In meetings over the past few months, Washington’s brass hasn’t just discussed which players the team should pursue in free agency and the draft. The conversation also shifted to how the organization should handle its own players whose contracts are set to expire.
With 16 potential free agents — with 12 of them unrestricted — the team has until Monday before players can start negotiating with other teams. Washington holds $38 million in cap room, which can evaporate quickly depending on how active the team plans to be.
“Sometimes when you decide on a player, you have to have specific reasons,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “I think that’s the thing that I want to look at it is—what is their impact on the team and the organization?”
With that said, let’s take a look at some of Washington’s biggest names set to come available:
⦁ Ryan Kerrigan, pass rusher: Not much has changed for Kerrigan since the pass rusher strolled FedEx Field alone after Washington’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He’s still expected to sign elsewhere.
With Chase Young and Montez Sweat locked in as the starters at defensive end, Kerrigan wants a more prominent role next season — something he can’t get with Washington. Kerrigan, who had 5½ sacks in 2020, said after the season he can still contribute at a high level. There are a number of teams — the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks — that could use a veteran pass rusher, as well.
⦁ Ronald Darby, cornerback: Last year, Darby played on a one-year prove-it deal worth $4 million in hopes he could restore some of the luster to his game while operating in Rivera’s cornerback-friendly defense. “Corners that have played in his defense got paid,” Darby said.
The gamble could — quite literally — could pay off. Multiple reports indicate Washington is interested in retaining Darby, who played well despite being the team’s most-targeted corner.
A perhaps overlooked factor to Darby’s success in Washington: He played in all 16 games for the first time in his career after being hobbled by injuries in Buffalo and Philadelphia.
⦁ Kevin Pierre-Louis, linebacker: Washington hoped that Pierre-Louis, a 29-year-old journeyman, would turn out to be a diamond in the rough when signing him to a one-year, $3 million deal. It didn’t turn out that way.
Pierre-Louis struggled to begin the year, eventually losing playing time as the season progressed. But on Wednesday, Rivera was complimentary of Pierre-Louis — saying the linebacker improved down the stretch. He finished with a career-high 56 tackles in 13 games.
“I’d love to have Kevin back,” Rivera said.
⦁ Ryan Anderson, defensive end: Washington’s defensive line largely benefited from the team’s switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 under Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. The glaring exception was Anderson, the 2017 second-rounder who failed to record a sack last year.
Anderson hardly saw the field in 2020, as well. He played just 13% of the team’s defensive snaps. A fresh start as an outside linebacker elsewhere could benefit him greatly. In 2019,
Anderson had a career-high four sacks.
If Anderson and Kerrigan both leave, Washington will likely need to add rotational pass rusher even with Young and Sweat.
⦁ Dustin Hopkins, kicker: Rivera ultimately ended up sticking by Hopkins when Washington flirted with bringing in competition for the kicker during a midseason slump. Hopkins rebounded after a slow start, making 19 of his 22 kicks over the last nine games. Before that, Hopkins went just eight of 12 through the first seven games.
ESPN reported that Washington has an interest in retaining Hopkins. Though Hopkins will never be known for his leg strength — he’s 13 of 25 from 50-yards plus — finding a new kicker is easier said than done. And Hopkins has historically been reliable for Washington.