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Washington’s OL factory is up and running

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NFL: Carolina Panthers-Training Camp Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When Howie Roseman referred to Philadelphia as a “QB Factory” after taking Jalen Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, most of the sports’ world laughed at him, for good reason.

As cruel fate would have it, his QB3 - former Redskin Nate Sudfeld - would embarrass himself 8 months later in Week 17, against his former team, and end up leaving for the 49ers after the end of the season. His QB1, the beleaguered Carson Wentz - once Roseman’s golden boy - would be shipped off as well, traded off to his former QB Coach, Frank Reich, in Indianapolis. The “QB Factory” currently consists of Hurts, late-stage Joe Flacco, and undrafted rookie Jamie Newman.

Needless to say, the notion of declaring one’s team a “factory” of anything should be approached with caution, and claims of such should be viewed with deep suspicion.

Undaunted, I’ve been joking for months now that it appeared Ron Rivera was assembling the parts to establish an “offensive line factory” in Washington, DC. Given the raw materials he had going into the offseason, the 6th best offensive in the league - returning all of its players, one of the best OL coaches in the league in John Matsko, and a healthy complement of cap space and draft capital, it didn’t seem implausible. A month after the draft, it seems entirely believable.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A Solid Foundation

In 2019, Washington’s offensive line finished 13th in the league. While many fans were panicking before the 2020 season about the line, some of us remained calm and correctly predicted that an improvement was on the horizon:

Between free agents, recent draft picks, and depth groomed over the past couple of years, I actually think the Redskins are in a very solid position at offensive line going into the 2020 season.

Currently, if the starting 5 are Lucas, Martin, Roullier, Scherff, and Moses, with the expanded roster in 2020, that leaves perhaps 5 more spaces for OL depth. Let’s say those spots are occupied by Charles, Christian, Parris, Pierschbacher, and Ismael. That leaves off Schweitzer, who I think could make the team.

Much has recently been made of the Redskins’ youth, and the reality is that the anticipated transformation of that youth from potential into performance is hardly more evident than on the Redskins’ offensive line. Prepare to enjoy the fruits of that patience in 2020.

Turns out, Washington’s line finished an impressive 6th in the league during the 2020 season.

Until just a few days ago, it appeared the 2020 line would be returning with all its parts, including a host of depth players, for the 2021 offseason. It’s recently been announced, however, that RT Morgan Moses has been allowed to seek a trade, seemingly ensuring he won’t be on the final roster in 2021, unless some dramatic salary reduction takes place. Moses is coming off his best season, in 2020, and could be a fairly desirable commodity for several tackle-needy teams.

If a trade deal is consummated, Moses becomes - in effect - the first product off the OL Factory assembly line, freeing up around $7.5M in cap space and returning draft capital in a small preview of what the future could potentially hold.

NFL: OCT 01 Panthers at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Maestro

John Matsko has been an NFL offensive line coach since 1992, serving with a variety of teams, including the Super Bowl winning Rams during their “greatest show on turf” period.

“In the six seasons that Matsko was with the Rams, the team advanced to the playoffs four times and had two Super Bowl appearances. He was also with the Panthers when they appeared in Super Bowl 50 after a 15-1 regular season finish in 2015.”

Matsko helped nurture some pretty impressive offensive linemen in Carolina. Center Ryan Kalil (second rounder) was a multi-year All Pro. Andrew Norwell was taken as an UDFA in 2014 and groomed into an All Pro by 2017. Trai Turner, selected in third round in 2014, is now a 5 time Pro Bowler. And 2015 fourth rounder, Daryl Williams was named second team All Pro in 2017. And, Matsko’s connection to his guys seems to persist even after they’ve left his team:

“I’ll give it to you short and sweet. I still talk to him. I talked to him yesterday,” Turner said after a Jan. 23 practice before the 2020 Pro Bowl. “He’s a guy that I lean on heavily. He’s just a great coach and a great mentor to my career.”

Matsko took a bit of heat from some fans in Carolina for poor offensive line performance towards the end of his tenure there, but much of those difficulties appeared to be tied to injuries on the line, failing to replenish the talent pipeline through the draft, and QBs hanging onto the ball longer than they should have been.

In Matsko’s first year in Washington, he turned Brandon Scherff into an All Pro (Washington’s first in decades) and coached Chase Roullier, Cornelius Lucas, Wes Schweitzer, and Morgan Moses to the best seasons in their careers. He’s an incredible talent who should be fed as much raw material as he can handle.

Chicago Bears v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Bringing In Reinforcements

Despite having a solid line in 2020, Washington wasted absolutely no time shoring up its trenches during the offseason. First, they signed Chase Roullier (C) to a 4-year extension, re-affirming their commitment to the reliable 6th rounder for years to come.

They then signed Rick Leonard, at tackle, an interesting project for the maestro:

Drafted by the Saints in the 4th round of the 2018 draft, Leonard has bounced around several practice squads since that time. Leonard only played offensive line for two years in college (he had been a defensive end previously), and was considered a raw prospect out of school. While possessing the athleticism and power to be an NFL lineman, he likely still needs to improve his fundamentals.

Following that signing, they franchise tagged Brandon Scherff (G) for the second time, ostensibly in the hopes that they could reach a long term deal in advance of the July 15th deadline.

A week later, they gave David Sharpe (T) another one-year deal, after having traded for him from the Raiders in 2020. Next up was the signing of Tyler Larsen (C), a former 5-year depth player for the Panthers

In mid-April, Washington signed free agent Beau Benzschawel off waivers, adding developmental guard depth. Benzschawel went undrafted originally, though he was one of the more highly regarded guards in 2019 class. It will be interesting to see what Matsko can do with him.

Days before the draft, Washington swapped 7th round picks with Miami to re-acquire Ereck Flowers (G), which instantaneously provided the team with a third starting caliber guard at a very reasonable price.

Days later, the team would draft Sam Cosmi (T) in the second round of the draft, in a move that most thought was intended to shore up the left tackle spot, but which - at least in the near term - appears to be creating competition at right tackle.

Finally - at least as of publication - the team signed Charles Leno, recently cut from the Bears, to a 1-year deal aimed at holding down left tackle.

Conclusion

At this point, Washington has 17 offensive lineman on their 90-man roster. It’s highly unlikely that more than 10 will survive the cutdowns (and more probable that only 9 would). Assuming Morgan Moses is gone prior to the season, that would likely leave Leno, Schweitzer, Roullier, Scherff, Cosmi, Lucas, Flowers, Charles, and Ismael as nine “sure things.” That leaves 7 potential players as options for the practice squad.

If the team wants to be, it’s easily set at guard and center for the next two years, with both solid starters and depth. The tackle situation is far more tenuous, unless Charles can stick there. If both Cosmi and Charles can be starting caliber tackles in 2022, the team is incredibly well positioned, at least through 2023, with multiple drafts and free agent cycles to grab sufficient depth.

In the meantime, Washington’s practice squad is going to draw attention around the league as a well-stocked provisioning ground for offensive line depth. My thesis here is that Washington should - and it’s possible they already are - use their 90-man roster and practice squad as a means of grooming offensive lineman beyond those they needly solely for their own roster, with an eye towards parlaying them as trade capital. Success in the NFL is highly dependent on being able to create value, and there’s almost no better way to create value that to turn a low-cost free agent or developmental draft pick into a desirable commodity

The reality is, in the NFL few, if any, teams ever have “enough” offensive lineman, so demand for them is high. With our in-house talent groomers, we’re one of the few teams in the league capable of bolstering the supply. I can’t wait to see if they will.

Current OL on the roster: (age) (years left under contract)

Center1 - Chase Roullier (27) (4)

Center2 - Keith Ismael (22) (3)

Center3 - Tyler Larsen (29) (1)

Guard1 - Brandon Scherff (29) (1)

Guard2 - Ereck Flowers (27) (2)

Guard3 - Wes Schweitzer (27) (2)

Guard4 - Wes Martin (25) (2)

Guard5 - Beau Benzschawel (25) (1)

Tackle1 - Morgan Moses (30) (2)

Tackle2 - Charles Leno (29) (1)

Tackle3 - Cornelius Lucas (29) (1)

Tackle4 -Sam Cosmi (22) (4)

Tackle5 - Rick Leonard (24) (1)

Tackle6 - Saahdiq Charles (21) (3)

Tackle7 - Geron Christian (24) (1)

Tackle8 - David Sharpe (25) (1)

Tackle9 - David Steinmetz (26) (1)

Poll

What do you think of the idea of Washington developing an OL factory to generate trade capital for the team moving forward?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    I like it. A lot.
    (852 votes)
  • 33%
    I’m listening.
    (454 votes)
  • 3%
    I think it stinks.
    (53 votes)
1359 votes total Vote Now