It can be difficult to keep up with the roster this time of year. I usually try to “snapshot” the depth chart from time to time in the off-season to help everyone pause and consider where we are with it.
The initial wave of free agent signings is done, and teams are starting to ink deals with second and third-tier free agents, though a number of top-tier veterans remain unsigned.
Washington has about six weeks to finish filling in the roster with veterans before the draft, when the Football Team will have eight selectons — two in the third round (Trent Williams trade), none in the 6th and two in the 7th (due to the David Sharpe trade, I believe).
By my reckoning, the team has 78 players under contract; I’d estimate that around 23 of those players have little to no chance of making the regular season roster. That leaves about 55 guys with a good chance to play regular season football for Washington in 2021.
Of course, some of those eight draft picks will make the team, pushing some of the backups onto the practice squad or off the team entirely.
I used three websites to try to get this depth chart as accurate as possible. I feel pretty good about having the right number of players (though that can change on a moment’s notice this time of year) and the right names.
I am not as confident that each player — especially when it comes to backups — is in the absolute correct position. Sometimes it’s unclear who is a slot receiver or nickel corner, or whether a guy plays free or strong safety. At times, with guys who may have played in a 3-4 with their last team, I may be unsure whether they will be a LB or DE in Del Rio’s 4-3, and it’s often hard to identify whether a 3rd string linebacker plays Mike, Will or Sam.
That said, I think the chart below is probably useful for getting a sense of where the roster stands at the moment.
I’ve highlighted veterans free agents signed from other teams in green. There are only four at the moment: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Curtis Samuel, William Jackson III, and David Mayo.
Pink highlights denote players who missed significant time due to injury last year or who are trying to return from a major injury.
A few key points:
- The team chose not to re-sign long snapper Nick Sundberg, who had been the longest-tenured Washington player. That roster spot will have to be filled; likely with a late-round draft pick or college UDFA.
- Offensively, the team probably needs to add another legitimate TE, add another talented receiver, bring in a third-down RB to back up McKissic, and add OL depth
- Defensively, the team’s weakest position group is linebacker. Whether in the remaining veteran free agency or April’s draft (or, I guess, through trade), the team needs to add probably two high-quality linebackers, with at least one of them possessing good coverage skills. Jack Del Rio probably also needs another cornerback, and — while the team may be able to get by without it — adding a talented free safety wouldn’t be a bad idea. Beyond this, while the starting defensive ends (Sweat & Young) are top-tier talents, the team probably needs at least one more pass rusher added to the group.
I think most people would agree that the depth chart has some thin spots, but with the draft still ahead, the front office seems to have positioned the roster pretty well, giving the front office brains trust the chance to go into the draft and “follow the board” where it leads.
The team has put some spackling and painted over the quarterback position, and seems to have at least two exciting signal callers in Fitzpatrick and Heinicke, each with the ability to energize fans with their aggressive styles of play on the field.
The front office has added speed on both sides of the ball annually for a few years now, and the burgundy & gold has transformed from a rather heavy-footed roster a few seasons ago to one that is filled with speed and quickness.
Last season’s top-5 defense has a chance to stay near the top of the league. Getting William Jackson as a replacement for the departing Ronald Darby feels like a ‘win’, especially with the return of Matt Ioannidis from injury and with literally every other starter from last year’s defense back for 2021. If Ron Rivera & Co. can add one or two talented linebackers, this group might be in consideration for the best defense in the NFL in ‘21.
The offense may still be two or three playmakers away from completion, but with the new bearded gunslinger behind center, the speed on offer with Samuel, McLaurin and Gibson, and the versatility of the pass offense with the inclusion of TE Logan Thomas and RB JD McKissic, the 2021 season should provide a lot more offensive entertainment to NFL fans than has been true in recent years. It should be a very different experience than what was on offer with a young Dwayne Haskins or a gimpy Alex Smith. While Alex was known to be safe with the ball and to rely on his backs and tight ends almost exclusively, Fitzpatrick is likely to bring back memories of seasons past when Rex Grossman would wind up and let fly: “...I’m going deep!”
OverTheCap had Washington with $21.2m in cap space at the time of writing, but that number hadn’t yet been adjusted for Curtis Samuel’s contract.
If we take out, say, $7m for Samuel, and allow $1.3m for the rookie pool and another $5m “contingency” for injury replacement during the regular season, then the Football Team can spend (at a maximum) around $8m in 2021 cap space on more free agents.
While this may not sound like much, remember that, due to the Rule of 51, each new player signed pushes another player out of the calculation. So, hypothetically, if the team signs a backup to a one-year, $1.5m contract, that player will push Kelvin Harmon’s $811k contract off the list, and the net cost will be just $700K (1.5m - 800k). You’ll see that $8m in cap space can go a long way when we’re talking about sub-$2m deals.
Free agency isn’t over by any means, and the eight rookies that are expected in late April will have a lot to do with the final outlook on this roster, but, for the moment, if you squint, you might just see the core of a good football team being constructed.