terry McLaurin. Robinson would certainly do that and then some, and Washington would be better for adding him. However, there could be some issues that come from signing Robinson. Both Robinson and McLaurin are X receivers and while both are good enough to play other spots, both deserve to be the go-to guy at the X receiver spot. That being said, Amari Cooper is an X receiver and Washington offered him more money than the five-year $100 million contract he signed with Dallas last year. McLaurin could certainly shift to play the Z spot and both can play in the slot.
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner is creative and has plenty of formations and motions to get both guys in positions that suit them, but I do wonder if Turner would prefer a different type of receiver opposite McLaurin, someone that stretches the field a little more than Robinson does. With that in mind, I’d guess Washington would prefer to target a different profile of receiver at perhaps a slightly cheaper rate than Robinson to pair opposite McLaurin. But if the team ended up chasing Robinson, I certainly wouldn’t be critical of them adding such an accomplished receiver.
Damiere Byrd, Patriots
Byrd popped onto my radar for this article because of his high snap count (901) and age (28), but I might’ve passed on him based on his career production.
2020 was, by far, Byrd’s best season as a pro, and with just 1,092 career receiving yards, he seems to fall into the same bucket as Josh Reynolds, who didn’t make the cut.
I’ve included Damiere Byrd for two reasons:
- While he is not an established punt returner, he is capable of returning punts. He handled 11 punts in 2018, averaging a respectable 9.5 yards per return, with a long of 30 yards before breaking his arm in Week 12 and going on IR.
- Byrd played his first four NFL seasons (2015-18) in Carolina with Ron Rivera.
From Pats Pulpit:
After spending his rookie season on [Carolina]’s practice squad, he made its 53-man roster the following year but did not have any notable impact: Byrd appeared in one game during which he caught a 16-yard pass, and was later moved back to the practice squad again before finishing the season on the active team. While he started to see a bigger role the following two years, injuries shortened both campaigns.
Byrd played in a combined 16 games between 2017 and 2018, primarily as a punt and kickoff return man, but two separate broken arms and a leg injury forced him to end each of the two seasons on injured reserve. The Panthers therefore decided not to bring him back during 2019’s free agency, and the South Carolina product ended up signing a one-year pact with the Arizona Cardinals. After a rather productive season in Arizona, he moved on once more: the Patriots brought him aboard on a one-year pact.
Serving as New England’s de facto number one wide receiver, Byrd appeared in all 16 of the team’s games and was on the field for 901 of a possible 1,011 offensive snaps (89.1%). While not a true WR1 in terms of usage or production, he was a regular member of the Patriots’ offense and ranked in the top three in every major receiving category: Byrd caught 47 of the 73 passes thrown his way — ranking third and second in the two categories — for 604 receiving yards (2nd) as well as a touchdown (3rd).
Byrd’s usage and route tree was limited for much of the season, but grew slightly as his first year in the system went along. He played mostly on the offensive left early on while primarily running comebacks, outs and shallow crossers, but later was moved around a bit more to take advantage of his speed.
New England has good reason to re-sign Byrd for 2021, but I could see the attraction for Rivera and Turner to bring in a free agent that is very much in the mold of their 2020 signings — a guy who is largely under-the-radar, NFL ready, and more upside than downside at a critical juncture in his career.
Byrd’s first two free agent contracts were for $720,000 with Arizona and $1.6m with New England. Compared to the other relatively higher-profile names on my list today, Byrd could be signed to a very economical contract.
Damiere Byrd would be a true complement to Terry McLaurin, rather than a competing high-end X receiver like Robinson, and he would add the important dimension of a proven punt returner.
Byrd represents the “economy” option on this list of five candidates, but his return ability combined with his notable production in a hobbled Patriots offensive attack in 2020 and his history with Ron Rivera make him, in my opinion, a legitimate free agent wide receiver option that ticks a lot of the boxes based on what we learned about our head coach from his initial free agent class in Washington.
Corey Davis, Titans
Corey Davis just missed 1,000 yards on 65 catches in 2020; he was #2 behind A.J. Brown in the NFL’s 23rd ranked passing offense. The Titans went to the playoffs behind Ryan Tannehill at QB, so they seem likely to want to re-sign Davis, and I can’t think of any good reason that he would want to leave. The team seems to be ascendant, and Davis & Brown are the offensive stars in the passing game, in an offense that is driven by RB Derrick Henry. While they are projected to be $3m over the cap at the moment, that is with 55 players under contract. They aren’t likely to have to make any significant cuts to manage their salary cap, so I expect Davis to remain in Tennessee.
But, on the off-chance that he decides to test the free agent waters, here are his career statistics:
He’s been a pretty consistent receiver over his 4-year career, and seems to be the very definition of “a solid #2 guy”. This is from Titans Wire:
Hindsight is always 20/20 and while it’s easy to say the Titans made the wrong move in declining his fifth-year option after the season he had, it was the right move at the time after Davis failed to produce what you’d expect from such a high pick during his career.
As far as his market value goes, Spotrac estimates that Davis will receive a contract worth $39.4 million over four years, which works out to an annual average salary of $9.8 million.
the Titans need to find a way to bring Davis back. Along with A.J. Brown, Tennessee sported one of the best 1-2 punches at wide receiver in the NFL and that no doubt helped elevate Ryan Tannehill and the team’s offense.
Achieving [the team’s] goal starts with bringing Davis back, and when you consider that the Titans are shelling out an average of $9 million per year for Humphries, re-signing Davis at around that price seems like a no-brainer.
I feel like he’d be a strong addition for the Washington Football Team, though I will repeat that I think he is most likely to sign an extension and stay in Tennessee.
Curtis Samuel, Panthers
Obviously, Samuel is well-known to Ron Rivera, Scott Turner and Marty Hurney. Depending on what they thought of him when they were all in Carolina together, Samuel could be a priority target this off-season, or he could get the Greg Olsen treatment doled out by Rivera a year ago...thanks, but no thanks.
At 25 years of age, the 5’11”, 195 pound receiver is among the youngest impending free agents in the league.
Samuel, in addition to adding some firepower to the passing game, is also capable of executing a few runs as well. Over the last two seasons, he’s recorded 60 out of his 71 career rushing attempts for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns. Curtis Samuel was running Scott Turner’s offense before it even became Scott Turner’s offense!
Samuel’s production has risen every year he’s been in the league. When you factor in his rushing he has become a multi-faceted and dangerous weapon in Carolina; he had 1,051 yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns in 2020. He also has experience as a kick returner — he returned 10 kickoffs in each of his first two seasons in the league, averaging a rather pedestrian 21.5 yards per return over his 20 runbacks.
There seems to be reason to believe he will test free agent waters rather than signing an extension with the Panthers prior to the start of the league year, primarily because the Panthers are a bit up against it when it comes to the falling 2021 salary cap. They are projected by OverTheCap to have $12m in cap space, but the team has at least 9 key players set to enter free agency in March, including every starting offensive lineman except the center, Matt Paradis.
Consider this analysis from Fansided:
Given how tight finances are expected to be with the salary-cap coming down due to COVID-19 revenue losses – coupled with the need to tie down stud right tackle Taylor Moton to a lucrative extension – and it’s not hard to see why Carolina has a potential problem on their hands.
Moton is priority No. 1, of that there is little doubt.
But losing Samuel would be a body blow to the Panthers in no uncertain terms.
They will obviously offer the wideout a new deal in the coming weeks in keeping with what they can afford. However, Samuel will know full-well what he can get from another team looking to acquire his services and it wouldn’t’ be a surprise to see him try to use this as a bargaining tool when all parties get to the negotiating table.
Getting into a bidding war would not end well for the Panthers.
So no matter how good Samuel is, they should not be held to ransom.
The Panthers need to utilize their available financial resources wisely in free agency. They have a number of holes that need to be filled and jeopardizing their current rebuild by overpaying for Samuel wouldn’t be the smartest way to go.
After all, he is still the No. 4 threat in the passing game behind D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Christian McCaffrey when healthy.
The promise of a more important role elsewhere might be enough to tempt the player, who could take his game to new heights with additional responsibility on his shoulders. Samuel’s previous ties to new Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer from their time together with the Buckeyes is obvious. But they won’t be the only team looking to get someone with such a unique skill set on-board.
If the Marties, Rivera and Turner covet Samuel, I have no doubt that they could out-bid the Panthers to get him.
Spotrac project Samuel to command an annual salary of $12.4 million on a four-year, $49.96 million deal this offseason. I’ve looked through a number of Spotrac estimates. Generally speaking, I think they typically under-estimate player worth in free agency, but this season I don’t think they’ve factored in the effect of the falling salary cap. The net effect is that I figure they’ve probably got the right neighborhood on projected APY. If Washington needed to pay a small premium to get Samuel, his pay might go as high as $14m per year; if the falling salary cap creates enough of a buyer’s market, he could fall to as low as $10.5m per year based on the players I see in that range (per OverTheCap):
Will Fuller, Texans
In 2016, Washington traded back one spot to allow Houston to select Will Fuller. With the next pick, GM Scot McCloughan chose Josh Doctson 22nd overall. The 2017 pick that Houston sent to Washington in that trade was used to pick Robert Davis.
From Doctson and Davis, the Redskins got a combined 1,117 receiving yards, and 8 receiving touchdowns.
Here’s what Houston got:
While Fuller has never really been the guy that the Texans hoped for when they made him the second wide receiver drafted in 2016 (Corey Coleman, Fuller, Doctson, Laquon Treadwell all went in the first round; Michael Thomas was picked by the Saints midway through the second round), the Texans have at least gotten five years of consistent production out of Fuller if you look at it on a per game basis.
Probably his biggest failing has been the inability to stay healthy. You can see from his career stats above that he hasn’t appeared in more than 11 games in a season since the end of his rookie year.
- His 2017 season was shortened due to a broken collar bone suffered in training camp.
- In 2018, he missed the opener with a hamstring injury, then tore his ACL in Week 8.
- In 2019, Fuller had a significant hamstring injury that kept him out of 5 regular season games.
- Last season, missed another 5 games — this time due to a 6-game suspension for violating the league policy on performance enhancing drugs. (One imagines that he may have been juicing in an effort to avoid another season altering injury.)
We already know that Fuller won’t play a full 16 games in 2021; he will have to miss the opening week game as the final game in his 6-game suspension.
Over the six years of his career, Fuller has averaged over 900 yards, and just about 8 TDs for every 16 games he has played, which makes him pretty damned productive when he’s healthy and active. But his inconsistent availability (and the PED issue last season) raises a giant bright red flag for anyone that would consider signing him in free agency.
The Texans have a new GM, new head coach, and a whole lot of other new people in the organization who are likely to look a bit side-eyed at Fuller based on his years with the organization.
From Fuller’s point of view, this isn’t an ideal time to enter free agency. His most likely outcome this off-season is to get a one-year, bonus-heavy deal that will allow him to prove that he can (or can’t) stay healthy (a bit like the Ronald Darby situation from a year ago), in hopes that he can re-enter free agency in 2022 with a rehailitated image and a more promising league salary cap situation.
Whether Ron Rivera and the front office want to be involved in the gamble that is Will Fuller remains to be seen, but my bet is that they will steer clear of the young man and his chequered history. I believe Washington will pass on Will Fuller for the second time.
I see Allen Robinson as the most likely sure-thing at the wide receiver position in the 2021 off-season. He will be expensive and, if signed, he will probably force Terry McLaurin to play more z and slot receiver, but Robinson would represent a significant talent upgrade for the Washington receiver group, and the McLaurin/Robinson combination would be enough to keep defensive coordinators awake at night.
Damiere Byrd strikes me as an appealing dark horse candidate for this off-season. He is a solid #2 receiver (or #3, depending on the strength of the depth chart) who can return punts; he has played for Ron Rivera in the past, and he could probably be signed for about 20-30% of the salary that a top-tier wide receiver will command. I could see Washington signing Byrd as one of two veteran free agents this off-season. He might easily push a guy like Steven Sims right off the roster.
Corey Davis looks like he would be a superb addition to the Washington Football Team, but I don’t believe the Titans will let him get to free agency.
Curtis Samuel probably slots in somewhere above Damiere Byrd but below Allen Robinson in terms of both production and salary. I can’t think of any reason why Rivera and Co. wouldn’t love to have him in Washington, and Carolina is going to face some tough free agent choices over the next four weeks. He could represent a nice consolation prize if the burgundy & gold can’t win the Allen Robinson sweepstakes. I believe there’s a better than even chance that Samuel enters free agency, and I think he’d perceive Washington, with Rivera and Turner in charge, and a help-wanted sign in the window for a talented and multi-dimensional wide receiver, as a prime landing spot — especially if he can get Dan Snyder to crack open his check book and make it rain a little bit.
Scot McCloughan passed on Will Fuller in 2016, and the Washington front office should pass on him again in 2021. Fuller has red flags pinned all over him.
If you were Washington’s final decision-maker and you had only these five veteran free agents to choose from, which one would you try to sign, taking into account age, production, likely contract value and other factors?
This poll is closed
Allen Robinson, Bears
Damiere Byrd, Patriots
Corey Davis, Titans
Curtis Samuel, Panthers
Will Fuller, Texans