As the offseason rolls forward, Washington is surely starting the process of determining which of its free agents to re-sign and which to let walk, in addition to scouring the field of the potential free agents leaving other teams to pursue over the coming months.
Last May, I wrote about Washington positioning itself for two compensatory picks in the upcoming draft:
The comp pick capital was gained by letting Brandon Scherff and Tim Settle walk in free agency for contracts that were sufficiently large - $16.5M and $4.5M APY, respectively - that they met the compensatory pick cut off threshold. DeAndre Carter, who signed a $1.14M/yr contract, was not sufficiently highly compensated to qualify.
If you are unfamiliar with the compensatory pick process in the NFL, I’d highly recommend checking out this resource at Overthecap.com.
This offseason there are 22 potential players who could leave in free agency (though several of them have recently been signed to futures’ contracts, which indicates they will likely end up on the practice squad). Only a few of those players, however, are of a sufficient caliber that they are likely to generate comp pick capital for the team.
Last year, the lowest contract amount to result in a comp pick qualifying free agent was $2.25M. We’ll assume around a 10% increase in the salary cap this year, and a corresponding 10% increase in the comp pick floor, setting the minimum contract value around $2.5M.
So who would command that sort of contract in free agency if they walked this offseason?
Jeremy Reaves (S/ST)
Jeremy Reaves finally broke out in 2022, playing well enough as a special teamer that he earned the starting special teams spot for the NFC in the Pro Bowl. He will be Restricted Free Agent (RFA) this offseason, so the team has more complete control over him than the rest of the players on this list, but I thought it would be worth adding him nonetheless.
Unfortunately for Reaves, special teams specialists just don’t get paid a ton of money. Matt Slater (WR/ST), two-time first team All Pro and 10-time Pro Bowler for the Patriots has averaged between $2-3M per year for his career. I would expect Reaves’ next contract will be less, perhaps something in the $1.5 - 2M AAV range, which would not qualify him for generating comp pick capital, even if he were to walk.
Wes Schweitzer (C/G)
Big Wes was a really nice signing in free agency in 2020. Having earned a 3-year, $13.5M contract ($4.5M AAV), Schweitzer has been an important piece of the offensive line for the past 3 years, starting 24 games for Washington and playing in relief in 10 more. Fun Fact: Schweitzer generated a 6th round comp pick for the Falcons when he left. He also canceled out Case Keenum’s potential comp pick for Washington that season.
His ability to come in and play at any of the interior line positions has been incredibly valuable, particularly with center Chase Roullier missing significant parts of the last two seasons with injury.
Schweitzer will be 30 going into the 2023 season, so he’s likely on the downward trajectory of his career, but he still definitely has something in the tank. It’s not hard to imagine him signing a 2-yr, $6 or 7M deal for an average annual value (AAV) of $3.5 - 4M.
That would likely line him up to generate late 6th or early 7th round comp pick capital.
Taylor Heinicke (QB)
In 2021, Taylor was re-signed to a 2-year, $4.75M deal ($2.375M AAV). Over the course of the past two seasons, he’s started 24 games (and played in 25), going 12-11-1. Could Heinicke be signed by another team as a potential starter in 2023? It’s possible, though not incredibly likely. Instead, I suspect he lands somewhere as a high-end back-up, along the lines of a Jacoby Brissett or Mitch Trubisky.
At 30 going into the 2023 season, my current estimate is that he secures a 2-year deal in the range of $4-6M AAV.
A salary at $5M or above would likely put Heinicke solidly in the range of generating a 6th round comp pick.
Cole Holcomb (LB)
Cole Holcomb has consistently been one of the best values on Washington’s roster, turning into a reliable starter, while entering the league as a 5th round pick. Having earned an average of about $700k per year on his rookie deal, he’ll be looking to get paid in 2023 and beyond. I’ve been lobbying to extend Holcomb for some time now, and I think it would be foolish for Washington to let him get away, particularly given their very thin depth at the linebacker position.
My guess is that a market rate contract for the 26 year old Cole, now coming off foot surgery, would be in the range of $5.5 - 6.5M per year for around three years.
That contract amount would likely generate comp pick capital in the 6th round range.
Daron Payne (DT)
Washington’s War Daddy, Daron Payne, could - quite easily - be the top earning free agent leaving his team this offseason. Given going rates, I would expect him to earn an average of at least $20M per year, coming off a career season.
We can debate whether Payne or Allen is better, but Allen signed a contract extension averaging $18M per year in 2021, and inflation alone has driven Payne’s contract up past that figure.
If Payne leaves Washington this offseason, he’s certain to generate very high 3rd round comp pick capital.
Given the relatively low projected compensation, and positional criticality, of the top four players on this list, I expect most of them to be re-signed with Washington. Of that group, I would say Heinicke’s future here is most in doubt.
Alternatively, I would be unsurprised to see Daron Payne in another uniform next year, in which case, the potential third round comp pick would be a very thin reward for his leaving.
If it, indeed, appears that he wants to go elsewhere, I would hope that Ron and the Martii would franchise tag and then trade Payne to a willing partner, with the goal of securing something juicier than a 2024 3rd round comp pick. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.
How many comp picks do you expect Washington to generate this offseason?
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