Washington faces major questions as season ends and QB search ramps up originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Washington Football Team concluded its fifth straight losing season and looking to the offseason there are a number of issues facing the club.
While there are no major changes expected on the staff, there will be changes. There is every year on every staff. And every year brings a new locker room as well.
Perhaps some of Washington's biggest challenges come from decisions made last year, where the team's offseason can best be described as underwhelming. Big names in free agency didn't pan out and the draft class left a lot to be desired.
To improve in 2022, perhaps finish in the playoffs with a winning record, Rivera needs to solve some issues facing his squad. And that means with personnel and the staff, not to mention the never-ending quest for a franchise quarterback.
- Figure out Curtis Samuel. While it will never be said on the record there are people in Ashburn that wonder if the free agent wideout tried hard enough to push through his leg injuries during the second half of the season. Samuel had offseason groin surgery and opened training camp on the PUP list and eventually served an early-season stint on the IR. In the second half of the year, however, Samuel just rotated between limited practices and missing practices, and active on game day with little impact to inactive on game day. In the end, Samuel played just five games with 38 total yards. And that came in a year where he signed a three-year, $34 million contract. Repeatedly the question got asked about Samuel’s roster status; why keep him on the active roster if he’s not going to play? Publicly coaches said that Samuel might be able to go and that’s why he remained on the 53-man roster. Imagine what they were saying privately.
- Don’t expect big-name coaching changes, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes. The biggest position to watch might be the defensive line. Sam Mills III has coached the Washington defensive line for two seasons and sources suggest he might not have the ear of the position group. This season it's hard to look at Washington's D-Line performance and suggest the group maximized their talent. The Burgundy and Gold has made significant investments along their front and needs the group to play demonstrably better in 2022 to get back on track. It's a group of Alpha males with Jonathan Allen, Chase Young, Daron Payne and others, and things clearly reached a boiling point during a loss in Dallas when defensive linemen were swinging at each other. This will be an interesting spot to watch as Mills goes way back with Rivera to their days in Carolina. Another coaching spot to watch - wide receivers coach Drew Terrell. 2021 marked the first season for Terrell as a position coach after serving as an assistant in 2020. Terrell's only been working in the NFL for four seasons; two in Carolina and two in Washington. Outside of Terry McLaurin, Washington's wideouts have not delivered much.
- Ownership's role will be crucial in determining the next move at quarterback. Before everyone gets up in arms about Dan Snyder meddling in the football operation, know that owners across the league have some level of involvement in major decisions, and finding a new QB is a major decision. Every owner. All over the league. That said, Snyder has a track record of over-involvement particularly at the quarterback position and that makes this year compelling. If Washington is truly committed to the long-term rebuild Ron Rivera has spoken about, then the team can afford to draft a first-round passer and take their lumps. Drafting a rookie QB likely means another losing season, which would mark the sixth straight for Washington and three in a row with Rivera at the helm. A rookie QB doesn't guarantee a losing season but the numbers suggest that would happen. If Washington - and Snyder - want a flashier option to break in the new team name and merchandise, the Burgundy and Gold will likely have to give up a major haul in draft capital and players to acquire a veteran star passer. That doesn't mean it's the wrong option. If a real, proven winner at QB becomes available Washington should make every attempt to get him, even if that means overpaying with draft picks. After decades of losing quarterback play, maybe, finally, Washington can fix the position.
- Spending spree? Washington has a ton of cap space, close to $60 million at season's end and ranks in the top five of the league in money to spend. But will they spend it? So far in Rivera's tenure Washington has not gone to the top of the market at any position, although the team did make a major offer to Cowboys WR Amari Cooper in 2020 only to be turned down. Should a star quarterback actually hit free agency, cut a blank check. But that's unlikely. A legit starting caliber middle linebacker should be high on the free agent list too, and Washington needs to add at its skill positions as well. Don't sleep on the upcoming need to bolster the offensive line as well. This will also be an important offseason for Washington's front office. With Kyle Smith at the helm in 2020 the results from free agency and the draft were encouraging. In 2021, with Smith gone and Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney installed, those results fell way off. It's premature to make a final determination on the 2021 draft class but the early look isn't great, and the Samuel injury soured free agency. Ron Rivera said the team needs to take a big step in his third year as coach, and that pressure should certainly be felt within the front office.