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Tagging Brandon Scherff (again) in the hopes of a long term contract would represent a failure of management (again)

Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Here we are, again, in a familiar position for at least the third straight year: Brandon Scherff has just finished a season with Washington, and he’s not locked up on a long term deal. Sure, we can control his rights for another year going forward, but it will involve overpaying, and hiking his contract demands ridiculously in future years. Why can’t the Washington Football Team seem to learn?

Nearly two years ago, in 2019, I wrote a couple of pieces asking about the “price of overpaying Scherff” and declaring that his 5th year option was, in effect, the “first year of his franchise tag.” At that point - before the start of the 2019 season - several avenues were discussed, but in retrospect, the path of “Option 2” seems the most applicable:

Option 2: Franchise Brandon In 2020

If we’re willing to franchise Brandon in 2020, paying him around $15M/year, we should just pull the trigger on that deal now. He’s still fairly young, and guard salaries are unlikely to start dropping anytime soon. I wouldn’t choose to overpay him, but if there is a commitment to keeping him on the team, this is the most responsible option.

That wasn’t my top option - I preferred trading him while he was still under team control (5th year option) if he couldn’t be signed to a reasonable deal - but given the team’s overriding desire to keep him on the roster, it would have been a significant improvement over where we currently find ourselves: On the precipice of a second tag, valued at $18M per year.

In the past several years, we’ve squandered value with Kirk Cousins, Trent Williams, and, increasingly, Brandon Scherff. We’ve burned bridges with players and very likely left multiple Day 1 and Day 2 picks on the table. We have become a cautionary tale in how to bungle contract negotiations with top tier players, and it seems like we could be poised to do it again.

What Are Our Options?

Again, we find ourselves asking a familiar question. And again, I’ll roll out the answers.

Option 1: Let Brandon Walk

Scherff is not currently under team control. If he walks in free agency, he’ll very likely sign a contract large enough that it would net the team a potential 2022 third round comp pick, assuming that Washington is very measured in free agency this year. There are reasons to think that’s not particularly likely, which would essentially mean the team had ridden Brandon to the end of his value. A number 5 pick, a 6-year stint with the team, and two short-lived playoff appearances. It’s not Brandon’s fault the team wasn’t better. Under this scenario, it’s the team’s fault they squandered the value of high first round pick.

Option 2: Tag Brandon....Again, In the Hopes of a Long Term Deal

The team could sign Scherff to a second straight franchise tag, at 120% of his 2020 $15M salary ($18M). This would be astonishing, not only because it’s 22% more than any NFL guard not named “Brandon Scherff” has ever been paid before, but also because it would be done in a year when the overall salary cap is projected to drop by several million dollars. Yes, the WFT appears to have a reasonable amount of cap space going into 2021, but fiscally responsible NFL teams don’t go blowing salary cap “just because they have it.”

Some will surely hold out hope that tagging Brandon will just buy the WFT time to negotiate a long term deal at a lower average annual value. However, such an expectation fails on at least two grounds. First, under his second tag, Brandon is guaranteed $18M in 2021. Should the team want him again in 2022, his price goes up 144% under a third tag to a head exploding $25.92M. If Washington wants Scherff for the next two years, he can force them to pay him nearly $44M ($22M AAV). Why on earth would he accept anything less? As long as he’s here, he’s in the driver’s seat.

The second test on which the approach fails is “outcomes of the franchise tag in practice.” Every year, front offices and fanbases indulge in the fantasy that tagging a player will result in a lower priced long term deal, and it rarely plays out in reality. Examining the players tagged in 2020, turns up a very interesting pattern:

Arizona Cardinals: RB Kenyan Drake - Unsigned

Baltimore Ravens: LB Matthew Judon - Unsigned

Cincinnati Bengals: WR AJ Green - Unsigned

Dallas Cowboys: QB Dak Prescott - Unsigned

Denver Broncos: S Justin Simmons - Unsigned

Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Yannick Ngakoue - Traded before the season to the Vikings for a second round pick and conditional 5th rounder. (Later traded to the Ravens)

Kansas City Chiefs: DT Chris Jones - Tagged ~$17M, signed long term at $20M AAV

Los Angeles Chargers: TE Hunter Henry - Unsigned

Minnesota Vikings: S Anthony Harris - Unsigned

New England Patriots: G Joe Thuney - Unsigned

New York Giants: DE Leonard Williams - Unsigned

Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Bud Dupree - Unsigned

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LB Shaq Barrett - Unsigned

Tennessee Titans: RB Derrick Henry - Tagged at ~$10M, signed long term at $12.5M AAV

Washington Football Team: OG Brandon Scherff - Unsigned

So, the two players who were actually signed to long term deals, Jones and Henry, were signed for around 20% MORE than their tag amounts. In Scherff’s case, that would put him at a long term deal in the $21M+ range (not far from the amount listed above). If anyone wants to make a case for paying a guard left tackle money in the comments, I’m all ears.

Option 3: Tag and Trade (with a trade partner lined up before the tag)

What we see in that rather sad list of 2020 tagged players is a group of guys, some of whom never should have been tagged to begin with (Drake, Green), several of whom are likely to hit free agency this year, and many of whom had their value frittered away on teams that didn’t even sniff the playoffs. The one team that did capitalize, the Jaguars, were able to tag and then trade Yannick Ngakoue for a 2021 second round pick and 2022 conditional fifth rounder. That’s a round better than they would have done going the comp pick route, plus the potential 5th two years out.

If Washington can’t lock Scherff up to a long term deal before tagging him, this is the only circumstance under which it should apply the tag. Once tagged, they should move him before the 2021 draft for capital that can be deployed this year. Realistically, that’s probably a third, or, just maybe, a second rounder.

Conclusion

The team drafted Saahdiq Charles last year, with the intention of playing him at tackle, or potentially, guard. Both Wes Schweitzer and Cornelius Lucas were free agent finds that help secure the offensive line for another year, at least. Chase Roullier was rewarded this off-season with a generous $10M AAV deal for 4 years. Morgan Moses is signed for two more years for around $7.7M per. The foundational pieces of the line are in place, and will surely be added to in the draft and free agency.

If there’s any chance that Brandon would be content with a deal that averages $15M/year or so - and that would still make him the most expensive guard in the league - consider it. If, however, he’s looking for compensation anywhere close to valuation of his second tag ($18M), he should either be thanked and allowed to walk in free agency or shopped, tagged, and traded before the draft. The current front office didn’t initiate this mess, but how they resolve it (or don’t) will be one of their earliest tests.

Poll

Which option would you prefer for Brandon Scherff at this point?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Let him walk as a free agent.
    (196 votes)
  • 28%
    Tag him in the hopes of a long term deal.
    (203 votes)
  • 44%
    Tag him and trade him.
    (326 votes)
725 votes total Vote Now