NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
The Washington Football Team‘s key signings include quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, versatile receiver Curtis Samuel and cornerback William Jackson III. It upgraded the offense, adding a needed jolt of fun and energy. Jackson replaced corner Ronald Darby, whom they had hoped to keep but who signed with Denver. It added depth with linebacker David Mayo and center Tyler Larsen and retained quarterback Kyle Allen, corner Danny Johnson, kicker Dustin Hopkins and wide receiver Cam Sims. Among the remaining needs: more tight end help, both a blocker and receiving threat; a left tackle, a starting linebacker, a free safety and a quarterback of the future (draft) and a true slot receiver.
Here’s a breakdown of every 2021 NFL free-agent signing by Washington, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
What it means: Washington added what it wanted most — speed. Now it has a No. 2 receiving target to pair with Terry McLaurin, a former teammate at Ohio State. Samuel offers versatility, with the ability to also carry the ball while running routes outside or in the slot. With Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and the addition of Samuel, Washington’s passing attack has gotten a lot better. Coach Ron Rivera wanted to trade for Samuel last season up until the deadline. Now he’s got his man.
What’s the risk: Samuel has proven what he can do and the staff knows him well, having coached him in Carolina. So there’s minimal risk. And a lot depends how the deal is structured as Washington has a number of young players who will get big contracts in coming years, including McLaurin. Because this staff knows how to use him — offensive coordinator Scott Turner liked tapping into Samuel’s versatility — it’s hard to see much downside here.
What it means: Washington quickly replaced starting corner Ronald Darby, who agreed to a deal with Denver. And it upgraded by grabbing the top corner on the market in Jackson. He might be considered a strong No. 2 corner, as one AFC coach said, but he is good and consistent. There aren’t many true No. 1 corners. Washington can pair him with veteran Kendall Fuller to form a solid corner tandem. It still needs depth, but at least it now can cross finding a starter off the list. Playing behind a better line than he had in Cincinnati, Jackson could be helped quite a bit.
What’s the risk: There isn’t much because Jackson has been good. But he’s not a playmaker or ball hawk with only three career interceptions in five years. Washington would not have had to pay Darby as much as it will pay Jackson, but it wasn’t a good market for corners, and they landed arguably the best one. If nothing else Washington will receive strong corner play; perhaps playing behind this front and in coordinator Jack Del Rio’s scheme will result in more turnover opportunities.
The former Miami Dolphins quarterback has signed a one-year deal worth $10 million that could grow to $12 million with incentives.
What it means: Washington has its veteran starter this season, replacing Alex Smith with a still-productive player. With Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke, Washington needed a more proven quarterback. Fitzpatrick has thrown a combined 50 touchdown passes in his past three seasons with 33 interceptions. His experience will help a young receiving corps and might also help Washington entice free-agent wide receivers to sign here. Fitzpatrick hasn’t been afraid to attack down the field; he ranks ninth in the past three years combined in average yards per pass attempt. If Washington adds more speed, it will need someone who can drive the ball to create more big plays. Fitzpatrick is considered an excellent teammate as well.
What’s the risk: If Fitzpatrick plays more like FitzTragic rather than FitzMagic, then Washington will be left scrambling, once more, to find good quarterback play. Fitzpatrick isn’t a long-term answer. If Washington doesn’t add another quarterback through the draft, it will resume its quest to find more than a stopgap solution at quarterback in 2022. It has been an exhausting search for fans of the team. If Fitzpatrick becomes a turnover machine, as has happened in some previous stops, it would not only hurt the offense, it would affect the defense, which should be the strength. He’s not expensive, but there will be pressure on him to produce. This is a team that hopes it can win a few more games than last season’s 7-9.
What it means: Washington wanted a true slot receiver even after signing Samuel — it was eyeing possibilities in the draft as well. The coaching staff wants Samuel to be able to move around, and adding Humphries gives them the ability to do so. It also spells bad news for Steven Sims Jr., who some coaches felt dropped too many key passes in the slot last season. Humphries impressed new Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick while in Tampa Bay. Fitzpatrick told his new coaches he was one of the best and smartest slot receivers he’d been around. He’s an effective third-down receiver and can return punts if needed.
What’s the risk: It’s a one-year deal so there’s not much risk, but the caveat surrounds his health. Humphries only played 19 games over the past two seasons combined. He missed nine games last season, mostly due to concussions. Washington will need to have a quality second option at this position, though Samuel and McLaurin and even Cam Sims can run routes from inside. But losing Humphries for an extended time would impact the ability to be as versatile as they want to be with their receivers.
The former Carolina Panthers offensive lineman has agreed to terms with Washington on a one-year deal.
What it means: Depth. Larsen spent five years in Carolina, four of which were with Rivera, as a backup center. He started 18 games, but only three in his final three seasons. Washington re-signed starting center Chase Roullier before the end of the season and drafted Keith Ismael in the fifth round last offseason, though he could also play guard. Rivera is intent on improving the line — whether with starters or depth.
What’s the risk: None. He’s being brought here to compete for a roster spot. He wasn’t much of a factor in recent years with Carolina, but he was someone Rivera liked enough to keep him around. It’s a no-harm, no-foul situation. If he doesn’t look good, they don’t have to keep him around.
The former New York Giants veteran has agreed to a one-year deal with Washington.
What it means: Washington needs to find more linebackers with only two starters on the roster in Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb. It also needs depth and that’s where Mayo enters. He’s yet another player with ties to Carolina, having played under Rivera from 2015-18. But 13 of his 17 starts came with the New York Giants in 2019. He missed last season with a torn meniscus. He can also help on special teams.
What’s the risk: As long as Washington keeps looking for linebackers, particularly those who can develop into strong starters, there’s nothing wrong with this move. Washington needs to add someone in the draft to groom as a starter. The staff likes Bostic in the middle, but Mayo can provide depth and also offers starting experience.
The veteran will return to Washington after agreeing to terms on a one-year deal.
What it means: Depth and special teams help. Johnson has been a fourth or fifth cornerback since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2018. But he stuck around and earned another deal because Washington likes his special-teams ability; he can return kicks among other things. They like how he’s developed and he provides needed depth. Right now, he’d be a fourth corner for them, but they’ll probably add more.
What’s the risk: None. It’s a one-year deal and he’s viewed as depth, so it’s not as if they’re thrusting him into a key role right now. For Johnson, it’s a chance to prove himself, should the opportunity arise, and perhaps cash in more next offseason. The lack of a preseason hurt his ability to show all he could do in 2020. This gives him one more year to show what he’s capable of on the field. The one risk would be if Washington turns down a chance to draft a solid cornerback because it feels like the position is complete, but that doesn’t seem like something it would do.
The veteran returns to Washington after agreeing to terms on a one-year deal.
What it means: Depth; competition. Miller was claimed off Chicago’s practice squad late in the season and was never active for games. Washington has three backs it likes in Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber. The latter was effective in short yardage for them and coaches like what he adds, but they could always improve here. But, mostly, they needed more bodies at the position, especially with Bryce Love having been drafted in 2019 and yet to play because of his knee. Miller provides experience and was productive before tearing his ACL in 2019.
What’s the risk: Minimal. It’s a one-year deal and he provides more competition. The only risk would be if Washington felt he could now be the starter. But that’s not what they’re asking him to be; the team is giving him a chance to show whether he can be productive again. If he can be, great. If not, they’re covered.
The veteran offensive lineman returns to Washington after agreeing to terms on a one-year deal.
What it means: Depth. Sharpe appeared in 10 games for Washington last season, though most of that was on special teams. But he did start two games — both wins. Washington needs depth at tackle, with Geron Christian coming off a torn MCL. The team also will almost assuredly draft a tackle next month, ideally to start. Sharpe is still young — he’s only 25 — and has good length. They’ll try to see if he can develop into a solid backup.
What’s the risk: None. He’s not guaranteed a roster spot and merely provides competition for a backup role. If he develops, great; if not, they have others. But with Christian a free agent after next season, Washington will want future options in case it doesn’t keep him.
The WFT re-signed the linebacker to a one-year deal.
What it means: Depth and special teams help. Norris appeared in 11 games for Washington last season, but only played seven snaps from scrimmage, so almost all of his work occurred on special teams. He played for Rivera in Carolina, so there’s a definite comfort level with what Norris adds. He also spent time on Washington’s practice squad last season.
What’s the risk: None. He’ll always be someone on the fringe of making a roster and, if he does, it’s because of his special-teams ability. Washington will continue to add pieces at linebacker — it already signed David Mayo in free agency — so nothing is guaranteed for Norris.
Washington has signed the former Detroit Lions cornerback.
What it means: Depth and special teams. Roberts has started 36 games, including 26 in four seasons with the New York Jets. Washington lost Fabian Moreau to Atlanta earlier in the week, despite trying to keep him, and needed a replacement. It already has its two starters in William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller and a third corner in Jimmy Moreland. Roberts does offer flexibility because he has lined up outside and in the slot — that was his predominant position last season and can drop to safety on occasion. He lined up mostly at safety in 2018. But he has played those roles with mixed results. He had a penchant for penalties at times in New York, committing seven in 2019.
What’s the risk: None. It’s not as if they’re counting on him to provide anything other than depth at multiple spots and special teams play. His experience will be welcomed. It also re-signed Danny Johnson, who offers depth and special-teams ability. If Washington doesn’t look hard at this position in the draft that would be a mistake. It’s too important a position and the depth can still be improved.