- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2021

Washington coach Ron Rivera said there were a “couple of guys” his team would pursue when free agency began. But when the legal tampering window opened Monday — allowing teams to reach agreements with players on the market — Rivera and the team’s revamped front office continued to work mostly behind the scenes as other teams around the league made a splash.

In Washington’s lone move of the day, the franchise agreed to re-sign kicker Dustin Hopkins to a one-year, $2.4 million contract with $1.8 million guaranteed. And while the team was able to keep Hopkins, Washington watched as starting cornerback Ronald Darby agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal with the Denver Broncos. 

Elsewhere across the league, the free-agent frenzy was underway. The New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the most aggressive — locking up Pro Bowlers to help get them back to title contention.

The Patriots signed pass rusher Matthew Judon (four years, $56 million), tight end Jonnu Smith (four years, $50 million), cornerback Jalen Mills (four years, $24 million), defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (two years, $16 million) and wide receivers Nelson Agholor (two years, $26 million) and Kendrick Bourne (three years, $22.5 million). The signings — a total of $194.5 million — represent a huge shift for a franchise that typically avoids splashy big-name signings. But the Patriots are coming off a down year in which they failed to make the playoffs and watched former quarterback Tom Brady win a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, prioritized re-signing key members of their recent championship run. It didn’t come cheap: The team gave pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett a four-year, $72 million contract ($36 million guaranteed) — the largest deal of the day — and tight end Rob Gronkowski (one year, $10 million).

Many of the NFL’s biggest names available still remain on the board. That includes this year’s free-agent quarterback class, which includes veterans like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton and Mitchell Trubisky.

Washington, of course, needs a quarterback. The team entered Monday with a projected $36 million in cap space — seventh-most in the NFL. 

Rivera said last week the team would be diligent about addressing its holes. Beyond quarterback, Washington could use upgrades at wide receiver, cornerback, tackle and linebacker.  Rivera said if Washington strikes out on its top targets, the team would resort to finding unheralded players who could thrive in a larger role — a strategy that worked wonders for the team last year. 

Also affecting Washington, the Kansas City Chiefs reset the guard market Monday — handing former Patriot Joe Thuney a five-year, $80 million contract. Thuney’s deal figures to set a new benchmark for Washington as it looks to re-sign Brandon Scherff for the long haul. 

Last week, Washington gave Scherff the franchise tag for the second straight year that will pay Scherff $18 million for one season, if an extension isn’t agreed upon. The sides have until mid-July to reach a long-term deal. So far, Washington and Scherff have not been able to strike an agreement. 

Unlike Scherff, a four-time Pro Bowler, Thuney has never made the Pro Bowl. But Thuney hasn’t missed a game in his five-year career whereas Scherff has played in all 16 games just twice. 

Asked about Scherff last week, Rivera said he realized Scherff playing on another tag could make it harder for the team to retain him in the future.

“That’s a chance that we’re going to take,” Rivera said. “He was an integral part of the success that we had last year. As we go through this set of situations and circumstances and he continues to prove to be an integral part, we’re going to have our work cut out for us. That’s just the way it is.”

As for Hopkins, Washington retained the kicker despite the 30-year-old coming off a career-worst season with a 79.4% field goal percentage. Hopkins, though, closed the year out strong — making 19 of his 22 field goals over the last nine games.

As a result, he’ll return for his seventh season in Washington and eighth overall. Before joining the team in 2015, Hopkins spent the year prior with the New Orleans Saints. Hopkins’ salary next year falls in line with what he made in 2020.

Darby, on the other hand, exits Washington after just one season The 27-year-old signed with the team in 2020 on a bargain one-year, $4 million in hopes to restore his value after a few injury-plagued seasons in Philadelphia. Darby did just that — appearing in all 16 games for the first time. Despite being Washington‘s most targeted corner, he played well and finished with 16 pass breakups and 55 tackles. 

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