The Bears release Charles Leno
Yesterday, it was reported that the Bears were planning to cut 29-year-old left tackle Charles Leno. I did a quick survey of some Washington fans, asking if the Football Team should consider signing Leno, who will immediately become a free agent.
The response was predictable and pretty overwhelming. No, everyone said, Cornelius Lucas is perfectly capable of holding down the left tackle position for the 2021 season.
Now, that’s a huge contrast to a year ago when Lucas was first signed. He was seen, then, as a journeyman at best, and a failed OT for Detroit and Chicago at worst. He was considered by most to be a low-quality band-aid until Saahdiq Charles was ready to go.
But following a 2020 season in which he was rated among the top half of all NFL tackles by most pundits (for example, PFF rated him #23 out of at least 64 OTs) and much better by some, Washington fans, who watched him do his job pretty damned well week after week in 2020, are satisfied with him.
I strongly believe that if I had asked the same question at this time a year ago — that is, should Washington sign a free agent like Charles Leno in May — the response would have been overwhelmingly, “Yes!”
A year ago, Washington fans thought we were facing a huge problem trying to fill the void left by the departure of Trent Williams, and no one seemed to think that Cornelius Lucas was an adequate remedy.
Now, it’s the opposite. Most people that I posed the question to (about signing Leno) were pretty polite, but some derided the fact that I would even ask the question. Why would you sign Leno when you have Lucas?
Exactly the point.
Narratives are hard to change
Opinions, certainly those about sports, become entrenched quickly. I might read a compelling article about a coach, player or team, and get a narrative in my head, whether positive or negative, that sticks with me for a long time.
Interact with a NY Giants fan, and they’ll laugh (or cry) about Ereck Flowers as an NFL lineman, but in his one year in Washington, he played well. Giants fans are entrenched in their opinions of him — he’s a draft bust and a bit of a joke.
Many Washington fans — and I was chief among them — were unhappy when Flowers was signed to a significant contract ahead of the 2019 season. But a move from tackle to guard and belief from the coaching staff seemed to make a world of difference to Flowers; dare I say, he blossomed in Washington.
Contrast the enthusiastic welcome mat that most fans laid out for the former Giants first round draft pick when it was announced a week ago that the WFT had traded to bring him back to DC after he spent a year in Miami with the chilly reception his signing received two years ago. When we all found out, last week, that Miami was eating $6m of his 2021 salary and that he would cost the team only $3m in cap space, it was merely icing on the cake.
We often form opinions of players and resist anything that goes against those perceptions
In 2019, I was unhappy with the Flowers signing. In fact, we were probably three or four games into the season before I was willing to admit that he was playing very well.
Last season, I felt similarly about the contract for tight end Logan Thomas, seeing him as a bust or failed experiment from Detroit and other teams. I was quicker to change my mind about him, though, than I had been about Flowers. I was sold after the season opener against Philly last year.
I was much more pessimistic about third down back JD McKissic, a guy that I saw as a limited running back from Detroit and other places (that sounds familiar). I was adamant throughout the offseason and training camp that he wouldn’t make the roster cut. By mid-season, I felt like the president of the JD McKissic fan club. I had always loved Chris Thompson; I may have loved McKissic more.
We’ve had lots of examples of draft picks who turned out different than expected
I was as excited as anybody to see Guice drafted by Washington. It was reported that he had fallen due to ‘character concerns’, but Doug Williams put that to bed quickly with his comments that he was well connected in Louisiana, and he had checked Derrius out; the young man had a clean bill of health.
Guice was initially beset by unfortunate injuries and soon got a reputation among some fans as being snakebit or injury prone. Later, when some nasty allegations turned into police actions, the front office let him go. Recently, LSU stripped his name from the school record books. Many Washington fans (me included) seem to have blocked out memories of him as a Redskin.
I mentioned Logan Thomas above, but I thought it was worth a quick revisit to his story. This was written in one Washington Football Team blog in March last year:
I’m incredibly pleased that they offered Thomas a multi-year deal (with a bit of an escape ramp) so that we don’t find ourselves having to make a potentially difficult decision about him next offseason. From my perspective, Thomas has virtually all of the tools to be - at least - a TE2 in the NFL with additional training and opportunity (which he is nearly assured of getting in DC).
If anything, Thomas exceeded these expectations, which I thought at the time to be unwarranted. It wasn’t long, however, before I was writing my own articles in support of Logan Thomas, and by mid-season I had turned into a huge cheerleader for Washington’s only capable tight end.
When Matt Jones was drafted in 2015, he was seen as the type of gritty “football player” that would typify the Scot McCloughan era of Redskins football. It wasn’t long, however, before he was in the coach’s doghouse for fumbling too much, and fans quickly jumped off the bandwagon.
After being released prior to his third season with the ‘Skins, Jones spent a season with the Colts, had a cup of coffee with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was last seen playing for the St.Louis Battlehawks of the XFL.
The fan reaction to the selection of Kamren Curl in the 7th round of last year’s draft was lukewarm.
What a difference a year makes!
If you ask me, Curl was the second-best defensive rookie in 2020 behind his teammate, Chase Young. Curl was an absolute steal in the 7th round and was a huge part of the success that Washington enjoyed in the latter half of last season.
A year ago, Kam Curl was a throwaway 7th rounder to back up the safety position and play special teams. Today, he is a building block for the franchise’s present and future.
What’s the point?
We should all remain open minded about all the players (and coaches) that comprise the Washington team and careful of buying into narratives because of a tweet or a confident statement made by a TV analyst. Players may be better or worse than we perceive them to be, and that may relate to their play on the field or the quality of their character.
We recently signed the Chilean basketball player, Sammis Reyes, and that is an exciting prospect. But he is 100% potential at this point. I’m personally trying to stay open to the possibility that he may dominate the game, or he may take time to develop into a football player.
Related: The Sammis Reyes story
Many national pundits have proclaimed that first round pick Jamin Davis was over-drafted or a “reach” due to team need. That is because they saw other players ranked above him on their lists of top players or linebackers.
Related: With first-round draft pick Jamin Davis at WILL linebacker, WFT could field a top-3 NFL defense in 2021
Ron Rivera, however, said explicitly that Davis was the top ranked defensive player on the team’s board when the 19th pick rolled around. Ultimately, the team will either be proved right or wrong, but I think most Washington fans knew in advance that Davis was a very likely pick at #19. We were way ahead of the national draft gurus.
Similarly, many “expert” critics have been quick to write off Boise State tight end John Bates, drafted by Washington in the fourth round, because of his limited pass production at Boise State. They overlook both Bates’ blocking abilities and his actual pass-catching skill and fiery play.
He seems to be very much in the mold of Logan Thomas, and seems to suffer from the same malady as Jamin Davis; specifically, that because draft analysts didn’t have him rated as a 4th round talent on their pre-draft rankings, they throw shade on the player. An open mind will show in time whether the team was right or wrong to draft him; for now, he is a the team’s likely TE2.
The enthusiasm for Dyami Brown is great to see. However, it might be worthwhile to temper expectations for a young receiver who will be joining a position group led by Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel.
If Brown outperforms, that’s great, but if his first year as a Football Teamer isn’t hugely productive, it would probably be premature to write him off.
Think about how many narratives have been rewritten on this team lately.
Safety Jeremy Reaves spent most of September and October last year on the practice squad, but played 100% of the defensive snaps in the playoff game against the Buccaneers.
Taylor Heinicke was an unknown player to any Washington fan who wasn’t also a fan of ODU; he interrupted his exams in December to join the WFT as an emergency COVID quarterback. When he ended up starting in the wildcard playoff game, I suspect most fans were just hoping he didn’t embarrass himself. Instead, he outproduced and out-hustled every QB to face Tampa Bay in the postseason, and kept the Football Team in a position to potentially win the game until the final offensive possession ended.
Right guard Wes Schweitzer started last season as Wes Martin’s backup. He enjoyed the same sort of rise in estimation among Washington fans as did Corn Lucas — Schweitzer ended the season as the unquestioned starter at left guard.
Even DB Ronald Darby came to Washington in 2020 in hopes of reviving a career that had been shredded by injuries in Philly. He arrived with tons of questions and left in free agency this offseason with all of them answered and a fat new contract from the Denver Broncos.
The player’s stories aren’t written yet. Careers and legacies aren’t decided.
Even a player like quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has seen 16 professional seasons and 8 NFL teams come and go, has a season of possibility ahead of him. He came close to having a truly magic season in Miami a year ago; maybe 2021 can offer him the fairly tale ending he’s never enjoyed before.
From the youngest and least heralded rookies to the oldest players who may be playing their last season as a professional, the narratives have yet to be written. Every player is a potential Kam Curl or Jeremy Reaves or Taylor Heinicke. Unfortunately, some of them will follow in the footsteps of Matt Jones, Arie Kouandjio or Josh Doctson.
For now, let’s enjoy getting to know each member of our new roster. The contract dollars, draft status or history with other teams no longer matters. The pre-draft rankings or career narratives can be forgotten. Ron Rivera has set the Washington franchise on a new path.
The Washington Football Team has its 2021 roster substantially compete, and we face a season of possibilities.