For the past four offseasons, I’ve done analyses looking at the Washington players who provided the best value in the prior seasons. Last year, Cole Holcomb and Terry McLaurin came out on top, with Antonio Gibson close behind.
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’s “approximate 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 2022 (and where applicable, 2023) 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
A couple of last year’s entrants in this category - Cole Holcomb and Terry McLaurin - fell out of this category this year because of injury and a significant salary increase, respectively. No mind, the development of several late round draft picks populated the bulk of this group - comprised of individuals with an AV above 4 and a value below $350,000 - this year.
All seven players were on their rookie contract, with the top player on the list James Smith-Williams taking serious advantage of Chase Young’s absence from the line-up and posting an AV of 7 and a value of around $131,000/AV. Darrick Forrest’s (AV 5) surprise ascent in 2022 placed him at second on the list with a value of $180,000/AV.
Two returnees to this category were Antonio Gibson (AV 6) and Kam Curl (AV 4) who both had very solid, if unspectacular, years, posting values of $224,000/AV and $230,000/AV, respectively.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the season, 2018 undrafted free agent, Jeremy Reaves (AV 4) broke out as a special teams stud this year, returning a value of $241,000/AV.
The final two entrants of this group were members of the 2021 draft class, Benjamin St-Juste (AV 4) and Jamin Davis (AV 9), each of whom firmly nailed down starting roles this season, and posted values of $300,000/AV and $344,000/AV.
No free agents qualified this year, but waiver wire grab, John Ridgeway (AV 3) would have if his performance had been a bit more sustained.
All of these players, except Reaves, will still be on their rookie deals next season, and, if healthy, could be expected to be extremely strong values in 2023.
Cheap Vets, Expensive Rookies, and Good Production
This group has steadily declined over the past three year, from 11 in 2020, to 9 in 2021, and 8 in 2022. Three players on rookie deals fell into this category, including first rounder Jahan Dotson (AV 4) with a value of $684,000/AV. Cole Holcomb (AV 4), hampered by injury, fell out of the top value category for the first time in years ($650,000/AV). Montez Sweat (AV 9), performed well in the 4th year of his rookie contract, delivering a value of $411,000/AV.
The rest of the players in this category were veterans who provided steady performance, but in nearly all cases could be upgraded. Two players, Cornelius Lucas (AV 5) and Taylor Heinicke (AV 6) were back-ups pressed into long term starting roles, and as such, provided reasonable - but low ceiling - value at two critical positions ($540,000/AV and $600,000/AV, respectively).
Guards Andrew Norwell (AV 6) and Trai Turner (AV 5) were both inexpensive, and therefore weren’t terrible values, $467,000/AV and $600,000/AV, respectively, but their performances were so pedestrian that it likely would have made sense to have paid more for better players at these key positions.
Safety Bobby McCain (AV 6) had a decent year in the secondary, but his salary doubles next year, which could jeopardize his relative value unless his play improves dramatically ($467,000/AV).
Soon-to-Be High Priced, High Performers
The three beasts in this category were among the best performers on the team this season. Unfortunately, none of them will ever be as inexpensive as they were this year again. Jon Allen was Washington’s top performer this year, with an AV of 13. In the first year of his contract extension, he provided a value of $731,000/AV. Allen’s salary doubles in 2023.
The recently extended Terry McLaurin (AV 9), in the last year of his rookie deal, had a career season, returning a value of $811,000/AV. His salary stays reasonable next year, before more than doubling in 2024.
In the final year of his rookie deal, Daron Payne (AV 10) made his contract year count. His value of $850,000/AV was still a bargain in 2022.
All three players in this grouping are former free agents, signed over the past several years. And all represented respectable value for the services rendered. Charles Leno (AV 7) took a lot of heat this season, but the reality is, he wasn’t getting much help from the guards, and great left tackles are hard to find. His value of $1,200,000/AV was not bad at all for a mid-range free agent.
Both Kendall Fuller (AV 7) and Curtis Samuel (AV 6) had much improved seasons in 2022 over 2021, where Samuel missed most of the year with injury. Their respective values, $1,600,000/AV and $2,100,000/AV reflect that increased output. Each of these players has very similar salary impacts in 2023, and can likely be expected to provide equal, or better, value next year, assuming the offense improves and takes more pressure off the defense.
Very Poor Value & Walking Wounded
It should come as no surprise that Washington’s worst value this year - among those playing more than 3 games - was Carson Wentz (AV 4). The washed up, strong-armed quarterback provided a value of $7,100,000/AV, and to add insult to injury, cost the team two third round drafts picks and the equivalent of a 4th rounder in the 2022 draft.
Chase Young (AV 1) was injured most of the year and cost the team $9,500,000 for limited production in a few games. The hope is he will return to his rookie form - or better - in 2023.
Reading back through last year’s conclusions, I’m left with an eerie sense of deja vu:
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.
Is Sam Howell the solution to option 2? There’s a reasonable chance we find out next season.
Many of the past four years’ conclusions hold this year as well, but there are some refinements to note:
- Just like the 2019 and 2020 drafts fed the top value players in the previous years, it appears that the 2021 draft is continuing that pipeline (Davis, St-Juste, and Forrest). If Cosmi, perhaps as a guard, Dyami Brown, or John Bates from that draft can become reliable contributors in the next couple of years, that would be a huge benefit. The 2022 draft, which I expected to be more instant impact, could very easily have at least four high value players in 2023 (Dotson, Robinson, Howell, and Paul).
- The 2020 free agent class remains the high water mark. A couple more recent free agent/vet trade moves (William Jackson III, Carson Wentz) have bombed spectacularly, and another (Curtis Samuel) has been a mixed bag, but appears to be trending in the right direction. Cheap free agent signings in 2022 (Norwell and Turner) returned just about the value one would expect for their price, but that wasn’t good enough for starting-caliber offensive linemen.
- Like Jamin Davis before him, Jahan Dotson returned moderate value in his rookie season, but unlike Davis in his rookie year, Dotson showed flashes of brilliance. Davis stepped up dramatically in his sophomore season, however, and if Washington’s quarterback situation improves, I’d expect similar maturation from Dotson. Unfortunately, Sam Cosmi appeared to regress in 2022, and Washington’s 2022 second round pick, Phidarian Mathis spent most of the season on injured reserve.
- As vets get more and more expensive, their value proposition needs to be evaluated after each season. Like last year, at this point in time, Washington doesn’t appear to have any terrible contracts in place, which seems to be the beginning of a pleasant trend.
- Every team will need free agents to plug holes in its roster, but the real value comes from drafting and cultivating home grown talent (or stealing the young talent of others, like Ridgeway). Washington would do well to remember that as it pertains to quarterback, in particular, rather than taking another pull of the veteran QB slot machine this offseason.
The full value table for the team is included below:
Washington Player Value - 2022