With all the focus on the Washington Redskins’ pending name change, you’d be forgiven for forgetting there are actual football decisions that need to be made.
But Wednesday is an important day for the team — it’s the deadline to reach a long-term contract with guard Brandon Scherff, who otherwise will play on the franchise tag. And by all indications, the parties won’t strike a deal.
ESPN reported earlier this week that Washington “will wait” until after the 2020 season to negotiate an extension for Scherff, who is set to play on a one-year, $15 million deal. Coach Ron Rivera has taken a wait-and-see approach with the roster he has inherited, but in doing so, one of Washington’s best players becomes closer to becoming a free agent.
Under Rivera, Washington has held off on giving new multi-year deals to returning players. Like Scherff, the team has yet to extend Ryan Kerrigan — a prominent member of its defense. Washington also traded Trent Williams and Quinton Dunbar, rather than giving them new deals.
But if past markets are any indications, guards like Scherff tend to get paid when they hit free agency. Usually by other teams.
Of the league’s 15 highest-paid guards in terms of total contract value, five were the result of signing elsewhere. While that may not seem like a lot, consider this: The highest-paid players typically sign extensions well before they can hit free agency — something that hasn’t happened for Washington, which has the second-most cap space in the league with $36 million.
Dallas’ Zack Martin, for instance, signed a league-leading six-year, $84 million extension in 2018 — a full year ahead of when his rookie contract was set to expire. Last November, Philadelphia re-signed Brandon Brooks to a four-year, $56 million deal despite having the guard locked in on a rookie deal through 2021. Six other players in the top 15 also re-upped with their teams ahead of time. After Wednesday’s franchise tag deadline, Scherff and Washington aren’t allowed to negotiate a new deal until the conclusion of the 2020 season.
Further complicating matters, there isn’t much precedent for guards who have been given the franchise tag, which can complicate negotiations as Washington experienced with former quarterback Kirk Cousins. Before this year, there have been only two guards — Logan Mankins in 2011, Stacy Andrews in 2008 — who have played under the tag since 2007. Of that group, Mankins re-signed with the New England Patriots after the season, while Andrews left the Cincinnati Bengals to sign with the Eagles.
Because of the tag, Scherff will already have the highest cap hit among guards for the 2020 season, according to Over The Cap. And if a deal isn’t reached after the 2020 season, tagging Scherff again figures to be a non-starter for Washington since Scherff’s 2021 salary would increase by 120%, or $18 million. Only two offensive linemen, both All-Pro tackles, make at least $18 million per season.
Interior offensive line play has become increasingly valuable over the years, especially as dominating defensive linemen like Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins feast from the inside. That’s why when elite-level guards do hit the market, teams have been willing to pay a premium.
In 2018, the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Andrew Norwell to a five-year, $66.5 million deal, a total that only trails Martin. This past spring, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Graham Glasgow signed $45 million and $44 million contracts, respectively, to leave their former teams.
Since Scherff was drafted fifth overall in 2015, the 28-year-old has been one of Washington’s most consistent players — making the Pro Bowl three times in five years. But Scherff has seen his season cut short in each of the last two years, missing a combined 13 games.
Considering the injury concerns and Scherff’s leverage of hitting the market, it’s not surprising the two sides couldn’t reach a deal this year. But negotiations might be just as complicated in the future.