In free agency a year ago, Washington’s front office signed Cornelius Lucas, Wes Schweitzer, Logan Thomas, and JD McKissic among others, and many of us yawned and wondered if there was any reason to care. All four of those named players played important roles in Washington’s division championship season in 2020, and each is expected to be on the roster again in 2021. While it’s easy and fun to get excited about signing top-tier free agents like William Jackson, Curtis Samuel and — dare I say it? — Ryan Fitzpatrick, championship teams are built deep to withstand the injuries and vicissitudes of a seventeen game season.
So, the moves that are made after the initial wave of high-profile free agent signings are complete can often make the difference between success and failure in the high-casualty world of the NFL. Imagine the safety position last season without Kamren Curl and Jeremy Reaves, or the left side of the line if the team hadn’t acquired Wes Schweitzer and Corn Lucas.
This weekend has seen the Washington Football Team re-sign some non-starting players from last year’s roster (Danny Johnson, David Sharpe, Lamar Miller), but two low-profile players were also brought in from other teams: LB David Mayo from the Giants and OL Tyler Larsen from the Panthers. The Carolina connection is strong here, as Mayo began his career as a fifth-round pick of the Panthers in 2015.
Let’s take a brief look at these two players.
Mayo was measured at 6’1” and 235 pounds at his pro day, though I’ve seen his weight listed as high as 245 in NY. He ran a 4.74 40 time, and put up 24 reps on the bench press.
His career got off to a nice start playing for a team that went 15-1 in the regular season and made it to the super bowl, where the team lost to the Broncos.
Mayo’s four years in Carolina were spent as a backup and special teams player. When he entered free agency in 2019, he signed with the 49ers on a 2-year contract, but was cut at the end of training camp. He was immediately signed by the Giants, who were desperate for linebacker help.
Mayo had the best year of his career in 2019, with 80 tackles, 2 sacks and a fumble recovery.
A year ago, in March 2020, Mayo signed a three-year extension with the Giants. It appeared that his NFL career had finally taken root.
Unfortunately for Mayo, he suffered a torn meniscus and missed the first part of the season. He eventually played in 11 games, and put up the second-best numbers of his career, finishing with 18 tackles, including two tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Had it not been for the Giants rather dire salary cap situation, Mayo would probably still be a Giant, but with the decreased cap space due to COVID, Gettleman had less than $1m in cap space before cutting Mayo and Golden Tate about two weeks ago.
This created the kind of opportunity that Washington fans have been hoping for this off-season — the chance to use Washington’s relatively healthy cap situation to take advantage of other teams’ need to cut roster dollars. Fans have been hoping that 2020 wasn’t a fluke, and that this front office can find some unpolished diamonds among other teams’ forced cap cuts.
Mayo may be just that.
Big Blue View did an in-depth film study of David Mayo based on games from the 2019 season. It is based on his first three games as a Giant, and it is probably worth watching. Some of the film is against the Dwayne Haskins-led Redskins.
Here’s the summary from the end of that article:
Giants fans should be happy to have David Mayo on the roster. He’s smart, quick to diagnose, strong against the run, and has an incredible motor. He’s a valiant reserve linebacker that fits in well with this Giants defense, and I can see why Gettleman was so quick to add him once he became available after final cuts. With that being said, there’s a reason he was available after final cuts; his tackling mechanics are adequate in space, as is his coverage ability, but he’s still a physical player who is solid at the second level of the Giants defense. Mayo has not been perfect, but he has been more than effective in his three starts with the Giants, and the team can do a lot worse than Mayo at linebacker. He’s coming off his best start yet against the Patriots. Let’s see if he can build from there.
Mayo is not the “instant starter” that many WFT fans are hoping for. He’s not the cover linebacker that the team needs.
However, Mayo is a 6-year pro and a proven NFL-quality player who seems capable of providing the kind of depth that is needed for a team that wants to be playing competitive football in late-November, December and January.
Some housekeeping with contract numbers:— John Keim (@john_keim) March 21, 2021
OT David Sharpe's cap hit is $987,500... received a $137,500 signing bonus. If cut, that's all he'd count on the cap.
C Tyler Larsen: $900,000 salary cap hit. Signing bonus of $50,000. That would be the amount of dead money if cut
Larsen was considered a good enough draft prospect that the former Utah State center was invited to the Combine. There, he measured 6’4” and 314 pounds. He squeezed out 36 reps on the bench press.
Ultimately, he went undrafted in 2014, but went to training camp with the San Francisco 49ers. They released him at the end of training camp, and he did not get signed by any team in ‘14.
He was signed by the Redskins in February, 2015, but, again, was waived at the end of training camp and spent another year out of football.
Related from Hogs Haven:
In 2016, he was signed to a futures contract in Carolina, where he finally managed to stick (sort of) on a roster. At various times during the ‘16 season, Larson was cut, he spent time on the practice squad, and eventually finished the season as the starting center for Ron Rivera’s Panthers.
In 2017, Larsen played in 14 games with 10 starts at center in place of the injured Ryan Kalil. At that point, Larsen’s career seemed to be established, but it turned out that 2017 would be the highlight of Larsen’s time in Carolina.
From 2018-20 Larson was active for all but three games (on COVID list) for Carolina, but he rarely saw the field. Here are his snap counts for his final four years in Carolina:
- 2017 - 720
- 2018 - 324
- 2019 - 29
- 2020 - 7
Larsen signed a two-year extension with the Panthers in 2018. Here’s the report on that extension from SB Nation’s Cat Scratch Reader at the time:
What this means for the Panthers
This could potentially be a huge deal for the Panthers since Larsen is seen as a potential replacement for center Ryan Kalil, who is expected to retire at the end of the 2018 season. Larsen can also fill in at left guard, and with Amini Silatolu suffering a knee injury yesterday that will keep him out of action for several weeks/months, the Panthers could use all the depth they can get on the offensive line.
Brendon Mahon is currently penciled in to be Silatolu’s replacement at left guard, but if the Panthers wanted to add more experience to the position they could certainly use Larsen as a fill-in for this season.
I think this is a great signing. The Panthers—at the very least—have a plan in place for the post-Kalil world that will begin in 2019. Larsen might not be the best center in the league, but he’s at least a solid depth option that the Panthers can rely on until they can find someone better.
The Panthers chose to sign veteran free agent Matt Paradis in 2019, and Larsen spent the two years of his extension playing almost exclusively on field goals and PAT attempts.
Larsen played a significant number of offensive snaps only in 2017 and 2018. In ‘17, though, he started from Week 2 to Week 13. Here are his PFF grades from that season.
Reports from his limited play in Carolina tell us that Larsen is an adequate NFL center, who is primarily a backup and special teamer, but who has the capability of stepping into a starting role as needed.
He apparently can also play left guard.
Washington has limited depth at interior offensive line, with Brandon Scherff, Chase Roullier and Wes Schweitzer backed up by Wes Martin and Keith Ismael (and maybe Sahdiq Charles). Martin has played poorly when he’s been on the field for Washington and Ismael played only 4 offensive snaps as a rookie in 2020.
It seems as if Larsen can offer Washington a proven veteran backup with NFL starting experience, and it’s even possible that Ismael or Martin could find themselves pushed off of the regular roster by Larsen if they aren’t able to beat out the 5-year veteran.
Would you like to see more veteran free agent signings like these in the coming weeks?
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The draft can’t get here soon enough