Neil Dutton reviews Washington’s 2018 season, outlines players the team could lose to free agency and offers his thoughts on potential reinforcements the team should look to sign.
2018 IN SUMMARY
Heading into a Week 11 home game against the Houston Texans, Washington was 6-3 and very much in the hunt for the NFC East title. After a 23-21 loss in a game that saw them lose quarterback Alex Smith to a horrific broken leg, they would go on to win just one more game all season. Their 7-9 record secured the third spot in the division for a third straight season, finishing behind the Cowboys and Eagles. It also marked their third straight season without a playoff berth.
While Washington was around the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed (359), only three teams scored fewer points than their 281. This was their lowest tally since 2011.
Smith led the team in the major passing categories, with 2,180 yards in his ten games. He threw ten touchdown passes and just five interceptions. This was his ninth consecutive season with 10 or more TDs and less than 10 interceptions, an NFL record streak. His efficiency was down from his time with the Chiefs, however. Smith completed 62.5 percent of his passes, his lowest rate since 2013. His 10.6 yards per completion was his lowest since 2009, while his adjusted yards per attempt of 6.6 was his lowest since 2010.
Smith, Josh Johnson, Colt McCoy, and Mark Sanchez combined for 3,280 passing yards on the year. But after taking an eight percent sack rate into account, Washington finished with 3,021 yards, 28th in the NFL. These numbers, as well as the serious concerns over whether Smith will ever play again, cast a huge shadow over Washington ahead of the 2019 league year.
Jordan Reed was the only Washington player to catch 50 or more passes. He snared 54 for 558 yards and two touchdowns. It’s been quite a drop off in production for Reed since his career year in 2015, and one begins to wonder just how much he has left in the tank.
Josh Doctson led all Washington wide receivers with 44 catches, amassing 532 yards and two scores on the way. The receptions and yards marked new highs for Doctson, although his touchdowns fell from six in 2017. It’s fair to say that Doctson has not lived up to expectations after the team spent the 22nd overall selection on him in 2016. Chris Thompson’s 41 receptions brought him 268 yards after 39 grabs in 2017 garnered 510. Jamison Crowder managed a career-low 29 catches in an injury-marred campaign. He played in only nine games. In these games, he saw all his key stats drop, aside from yards per reception in which he recorded a career high of 13.4.
Washington lost second-round draft pick Derrius Guice in the preseason, dealing something of a blow to their ground attack. However, they still attempted the 14th-most rushing attempts in the NFL with 414, amassing the 17th-most rushing yards with 1,774. This was thanks in no small part to Adrian Peterson, signed just prior to the season. Peterson dominated the teams rushing attempts, and was rewarded with the eighth 1,000-yard season of his career. The yards were the most by an RB aged at least 33 since the 2000 season.
Thompson was the only other Washington back to be trusted with more than 20 carries. He chiseled out 178 yards on his 43 totes.
OFFENSIVE FREE AGENTS
|Ty Nsekhe||RT||34||$ 2,914,000||UFA|
|Shawn Lauvao||LG||32||$ 1,500,000||UFA|
|Adrian Peterson||RB||34||$ 1,015,000||UFA|
|Mark Sanchez||QB||33||$ 915,000||UFA|
|Josh Johnson||QB||33||$ 915,000||UFA|
|Austin Howard||RT||32||$ 915,000||UFA|
|Tony Bergstrom||C||33||$ 880,000||UFA|
|Jonathan Cooper||LG||29||$ 790,000||UFA|
|Michael Floyd||WE||30||$ 790,000||UFA|
|Luke Bowanko||C||28||$ 790,000||UFA|
|Jamison Crowder||WR||26||$ 706,406||UFA|
|Zach Kerin||LG||28||$ 705,000||UFA|
|Arie Jounandjio||RG||27||$ 660,000||UFA|
|Byron Marshall||RB||25||$ 585,000||ERFA|
|Maurice Harris||WR||27||$ 585,000||RFA|
|Robert Kelley||RB||27||$ 541,000||RFA|
Washington has a whole host of free agents on the offensive side of the ball, as the above list can attest to. They are also in need of severe upgrades in almost every skill position. To top it all off they are practically broke. They have just $17.7m in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com.
With Smith almost certain to not play in 2019, the team may look to re-do his contract somewhat to provide some cap relief. This would free up a maximum of $10.48m. An extension for their stud left tackle Trent Williams would also bring in another $8m, as would releasing cornerback Josh Norman. Norman has done little to endear him to the fans of the team lately. If the team also wanted to wave goodbye to Reed and fellow TE Vernon Davis, they could save another $7.5m. Washington should also be thinking about a possible extension for Brandon Scherff.
Neither Josh Johnson nor Sanchez is likely to be thought of as answers to the teams starting QB question. Plus Jay Gruden has spoken in somewhat gushing terms regarding Colt McCoy, who like Smith is also recovering from a broken leg. The team have had preliminary discussions with Peterson regarding a 2019 return, although just how much they’d want to pay him is open to debate. Much depends on Guice’s recovery from injury.
Michael Floyd has done pretty much nothing for a whole host of teams following his sole career 1,000-yard season in 2013. His time with Washington was especially unproductive. He caught a pitiful 41.7 percent of his 24 targets, for 10 receptions gaining 100 yards. Gruden spoke in January about how the team should make the re-signing of Crowder a priority, even after a disappointing 2018 season. Crowder has been relatively efficient regardless of who has been throwing him the passes over the last few seasons. Any rebuild should include him.
Spotrac calculates his market value to be roughly $8.1m a year for four years. Washington has the 10th-least amount of cap space dedicated to their WRs in the entire NFL at present.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENT TARGETS
He’s not a free agent, but there is speculation building regarding Washington’s pursuit of Cardinals QB Josh Rosen. Tony Pauline reported that the team had spoken openly of their interest in acquiring Rosen, in the event of the Cardinals going after Kyler Murray with their first overall selection in this years NFL Draft. While it would be a stretch to call Rosen’s rookie season a success, he was still a highly touted selection coming into the NFL, dropped into a substandard offense being coordinated by one offensive coordinator determined to get fired by all 32 NFL teams1 and another who had never called plays before in Byron Leftwich. Ask Alexa for “recipes for success,” she will not answer with this. The move would seem to make sense and suit both Rosen and Washington.
Another player who is still under contract but with whom the team has been linked is Antonio Brown. Brown has, of course, kept no secrets regarding his desire to be out of Pittsburgh. After much hand wringing, the team seems set to oblige him … but to a team of their choosing, not his. Washington is said to be one of three teams leading the way in the pursuit of Brown, along with the Titans and the team coached by the other Gruden, namely the Raiders. Brown has been fortunate to have been fed the ball by Ben Roethlisberger for pretty much his entire career. While the sample size is not exactly huge, it is telling that his numbers have dropped off substantially whenever other signal callers have looked his way. Although it is also interesting that Brown’s AYA is higher with Landry Jones than with Roethlisberger.
Gruden’s praise of McCoy makes it all the more unlikely that the team will enter the Nick Foles sweepstakes, although they should probably be on the lookout for a cheaper veteran option. One such option would be Tyrod Taylor, who actually posted pretty similar numbers in his short time with the Browns as Smith did with Washington, at least in certain key metrics. Smith had an average depth of target of 8.1 in 2018,2 while Taylor had 8.6 in his last full season in Buffalo. Smith completed 30.8 percent of his deep ball attempts. Taylor completed 25 percent.
Even if the team re-signs Crowder, they need to look to improve their WR corps, whoever is playing at QB. A dink and dunk mindset would seem to make players like Tyrell Williams and John Brown redundant assets. Especially when you consider that they have Paul Richardson doing virtually nothing at a $9m cap charge this season. A big-bodied player like Devin Funchess might appeal to them, especially if they move on from both TEs. Funchess was plagued by drops in 2018 and struggled to get open consistently. However, he still managed to convert more than half of his contested catches, according to PlayerProfiler.
While there are plenty of talented and promising TEs in this year’s draft, the free agent market is not exactly overflowing with such players. Washington might take a chance on Tyler Eifert, assuming he can prove his fitness to a satisfactory degree. Gruden was Offensive Coordinator when the Bengals drafted Eifert in 2013, so there is that. However, a strong relationship does nothing if a player cannot stay on the field. Given his prowess as a pass blocker, as well as his past flashes as a receiver, Washington could have some interest in Dwayne Allen. The Patriots announced over the combine weekend that they would no longer be requiring his services, although I’m sure he’d re-sign with New England at a more favorable financial rate.
Washington has a lot of work to do in order to field a competitive roster in 2019, thanks to their lack of cap space and the unfortunate circumstances that will rob them of their starting QB. Jay Gruden has already lasted longer than any Washington head coach since the dawn of the 21st century. 2019 will be his sixth season in charge. Norv Turner was fired during his sixth campaign, back in 1999. Some rational franchises may overlook the loss of a player like Alex Smith, and recognize the impact such a loss can have on a team. Washington is many things, but a rational franchise is not one of them.
Whoever ends up taking the majority of snaps at QB in 2019 will need better support than Messrs Smith and Johnson got last year from the players around them, Peterson excepted. A full season from Guice would go a long way towards achieving this. But the team absolutely must get better in the passing game.