- September 1, 2021
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For the first time in years, the Washington Football Team has the welcome problem of building a 53-man roster with a glut of talented players. The return of preseason games allowed Coach Ron Rivera, in his second season, to challenge those on the bubble and gather better information. Some shined and some disappointed, and Rivera noted that coaches feel as if they know more and are assuming less this year.
This season is an important one to the rebuild. The organization probably has limited playoff aspirations considering its stopgap quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, so the initial 53 must balance immediate talent with long-term development. The goal seems to be to prepare players who could help the team if or when Rivera opens a Super Bowl window.
With roster spots on the line, Washington thrashed by Ravens in preseason finale
In the near term, the roster Washington ends up with for the season opener Sept. 12 could look quite different from the one released Tuesday at 4 p.m. Not only could some cut players end up back on the practice squad, but if Washington likes a player cut by another team, it could be more aggressive than it was last year considering concerns over coronavirus outbreaks have lessened with increasing vaccination rates.
In: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen
Out: Steven Montez
The clearest hierarchy of any position. Fitzpatrick and Heinicke are locks, and while Allen probably is, too, there’s a remote possibility Washington cuts him to keep one more player at another position. The team probably would re-sign him quickly after some roster reshuffling anyway because of his familiarity with the scheme.
Montez, the 2020 undrafted free agent from Colorado, could end up back on the practice squad, where he spent most of his rookie season.
In: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
Out: Peyton Barber, Jonathan Williams
The big decision was Barber. After undrafted rookie Patterson emerged as the star of camp, Barber was on the bubble. In Week 2, it looked as if the short-yardage specialist was still needed when Gibson struggled to convert on third and fourth and short, but because of the roster math and Barber’s struggles in Week 3, Washington could cut him.
Last season, practice squads expanded to 16, including up to six players with two or more years of experience. If Barber, a six-year veteran, can’t find a better role on the open market, he could end up back with Washington, which might need him if its short-yardage unit doesn’t improve.
In: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Dax Milne
Out: DeAndre Carter, Isaiah Wright, Tony Brown
The bubble was Carter, Wright, Milne and Gandy-Golden. Washington keeps the latter two for a combination of youth, skills and preseason production. Gandy-Golden showed the value of his 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame in the last two games with contested catches, and coaches might not think they got a fair look at the fourth-round pick who was limited by injury to six games as a rookie.
The backup slot receiver/punt returner competition was the present vs. future debate Rivera mentioned the team is having internally this preseason. Carter, a veteran, looked more explosive as a returner, but Milne, a seventh-round pick, might have more potential long term. Milne showed enough in camp to make the team doubt he could clear waivers, and therefore the team keeps him over Carter, whom it would have under contract for only one year.
In: Logan Thomas, John Bates, Sammis Reyes, Ricky Seals-Jones
Out: Caleb Wilson
The fulcrum of the entire roster might be Reyes, the Chilean rookie who had never played football until Washington signed him out of the international pathway program for three years and $2.4 million. The team keeps him on the initial 53 because he probably wouldn’t clear waivers, but then it also must keep a fourth tight end, Seals-Jones, because Reyes isn’t ready to contribute right away. The protection for Reyes squeezes other positions, such as cornerback or defensive line, where the team might want to keep other players.
In Seals-Jones, the offense seems to have found a complement to Thomas and Bates with his 6-foot-5, 243-pound frame and track record of pass-catching (60 career receptions).
In: Charles Leno Jr., Ereck Flowers, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, Sam Cosmi, Wes Schweitzer, Saahdiq Charles, Cornelius Lucas, Tyler Larsen
Out: David Sharpe, Keith Ismael, Jon Toth, David Steinmetz, Wes Martin, Beau Benzschawel
No surprises here. The starting five from left to right — Leno, Flowers, Roullier, Scherff, Cosmi — are backed up by Lucas, the swing tackle; Schweitzer, the swing guard; and Larsen, the second center. Charles, drafted as a tackle of the future in 2020, played every position but center during camp and has an uncertain long-term fit.
The most notable cuts are Sharpe, whom Washington traded for in September, and Ismael, a 2020 sixth-round pick. Sharpe spent 24 days of camp on the reserve/covid-19 list, and it appears Ismael just didn’t develop as hoped — though, at just 23, he’s a candidate to land on the practice squad.
In: Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Tim Settle, James Smith-Williams, William Bradley-King
Out: Casey Toohill, David Bada, Shaka Toney, Devaroe Lawrence, Daniel Wise, Bunmi Rotimi, Gabe Wright
There was never a question about the team’s front five, with Young, Sweat, Allen, Payne and Ioannidis. Settle was all but a lock, too, and although Smith-Williams didn’t play in the preseason finale because of a leg injury (he underwent shin surgery in the offseason and was dealing with soreness, according to Rivera), he was pegged early on as a potential replacement for Ryan Kerrigan. Although others impressed, such as Wise and Bada, seventh-round rookie Bradley-King gets the nod for his improvement and potential.
Five takeaways from Washington’s preseason finale loss to Baltimore
A few names to watch, however: Toney would be a prime practice squad candidate if he clears waivers; Toohill, who was claimed off waivers last year, dealt with a toe injury for most of camp and could land on injured reserve; and Bada probably will go back on the practice squad, where he doesn’t count against the 16-player limit as an international player.
In: Jamin Davis, Cole Holcomb, Jon Bostic, Khaleke Hudson, David Mayo
Out: Jared Norris, Joe Walker, Jordan Kunaszyk
Washington’s linebackers were often the weakest links of the defense last year. Washington’s linebacker depth may be its biggest concern going into Week 1 this year, which is interesting considering Rivera, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and linebackers coach Steve Russ all played the position back in the day.
The team drafted Davis to start at Mike (middle) linebacker, which bears considerable responsibility for a rookie, and Holcomb and Bostic return as the veterans on the outside. Hudson, a second-year player the team eyed as its next Buffalo nickel, has an opportunity to earn a bigger role and, like Mayo, is a primary special teamer. But they may scour the wire for help here ahead of the opener.
In: Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III, Benjamin St-Juste, Torry McTyer, Troy Apke, Jimmy Moreland
Out: Darryl Roberts, Danny Johnson, Linden Stephens
The key to making this group: versatility and special teams. Rivera and Del Rio have remained coy about how they intend to use many of their cornerbacks, but if camp and the preseason showed anything, it’s that Washington plans to move players around and maybe, just maybe, play a little more man coverage. The additions of Jackson and St-Juste give it two more outside corners, which allows it to either keep Fuller outside or move him inside in subpackages.
Moreland is another slot option and, with his experience and play on special teams, keeps his spot over Roberts. McTyer, a fourth-year player who signed a futures contract in January, made too many big plays in camp to ignore and, despite suffering a concussion in the preseason finale, stays on with the hope he will recover in time for the opener. The biggest surprise is Apke, a former safety who was twice demoted last season. Apke seemed to find his groove at cornerback and was described by Rivera as “an ace” on special teams, a label he backed up in preseason. “Guys like that are hard to find,” Rivera said.
In: Landon Collins, Kam Curl, Bobby McCain, Deshazor Everett, Darrick Forrest
Out: Jeremy Reaves, Cole Luke
The top three are no surprise. Collins returned from an Achilles’ injury lighter and seemingly just as explosive as before. And his contract is structured such that it would cost more to release him than to keep him. Curl and McCain rotated at free safety in camp, and that could continue in the regular season; Curl can play everywhere in the secondary, as well as linebacker in subpackages, while McCain is a true deep safety.
Forrest was drafted primarily for special teams but also his potential on defense, and though he may eventually make Everett expendable — the latter will be 30 in February and landed on IR the past two seasons — for now he’s a key piece of special teams and safety depth. The wild card in this group: Reaves, who impressed in his three starts at free safety last year and is said to be well-liked by Rivera and his staff.
In: Tress Way (punter/holder), Dustin Hopkins (kicker), Camaron Cheeseman (long snapper)
For six years, Washington had the same specialist trio, with Way, Hopkins and long snapper Nick Sundberg. But Sundberg wasn’t re-signed in March (he remains unsigned), and Cheeseman was drafted in the sixth round to take his spot. The change has hardly been seamless — Hopkins missed a pair of kicks in the team’s preseason opener and another in the finale against the Ravens — raising concern. (Hopkins missed a pair of extra-point attempts and seven field goals last season.) But Rivera declined to bring in another kicker for competition in camp, believing the group could fix its timing and communication issues before the regular season. Barring a waiver claim or post-cut signing, Washington’s “three-headed monster,” as Way describes it, is staying together.
What to know
• Trust and chemistry are growing as Ryan Fitzpatrick settles in with Washington
• Inside Washington’s kicking game struggles, and what can be done to fix them
• Being able to represent Chile ‘means the world’ to WFT tight end Sammis Reyes
• Jaret Patterson grew up a die-hard Washington fan. Now he’s fighting to make the team.
• Terry McLaurin wants to take his game to another level. He asked Doug Baldwin for help.
Washington’s NFL draft
• Dyami Brown is known as a deep threat. In Washington, he’s ready to prove he’s much more.
• Washington Football Team draft class: What each player brings and how he fits
• Personal touch separates Ron Rivera from other head coaches during NFL draft process
• For Jason Wright, WFT’s outsider president, the future is all about change
• The convincing boom beneath Ron Rivera’s campaign to change Washington’s football culture
• Ranking Washington football seasons in the Daniel Snyder era from least to most fun
• Chase Young’s upbringing made him a ‘crazy unusual’ leader, and Washington is already following
• Barry Svrluga: The Washington Football Team won’t find a better name than it already has
• Why Washington dropped its mascot and became the Washington Football Team
Workplace investigations: Washington Football Team replaces cheerleaders with coed dance team | Lewd cheerleader videos, sexist rules: Ex-employees decry Washington’s workplace | Washington settled sexual misconduct claim against Daniel Snyder for $1.6 million | 15 women accuse former Washington employees of sexual harassment and verbal abuse
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