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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team

Which WFT players provided the best value in 2021?

And how might that change in 2022?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the past three offseasons, I’ve done analyses looking at the Washington players who provided the best value in the prior seasons. Last year, Kam Curl and Cole Holcomb came out on top, with Terry McLaurin close behind. The full 2020 evaluation can be found here, and the 2019 evaluation can be found at the link here. The 2018 evaluation is here.

This is a re-run of that same exercise with the same rules of the road. Despite its shortcomings, “performance” will be based on Pro Football Reference’sapproximate value (AV),” which is one of the few broadly available tools to try to quantify player performance from year to year.

A description from the PFR site is below:

“Essentially, AV is a substitute for --- and a significant improvement upon, in my opinion --- metrics like ‘number of seasons as a starter’ or ‘number of times making the pro bowl’ or the like. You should think of it as being essentially like those two metrics, but with interpolation in between. That is, ‘number of seasons as a starter’ is a reasonable starting point if you’re trying to measure, say, how good a particular draft class is, or what kind of player you can expect to get with the #13 pick in the draft. But obviously some starters are better than others. Starters on good teams are, as a group, better than starters on bad teams. Starting WRs who had lots of receiving yards are, as a group, better than starting WRs who did not have many receiving yards. Starters who made the pro bowl are, as a group, better than starters who didn’t, and so on. And non-starters aren’t worthless, so they get some points too.”

For 2021 (and where applicable, 2022) salaries, I am using information from Overthecap.com. For the purposes of this article, I am using “cap hit” interchangeably with “salary.” Throughout the rest of this article, “value” will be calculated as “cap hit($)/AV.” Players with an AV below 4 were generally eliminated from this exercise unless there was some specific reason to include them.

High Production, Low Costs, Great Value

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Washington’s solid drafting - prior to 2021 - continued to pay off this year in terms of an abundance of players - seven - who fell in this category, comprised of individuals with an AV above 4 and a value below $300,000.

Four of the seven players were on their rookie contract, with the top player on the list Cole Holcomb posting an AV of 8 and a value of around $114,000/AV. Holcomb was a top value last year, but his improved performance in 2021 boosted his value even further. Terry McLaurin (AV 9) and Antonio Gibson (AV 8) were once again two of the best values on the team, at $122,000/AV and $140,000/AV, respectively.

One more player on a rookie deal bolstered the middle of this group, with Kam Curl (AV 4) - last year’s top value - providing very solid value again in 2021 ($202,000/AV).

In 2021, three free agent signings rounded out this group. Taylor Heinicke had the top AV on the team (11) at a great price, providing the 4th best value on the team ($145,000/AV). DeAndre Carter proved to be top value, providing help both on special teams and as a wide receiver ($243,000/AV), and Bobby McCain (AV 6), despite an up and down performance throughout the year, rounded out this good value group ($243,000/AV).

All four of the rookie contract players still have at least one more year on their deal, as does Heinicke. Both Carter and McCain have probably earned themselves significant pay increases, depressing the likelihood that they’ll be such great values in the coming years.

Cheap Vets, Expensive Rookies, and Good Production

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This group exploded to 11 in 2020. In 2021, it contracted again, down to 9 players. Washington’s top 2 draft picks, Jamin Davis (AV 4) and Sam Cosmi (AV 4) were the only two rookies to qualify for this exercise, posting values of $627,000/AV and $301,000/AV, respectively.

This category was loaded with recent free agent signings in 2020, and two of those players showed up here again in 2021. JD McKissic (AV 5) and Cornelius Lucas (AV 4) didn’t perform as well as they had in 2020, but their reasonably priced salaries kept them in the good value range, $332,000/AV and $512,000/AV, respectively. Unfortunately, both players are free agents this offseason, and each will very likely be looking to be more generously compensated. Both third-down back and swing tackle may be spots that the team wants to pursue either in the draft or in free agency in order to optimize value.

Daron Payne (AV 7), who enters the 5th year on his rookie deal, posted a repeat performance in this category as well ($655,000/AV). His contract doubles in 2022, leaving the team with some important decisions to make. Montez Sweat didn’t play particularly well (AV 4), but he also didn’t cost very much, yielding a decent value ($793,000/AV).

Jon Allen, playing in the 5th year of his rookie deal, posted the best AV on the defense this year (10), and a correspondingly solid value ($714,000/AV). Having just signed a 4-year extension, his salary remains very reasonable in 2022, jumping substantially in 2023.

Moving on from Morgan Moses was a bit of a gamble, but effectively replacing him with Charles Leno (AV 8) was a successful decision. Leno has already been extended this offseason, which will almost certainly result in an inflation of his value from 2021 ($781,000/AV).

Most anticipated that when Ereck Flowers was acquired on a $3,000,000 deal in 2021 that he was likely to be a great value. He didn’t disappoint, posting the top AV (8) in this category, with a value of ($375,000/AV). With his salary jumping to $10M in 2022, it’s going to be virtually impossible for Flowers to avoid slipping into the next category, assuming he continues to play well.

High Priced, High Performers

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In the most expensive year of his 4-year contract with Washington (which carries him through 2023), Kendall Fuller played pretty well, and returned an adequate value for a well-paid vet, $2,625,000/AV. With a contract that shrinks a bit over the next two years, he may actually end up being a better value in the coming years.

Brandon Scherff (AV 6), makes a repeat performance in this group, but with the highest guard salary in the NFL and eyes on another record deal, it appears unlikely he’ll do so again in 2022. His value in 2021 was a steep $3,006,000/AV.

When the season began, it appeared that Landon Collins was going to end up being a disastrously poor value, but given a mid-season position switch, he was redeemed (AV 5), even though he was nominally one of the most expensive players on the team ($3,384,000/AV). If he gets a full season at buffalo nickel in 2022, I expect his value to improve.

Underperformers

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Last year, this category was “Very Poor Value,” and included only one player, Ryan Kerrigan. Had Landon Collins been kept at deep safety, he surely would have fit that description this year.

Two players who badly underperformed this year, but who could reasonably be expected to turn things around in 2022 occupied this space this year. William Jackson III (AV 4) was a big free agent signing last offseason, and he simply failed to deliver, providing a value of $1,164,000/AV. With a salary that triples in 2022, he will have to perform better or risk slipping into “very poor value” territory.

Chase Young (AV4), was injured for about half the season, and when he wasn’t injured, he wasn’t much of a factor on the defense. His value, $1,964,000/AV reflects that low level performance on an expensive rookie deal. A bounce back in 2022 could easily bump him into value proposition.

Walking Wounded

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As was the case last year, two - different - top paid players were injured for nearly all of the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick, the vet QB brought into “bridge” the team went down in the first half of the first game of the season. The conventional thinking is that his playing career is over at this point, and that he’s slated for retirement.

Wide receiver Curtis Samuel, whose salary impact was pretty meager in 2021 ($3.8M) was hobbled with a nagging groin injury on and off throughout the season. His salary effectively triples in 2022, and without very good production next year, his contract could end up placing him squarely in the “underperformer” category when evaluations are done next offseason.

Injuries continued to plague Washington this year, and the loss of their head trainer to a police investigation likely didn’t help matters. Reconstituting the training staff has to be one of Ron Rivera’s top priorities over the next couple of months.

Conclusions

The good news is that Washington’s QB play improved immensely in 2021 (In 2020, the team didn’t have any QBs with an AV above 1). The bad news is, it didn’t improve enough. Even at an amazing value, Taylor Heinicke just doesn’t appear to have the ability to make the team relevant. That effectively leaves the team with two options: 1) Find a vet whose cost, and therefore, value, is going to be a much riskier proposition, or 2) Draft a rookie and hope his performance pushes his value, while he’s on his first deal, through the roof.

Many of the past three years’ conclusions hold this year as well, but there are some refinements to note:

  • A very solid draft, like in 2019 and 2020, can have a lingering positive impact, and make an enormous difference in terms of cap dollars being spent. An apparently less stellar one, like 2021, can potentially put the team behind the 8-ball in future seasons. Davis and Cosmi are very likely starters into the near future, but it’s not at all clear that any other 2021 draftees become more than depth in the coming years.
  • The team hit the vet free agent signing jackpot in 2020. Most of those players will have come off those team-favorable deals by this offseason. The team hit on free agents Carter, McCain, and Leno, this year, all on one-season deals, and all of them will be expecting more in 2022. With a third round comp pick (Scherff) potentially in jeopardy, it’s going to be interesting to see how the team handles free agency this offseason.
  • Missing on first round picks can be devastating to value. It’s too early to say that Jamin Davis is a “miss,” but getting the production of a low-priced vet out of a first round selected rookie is a tough way to build a successful team. Davis’ AV was 4. As a point of comparison, Montez Sweat had an AV of 6, and Chase Young had an AV of 14 in their rookie seasons.
  • As vets get more and more expensive, their value proposition needs to be evaluated after each season. Thankfully, at this point in time, Washington doesn’t appear to have any terrible contracts in place, which is probably the first time that can be said in a very long time.

Addendum:

The full value table for the team is included below:

WFT Player Value - 2021

Player 2021 Salary AV Value
Player 2021 Salary AV Value
Cole Holcomb $908,721.00 8 $113,590
Terry McLaurin $1,100,805.00 9 $122,312
Antonio Gibson $1,121,054.00 8 $140,132
Taylor Heinicke $1,593,750.00 11 $144,886
Cam Kurl $808,332.00 4 $202,083
Deandre Carter $970,000.00 4 $242,500
Bobby McCain $1,460,000.00 6 $243,333
Sam Cosmi $1,204,649.00 4 $301,162
JD McKissic $1,660,000.00 5 $332,000
Ereck Flowers $3,000,000.00 8 $375,000
Cornelius Lucas $2,050,000.00 4 $512,500
Jamin Davis $2,508,032.00 4 $627,008
Daron Payne $4,587,660.00 7 $655,380
Jon Allen $7,142,235.00 10 $714,224
Charles Leno $6,250,000.00 8 $781,250
Montez Sweat $3,174,889.00 4 $793,722
William Jackson III $4,656,250.00 4 $1,164,063
Chase Young $7,855,363.00 4 $1,963,841
Kendall Fuller $13,125,000.00 5 $2,625,000
Brandon Scherff $18,036,000.00 6 $3,006,000
Landon Collins $16,918,750.00 5 $3,383,750

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