clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On letting Ryan Kerrigan go and grooming talent for the future

NFL Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Football Team Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

With Ryan Kerrigan’s signing by Philadelphia official now, it seems like a good time to reflect on a couple of key features of his departure. On the last year of his contract in 2020, there was some question about whether the team was going to keep Kerrigan and his $11.7M, non-guaranteed contract around.

Coach Rivera ultimately retained Kerrigan, albeit in a part-time role, while Montez Sweat and rookie Chase Young assumed their mantles on either side of the defensive line. At the end of the season, Kerrigan expressed his interest in retaining a starting role (and, presumably, the salary that would come with that), and Rivera passed on re-signing the veteran.

At the time, there was a significant portion of the fan base that hoped Kerrigan would be brought back, but it never felt to me like that was in the cards, given Rivera’s moves to get younger, and hungrier. It’s now come out that was likely the case.

Kerrigan’s account of the team’s approach warmed my heart, and took me back to an anecdote that Michael Lombardi has told about former 49ers coach Bill Walsh:

In 1985, for instance, he made the tough - and unpopular - choice to push wide receiver Freddie Solomon into retirement to make room for Jerry Rice. As much as Walsh loved his players, the team always came first. In Walsh’s mind, thinking of his players as human beings first meant only that he was obligated not to let them twist in the wind until he came to a resolution.

Walsh called this the 3 F’s of decision making: Firmness, fairness, fast.

Whether by design or by coincidence, Rivera’s treatment of Kerrigan closely mirrored Walsh’s and re-affirms his reputation as a straight-shooter. That sort of directness, while not always the message that players want to hear, offers them the respect they deserve, and ultimately fosters goodwill.

The situation also echoes a firmness that we’ve seen reflected in recent free agent negotiations, like those with Bobby McCain, where it initially sounded like McCain wasn’t crazy about the contract amount Washington was offering, but given a day or two to think about it, returned and signed with the team.

This front office is quickly establishing a reputation for drawing a line in the sand in negotiations and sticking by it, rather than making a habit of overpaying guys they fall in love with.

What Made Kerrigan Dispensable?

Washington may have the best pass rushing duo in the league in Sweat and Young, so it’s little surprise that Kerrigan was pushed out of a starting job here. What was a bit surprising was that he was pushed out of a depth role as well, particularly when the EDGE depth before the draft consisted of James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill, and Jalen Jelks. For those keeping score at home, that’s two 2020 7th rounders and one from 2019.

It’s recently come out that Washington was shopping for free agent EDGE rushers before the 2021 draft, but that Washington wasn’t seen as desirable place to be as a result of the log jam at the starting roles. That lack of success in free agency likely, at least in part, drove the team to add two more EDGE-capable players in the 7th round of the 2021 draft, William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney. I remain convinced that Toney will make his biggest impact as an off ball linebacker, but he also offers value to the team as a situational pass rusher.

None of those players immediately appear to make Kerrigan superfluous - particularly at the $3.5M/year price that the Eagles paid for him - but I’d like to re-visit a prospect I originally profiled just after he was drafted last year. A player who, curiously enough, comped most closely to, you guessed it, Ryan Kerrigan.

During his rookie season, James Smith-Williams (JSW) flew relatively under the radar, upstaged by spectacular draft classmates Young, Antonio Gibson, and fellow 7th rounder, Kamren Curl. Nevertheless, he still had an impact.

Smith-Williams was in on 63% of special teams snaps during the season. He also appeared on 9% of the team’s defensive snaps (98) collecting 10 tackles and a half sack. In four times as many defensive snaps, Kerrigan had fewer than twice as many tackles last year.

Perhaps most importantly for JSW, he was able to stay well for the full season. For a guy who couldn’t seem to stay healthy in college, and almost went undrafted because of it, that was a critical step.

While JSW’s athletic prowess was undeniable coming out of school, in scouting reports, his greatest deficiencies centered around his technique:

Play recognition skills and vision needs to improve. His eyes are everywhere and he takes himself out of position with poor discipline. Doesn’t have a great feel for deconstructing blocks with an understanding of where the ball is going. Needs to develop more hand combating skills so that he can more consistently disengage. Fails to get himself in half-man relationships and gets stuck body-to-body way too frequently. Pass rushing plans are rarely identifiable and often absent from counters. Hips are tight and he struggles to corner.

After a year understudying with a player considered by many to be a master of pass rushing technique - Kerrigan - is JSW ready to rise to the occasion when given the opportunity to spell Young and Sweat more frequently? We’re about ready to find out.


Are you comfortable that Washington’s existing EDGE depth will be a good situation in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Can’t we just play Sweat and Young on 100% of snaps?
    (61 votes)
  • 39%
    Yes, I think a couple of these guys make the leap this year.
    (397 votes)
  • 42%
    Cautiously optimistic.
    (435 votes)
  • 6%
    I’m concerned.
    (70 votes)
  • 5%
    Is it too late to call Kerrigan’s agent?
    (54 votes)
1017 votes total Vote Now