The Washington Football Team is coming off of a successful 2020 campaign, as new head coach Ron Rivera was able to stiff-arm off-field issues, cancer, a name change and several injuries at the quarterback position to clinch the NFC East for the first time since 2015. Chase Young and the defensive line full of first-round picks flaunted their ability to take over games by getting to the quarterback, and the 2020 season also saw the continued success of star wide receiver Terry McLaurin and the arrival of rookie running back Antonio Gibson. In all, it was a good season, but Washington needs to continue to improve.
A 7-9 record is not always going to guarantee a spot in the postseason, as Washington got some help from the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles when it comes to its return to the playoffs. All three of those teams aren't going to be down again in 2021, so Washington is going to have to correct its issues this offseason if it wants a chance to repeat as division champs. Washington could stand to upgrade along the offensive line or at linebacker, and of course, there are always important free agents to re-sign. But what are the three most important issues to address this offseason?
Below, we will examine what I believe to be the three most important steps Washington will have to take in the coming months.
Step 1: Figure out the future at QB
Alex Smith is signed with Washington through 2022, but he's still mulling his future with football. Smith could end up retiring but says he will need some time to figure out what his next steps will be. What Smith was able to accomplish in 2020 was nothing short of remarkable, and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award should probably be named after him considering all of the obstacles he has had to overcome over the course of his career. But Washington should not wait to find out what his decision is going to be regarding 2021. Rivera and Co. need to spend this week coming up with a game plan for what their next move is going to be at quarterback.
One option could be for Washington to select a quarterback with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Several CBS NFL mock drafts have Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones going towards the end of the middle of the first round, and the Heisman finalist could potentially be the future of the franchise in Washington. This club has had success with those top prospects that come out of Tuscaloosa. Another option could be to trade for a veteran. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford makes a lot of sense, as his team is undergoing yet another rebuild that may not include him. The former No. 1 overall pick is certainly not the reason for Detroit's lack of success over the last 12 years, and he would likely embrace a change of scenery. The 32-year-old still has a lot of football left in him, and Washington should be interested if he indeed is on the trade block.
Step 2: Improve the secondary
Washington proved it had one of the best defenses in the league this past season, but there's an area where it can stand to upgrade if it wants to definitively have the best defense in the league: the secondary. Statistically, Washington actually finished the regular season with the No. 2 passing defense behind the Los Angeles Rams, as they allowed an average of 191.8 yards through the air per game. But I think we all can agree that Washington's secondary alone is not one of the elite units in the league, as they greatly benefitted from a tenacious pass-rush. Both Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby had their moments during the 2020 season, and I would likely re-sign Darby, but Washington should also look to add a younger player with potential. CBS Sports NFL Draft writer Josh Edwards has Washington taking Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick with its first-round pick and that would make a lot of sense.
Step 3: Find a reliable running mate for McLaurin
It was exciting to see players like Cam Sims, Steven Sims, Isaiah Wright, Dontrelle Inman and Robert Foster get their chances in the receiving game for Washington, but the offense lacked explosiveness and consistency outside of Terry McLaurin. It became clear with all of the drops registered in Washington's postseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that McLaurin needs a consistent, reliable running mate who can take attention off of him in the secondary. Could that end up being Kelvin Harmon or Antonio Gandy-Golden? Absolutely. But both have struggled with injury and this draft class is intriguing when it comes to talent on the outside. Even if Washington doesn't spend a high draft pick on a wide receiver, this free agency class is interesting as well.
I'm not necessarily urging Washington to break the bank at the wide receiver position in free agency, but that's also in play. According to Spotrac, Washington has the fifth-most cap space entering the offseason. Allen Robinson and JuJu Smith-Schuster figure to be hot commodities, Stafford's top targets Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay are also set to hit the market and then, of course, there is Curtis Samuel, who Rivera could steal from his former team in the Carolina Panthers. McLaurin had 641 more receiving yards than Washington's next leading wideout. He needs help and whoever is under center for Washington does as well.