If you listened to TEAM980 this week after the draft, you might have heard Ron Rivera say this:
“We have 4 more spots, and we didn’t fill those spots with college free agents. We’re going to look around, and we’re going to take a shot on a couple of guys that are out there. So we’re going to add through free agency, hopefully in the next week or so, as we start getting ready for OTAs.”
The coach says that the Football Team will be looking to add free agents. Given that he already specifically excluded undrafted college free agents, it seems clear that the coach wants to sign veterans.
Although Coach Rivera said that the team had 4 open spots, the current depth chart shows 87 players – the same number listed on the team website – meaning that the team is probably looking to add three more players.
By using some intuitive judgement, we can identify some positions on the roster that are more likely than others to need bolstering. I think the primary targets are likely to be at linebacker, tight end, cornerback or third down back.
Here is my short list of players that I think the WFT front office could be targeting to sign this week.
Linebacker – K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks)
This is the one position where the Football Team could arguably use a starter-quality veteran to fill out the roster, and K.J. Wright is exactly that. After ten years with the Seattle Seahawks, the 2011 4th round draft pick is a free agent at age 31.
He has been remarkably healthy in his career, playing in at least 15 games in 8 seasons. He didn’t miss a start in 2019 or 2020. Last season, he registered 86 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 10 passes defensed, and one interception. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 13th rated linebacker in the NFL in 2020, with a defensive grade of 75.3.
Here is what Sports Illustrated had to say about his recent performance and his free agency prospects:
Turning in arguably the best season of his 10-year NFL career, Wright made a seamless transition to the strongside linebacker spot starting in Week 3 and proved himself to be the most consistent defender for Seattle throughout 2020. He wrapped up the season as the only player in the league with double-digit passes defensed and tackles for loss while receiving a respectable 75.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. So why does he remain available on the market? Set to turn 32 years old in July, cap-strapped teams obviously haven't been willing to pay him what he perceives as market value earned with stellar play over the past two years due to his age.
Wright earlier expressed interest in signing with the Cowboys, but after drafting Micah Parsons and Jabrill Cox last weekend, the Cowboys have no need for a veteran linebacker.
With rosters filled up post-draft, Wright is likely to have to take what he can get unless a linebacker injury creates an need on a roster. Most NFL teams are cap-strapped at this point every year, and especially so in 2021 with the cap reduction, but according to OverTheCap, Washington has one of the healthiest cap situations in the league, with an estimated $16m available to spend.
Washington just took Jamin Davis as their top draft pick, and they can rely on veteran John Bostic to hold down the middle linebacker spot, but the strong side linebacker (SAM) role would benefit from a veteran like Wright.
Tight end – Trey Burton (Indianapolis Colts)
Washington has an established #1 tight end in Logan Thomas. They just drafted John Bates from Boise State who is a strong blocker and adequate pass catcher. In addition, they have signed an athletic specimen in Chilean basketball player Sammis Reyes, who will be a conversion project, and the roster includes a few other young and largely unproven players.
What the team needs is a dependable tight end with proven NFL skills to backup Thomas and make sure that the Football Team can get compete effectively in 2021 while Bates and Reyes have time to develop.
Trey Burton fits the bill perfectly, and he shouldn’t be expensive. Burton is 29 years old, 6’3” and 235 pounds. PFF gave him an overall offensive grade of 69.9 last year, with a receiving grade of 66.0 and a pass blocking grade of 79.0. Burton has a super bowl ring from his 2017 season with the Eagles. It was Burton who threw the touchdown pass to QB Nick Foles on the famous “Philly Special” play.
The 7-year vet played on a vet minimum salary of $910,000 last year. There is no reason to expect him to command a large salary in 2021.
In short, Burton can provide a veteran presence in the locker room, a skilled backup to Logan Thomas with the ability to both block and catch passes effectively, all on a team-friendly contract.
Third down back – Duke Johnson (Houston Texans)
Washington has an outstanding 3rd down back in JD McKissic, who had the second-most receiving yards of any running back in the league behind Alvin Kamara in 2020. What the Football Team needs is a backup who can step in and perform if McKissic is lost to injury.
Duke Johnson had four highly productive years in Cleveland, where he was among the receiving yards leaders annually, amassing over 2,200 yards between 2015 and 2018, with no season falling below 425 yards.
After being targeted between 62 and 93 times per season in his first 5 years in the league, his targets dropped to just 35 last season, in part due to an early season ankle sprain that cost him two games, and a late season neck injury that kept him out of the final 3 games of the season. He was released by the Texans in February.
With the injuries and the release, Johnson has not been in high demand this offseason and is not likely to command a significant contract. Like tight end Trey Burton, Johnson fits Washington’s needs very well. At age 27, Johnson should be in the prime of his career, and the Spots Injury Predictor rates him as a low risk for injury in 2021. Like Ronald Darby in 2020, Washington could provide Johnson a situation where he could prove that he is still a viable NFL player with value to the right team.
Cornerback – Nickell Robey-Coleman (Philadelphia Eagles)
Washington has some very talented boundary corners in William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller. In addition, they’ve just drafted another boundary corner in Benjamin St-Juste. The team is heavily reliant on Jimmy Moreland as the slot corner. The option is basically to play another DB as the boundary corner and move Kendall Fuller into the slot, where he excels. The Football Team would benefit from an experienced slot cornerback.
Nickell Robey-Coleman has been a starting slot cornerback since being drafted in 2013. After four years with the Buffalo Bills, he spent four with the Los Angeles Rams. Last year, he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. After signing a one-year deal, he once again enters free agency in 2021.
Last season Nickell Robey-Coleman played on a one-year, $1.1 million deal and played 612 defensive snaps for the Eagles. This offseason, he is not expected to see much more money. Over the cap had him valued at slightly less than that while Pro Football Focus is optimistic that he will get $2 million in free agency. In any event, he won’t command a bit contract.
Coleman would provide solid competition for Moreland in training camp, and would likely wind up as a reliable backup who played limited snaps this season. If he played a similar number of snaps as last season (around 600) that would represent good value for the money the Football Team is likely to have to spend.