- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2023

Ron Rivera sticks to a common refrain when asked about potential contract negotiations: The Washington Commanders coach often tries to punt the question entirely so as to not give leverage to that player’s agent. 

Kam Curl was no exception.

“He is part of what we’re doing, but it’s something that we have to look at and decide and figure it out,” Rivera said of the safety.

Curl’s agent, though, likely doesn’t need Rivera’s praise to know his client’s value to the franchise. 

Last season, the Commanders were markedly better when Curl was on the field — something that was obvious in the stat sheet and when watching the unit. Since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2020, the 23-year-old has proven to be a versatile player for the Commanders as he can play down near the line of scrimmage, match up with big tight ends and cover on the back end. This past season, Curl had a career-high six tackles for loss, despite missing five games. 

Now in the offseason, Curl finds himself in a similar position that wide receiver Terry McLaurin was the year prior: The safety could be in line for a massive extension. Without one, Curl would enter the 2023 season in the last year of his contract.

But unlike the year prior, when McLaurin eventually signed a three-year, $71 million contract, the Commanders face a much more unstable situation as owner Dan Snyder is exploring a sale of the team. And beyond the sale of the team, the Commanders must also decide whether to pay players such as defensive tackle Daron Payne — a pending free agent who is set to cash in after a career season. Just how much of a priority is Curl? 

“You never really know what’s going to happen,” Curl said. 

Rivera’s front office has had a history of getting deals done with marquee players. The Commanders reached an agreement with McLaurin last June and the team also extended defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (four years, $72 million) in 2021. Washington’s brass has also reached deals with tight end Logan Thomas, left tackle Charles Leno and center Chase Roullier to keep them under contract. 

But they haven’t paid everyone, either. Washington could lose Payne in the coming weeks because Rivera and Co. opted not to re-sign the 25-year-old last offseason. The Commanders also couldn’t reach a long-term agreement with All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff, who left to sign a three-year, $49 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022. 

That, of course, is the nature of the NFL. Teams regularly choose what players to — or not to — pay. And an agreement is reached by both sides: If the Commanders offer a new deal to Curl, he’ll have to decide whether to accept it. 

The bigger question is what Curl’s next contract could look like. The safety market has continued to grow since Washington signed Landon Collins to a six-year, $84 million contract in 2019. Collins’ deal — which lasted just three seasons before the Commanders released him — made the highest-paid safety with an average of $14 million per season, though seven safeties have eclipsed that mark in the years since.  

The Chargers’ Derwin James (four years, $76 million) is NFL’s highest-paid safety, followed by Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick (four years, $73.6 million) and the Seahawks’ Jamal Adams (four years, $70 million).

Rivera and Co., if they do want to make an offer to Curl, might not see the Arkansas product as a top safety. Curl, too, missed five games last season with two different ailments. He missed the team’s first two contests with a thumb injury, and sat out the last three with an injured ankle. 

But when he does play, Curl makes an impact. In the five games that the safety didn’t play this season, the Commanders gave up an average of 25 points and 332.4 yards per game. With Curl? Those numbers fell to 18.2 and 293 yards per game. Curl’s addition was most notable in the run game — 135.4 yards per game allowed without compared to 104.1 with — and in explosive plays. 

Opponents had a striking 22 plays that went at least 20 yards in games that Curl sat out this past season. In the 12 games with Curl healthy, that number was 37 — or 3.1 per game. And that’s just this season. Over his three years, Curl has played a variety of roles for the Commanders — including nickel corner, strong safety and free safety. 

And he’s contributed on a bargain of a contract: Curl made $895,000 in 2022. He holds a $3 million cap hit for next season. 

What he’ll make beyond that is anyone’s guess. 

“We are still working through a lot of situations and when you allocate resources in one spot, you don’t have ‘em for a different spot,” general manager Martin Mayhew said. “All that has to fit into what we’re trying to do. So, it’s an ongoing process and ongoing discussion

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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