After a nine-year run with the Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera replaces both fired head coach Jay Gruden and interim Bill Callahan. Two Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year Awards and a Super Bowl loss later, Rivera hit the open market after a dismissal of his own following a 5-7 start.
Agreeing to coach the Redskins comes with more scrutiny than Rivera ever encountered with Carolina, and he’ll have to contend with the constant meddling of team owner Daniel Snyder.
Scott Turner has joined the staff as the offensive coordinator, and Jack Del Rio came aboard as the mastermind of the defensive side of the ball. Before we delve into the expectations, here’s what the Washington team faces in free agency:
Notable free agents
- OG Brandon Scherff
- RB Chris Thompson
- RB Adrian Peterson
- QB Case Keenum
Scherff quietly put together a Pro Bowl season, which ended on the Reserve/Injured list due to elbow and shoulder injuries — the latter requiring surgery. It is anyone’s guess as to how Washington handles his situation.
Thompson is an oft-injured third-down back whose chance with the Redskins came solely because of the fired Gruden, and it will be interesting to see how much the new regime values Thompson’s skill set.
Speaking of valuing past contributions, Peterson continues to play at a respectable, effective level and wants to extend his career. Perhaps he has enough good will in the Snyder camp to survive the coaching and front office moves. Given Derrius Guice’s inability to stay on the field, and an unanswered question in running back Bryce Love (knee), this backfield could go in a number of ways. Does Washington try to lure a free agent, such as Melvin Gordon, Kareem Hunt, Kenyan Drake or Derrick Henry?
Keenum doesn’t really factor into the plans of the future, but it’s fair to note Rivera won’t automatically hand the starting job to 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, even though no one really should believe that comment. Quarterback Alex Smith (leg) remains under contract, although his return appears to be a long shot. Releasing Smith would blow up Washington’s salary cap ($32.2 million in dead money).
None of that addresses what will happen with disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams. Expect an earnest effort to rebuild the relationship as Rivera wants to see the star blocker in uniform for 22020. No Bruce Allen helps ease the tensions a good deal.
Washington is projected to have approximately $42 million to spend (expected $199 million cap) and could attract more proven talent with Rivera’s resume serving as perceived stability from a franchise that has been anything but enticing in recent times. The cap savings for releasing LB Ryan Kerrigan is $11.7 million, should the brass choose to go that direction, and cutting former Rivera standout cornerback Josh Norman would free up $12.5 million.
Scott Turner’s approach
The son of former NFL and Washington head coach Norv Turner, the 37-year-old comes over from Carolina after he served as Rivera’s quarterbacks coach in 2018 and ’19. He previously was a quality control coach for Rivera (2011-12), as well as being a receivers coach in Cleveland and a quarterbacks coach for the Minnesota Vikings over a three-year span.
As a child, Turner spent every free moment watching and learning from his father. This will mark the first time in his blossoming coaching career as a full-fledged offensive coordinator after a four-game window to close out Carolina’s season as the interim OC after Rivera was fired. It’s unfair to hold any of the stats against him, because the Panthers’ quarterback situation was abysmal, and the defense consistently failed the offense. Wipe the slate clean and give him the benefit of the doubt with a full offseason and fresh cast with which to work.
While Scott came up the hard way through the coaching ranks, not automatically riding his father’s coattails, it would be foolish to believe he hasn’t absorbed serious influences from his dad’s style of calling plays. The elder Turner has been known for a potent running game that relies on establishing the ground attack in order to create success via vertical passing.
The running backs are poised to haul in plenty of passes, and play-action throws will be a staple in trying to catch the defense out of position. Turner will look to create plays with unique, aggressive concepts and utilize the athleticism of his playmakers in various ways (see WR Curtis Samuel rushing more frequently as an example).
Tight ends have long been a focal point of the Turner family designs, and it’s a position that has plagued Washington in recent years. Vernon Davis is a 36-year-old impending free agent, whose season ended on the shelf, and Jordan Reed is arguably the least durable player in the entire NFL.
Fantasy football assessment
Cam Newton found immediate success in his first year with Turner as his positional coach, and the target is to fast-track Haskins entering his second pro season. The questions along the line, in the backfield, at tight end, and regarding receivers behind Terry McLaurin stepping up creates considerable downside for Haskins. He profiles as no better than a midrange backup in the best-case scenario.
There is too much uncertainty in the backfield at present time to make any kind of decisive conclusions. Guice has RB2 potential, provided the line plays well and he escapes the injury bug. Love is a wild card after missing his entire rookie year as he rehabbed a torn ACL suffered late in his collegiate career. Peterson and Thompson should be considered outsiders looking in until further notice.
McLaurin’s route-running skills and vertical ability will fit in nicely with Turner’s preferred designs. There is legitimate potential for a WR1 season out of the soon-to-be second-year receiver. He’s more safely drafted as a high-upside No. 2 given the major changes around him and playing in his third system in the last three years, dating back to Ohio State.
Steven Sims Jr. flashed game-breaking skills and an adept level of awareness in the red zone late in 2019. He will contend for the primary slot role in the offseason.
Wideout Paul Richardson has been a disappointment after landing a five-year deal worth $40 million in 2018. His release would cost the Redskins $6 million in dead money.
Kelvin Harmon, a big-bodied 2019 rookie, will be given a long look in the offseason, and there are a few receivers on the market this March who figure to be in the mix as “pieces of the puzzle” types.
Tight end is anyone’s guess with Eric Ebron, Vance McDonald, Tyler Eifert and Hunter Henry being the most appealing names. The draft is a possibility, and Reed remains under contract for 2020 at this point.
On defense, the addition of Del Rio to Rivera’s staff illustrates an emphasis on improving this side of the ball, but the personnel is likely to face significant changes. Having the No. 2 overall pick that could (should) be spent on Ohio State defensive end Chase Young helps, but one rookie isn’t going to make Washington a fantasy stalwart in 2020 after finishing 18th in conventional scoring this season. There’s enough talent here to treat Washington as a matchup play or a second defense if that’s your thing on draft day (hint: it shouldn’t ever be anyone’s thing on draft day in conventional leagues).