Monday, December 14, 2020

Should Washington decline to offer Brandon Scherff a long-term contract?


By Ben Standig, Mark Bullock and Zac Boyer Dec 11, 2020


There are a lot of myths around the NFL. If you’re a fan of the show “MythBusters,” you might enjoy how we’ve decided to examine football myths this week. We’re using the show’s template to poke holes in some of the NFL’s biggest myths. Read the full series here.

Washington right guard Brandon Scherff embodies the team-first, tough-guy mindset every NFL coach desires. That the fifth selection in the 2015 draft has largely lived up to that status — which is not easy, considering he plays an unsexy position — says plenty about his ability as a pass blocker and his athleticism in the run game. Pro Football Focus ranked Scherff fifth among guards through Week 13.

The issue with the three-time Pro Bowl selection is his durability. Since the start of 2017, Scherff has missed 18 games, including three this season, with an assortment of pectoral, shoulder, elbow and knee injuries.

The ability-versus-availability debate is one to watch as Washington ponders a long-term contract extension for Scherff, who is a free agent after the season and is playing on a $15 million franchise tag. After trading longtime left tackle Trent Williams during the offseason, there’s also something to be said for stability. That’s something Scherff provides when he’s out there, but whether he’s among the best in the league at his position — or perhaps whether his talent warrants paying out a lucrative, multi-year contract — is up for debate.

— Ben Standig

The witnesses

Rivera: “I really like what we’re getting from him. I think he’s done a great job. He really has. It doesn’t matter who he lines up next to, he’s a great communicator. I think that’s as important as it gets. He does a great job. He and Chase Roullier are really good together in terms of their combinations. Watching them with Morgan (Moses) has been really cool. He’s helped David Sharpe really nicely. He’s helped David out a lot. I think when you have a guy like that it really doesn’t matter who you put next to him. He’s going to be able to communicate and get things worked out, and that’s what he’s shown us.”

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner: “Brandon’s toughness, his consistency, and then just the resiliency that he shows, dealing with that (knee) injury earlier in the year, being able to come back … he’s just the steady rock. Him and (tackle) Morgan (Moses) playing on that right side together. … Those guys working together, playing together … those are the leaders so far for us. They’ve done a great job, Brandon in particular. He brings it every day … the toughness, the blue-collar mentality. It helps (as) the engine that drives our team. … He’s a guy that we trust is going to get his block done. If we can ask a little bit more of him than someone else and give a little help to the other side, that’s definitely something that we do. That’s definitely a factor we know, I know, when he’s out there.”

Quarterback Alex Smith: “I think Brandon’s the total package. From a talent standpoint, I think that he’s the best player in that position in the league, one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. It means so much to him. He’s so invested into this team. You can feel his energy in the huddle. You certainly miss it when he’s gone. It’s significant. He’s that type of player. Not just from like I said a talent standpoint, but certainly his leadership, his energy and the attitude he brings to the huddle every day.”

— Standig

The film

From a film perspective, Scherff has the total package as a guard. He’s very athletic, which enables Washington to use him in various schemes, such as pulling to the edge on sweeps, leading the way on screen passes and climbing to reach linebackers at the second level of the defense in zone run schemes.

He also possesses outstanding strength combined with a nasty streak coaches love to see in offensive linemen. That means he’s capable of knocking over defenders at any point in the game, either pulling to kick out on a power run scheme or simply tossing them aside in gap schemes.

In pass protection, Scherff uses his athleticism and strength and backs them up with great technique. He’s excellent with his hands, landing strong punches to knock defenders off balance and regularly mixes in quick sets, in which he jumps toward the defender in front of him to close the gap and lands a quick punch, taking away the defender’s initial rush plan and forcing him to go to Plan B quickly.

He’s overall an excellent player with just about every trait a team could ask for in a guard. He’s certainly one of the best in the league when on the field and gives Washington great flexibility in what it can do schematically, which is rare from the guard position.

— Mark Bullock

The numbers

If you’ll remember, Scherff was a left tackle for much of his time at Iowa, where he earned the Outland Trophy after his senior season in 2014. He figured to start at right tackle upon being drafted by Washington, but not long after training camp began, he was moved to right guard and has remained there since.

Evaluating offensive linemen is tricky given the lack of certainty over their responsibilities on any given play, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tried. Essentially, analysis boils down to one underlying criterium, regardless of run or pass: Was the player beat by a defender on that play?

Scherff rarely is. Pro Football Focus graded him as its seventh-best guard overall last season, giving him a 75.2 on a scale that considers players reaching the low 80s to be elite, and through Week 13, he’s ranked fifth with a grade of 82.5. Over his first five seasons, he routinely ranked in at least the 90th percentile in run blocking, and he was the only guard who played at least 250 snaps who allowed 10 or fewer pressures in each of the past two seasons.

Last season, he earned PFF’s fourth-highest run-blocking grade among guards behind the Eagles’ Brandon Brooks, the Colts’ Quenton Nelson and the Cowboys’ Zack Martin — fairly elite company. Through 12 games this season, PFF has given Scherff a grade of 79.9, good for eighth. In ESPN’s run-block win-rate metric, which evaluates the percentage of snaps on which linemen sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer, Scherff is first at 78 percent, with a strong performance Monday against the Steelers moving him fractionally ahead of Nelson.

Those scales have historically regarded Scherff more highly in the running game than in the passing game. Last season, PFF handed Scherff a 72 in pass protection — his lowest mark since he was a rookie. He was credited with giving up just one sack and allowed pressure on just 2.7 percent of his snaps. Through 580 snaps this season, Scherff has graded out at a 78, putting him seventh among guards. ESPN, which lists only its top 10 performers in its pass-block win-rate metric, did not include Scherff in its rankings after last season, but he appeared in the picture after Monday’s game, ranked eighth at 94 percent.

One other less-scientific method to consider: In a vote of his peers, Scherff has been selected to the Pro Bowl in three of the past four seasons — though offensive linemen know that honor is mostly reputation-based. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. On the flip side, he’s yet to be named an All-Pro, and that’s as much of a product of his injury history as it is the quality of the other players who have been honored.

— Zac Boyer

The verdict

Standig: Part of this exercise is considering whether Washington should keep the Pro Bowl guard knowing the cost. Scherff’s one-year deal on the franchise tag for $15,030,000 gave him the highest annual salary among guards, but three others with longer-term deals were close behind, including NFC East rivals in Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks (four years, $56.35 million) and Dallas’s Zach Martin (six years, $84 million). Therefore, offering Scherff a similar annual salary isn’t out of line with the market’s top end.

Bullock: I have no doubt Scherff is one of the best guards in the NFL. His film is full of consistently excellent play with great technique combined with strong athleticism for the position. His presence allows Washington to be extra creative because of the range of things he can do at a high level. He’s an anchor on an offensive line that is starting to find some rhythm and momentum. His talent merits the contract it would cost to keep him, and Washington should be doing everything it can to keep him as the key piece on the offensive line to build around.

Boyer: No matter which way he’s evaluated, Scherff is one of the best players at his position. Washington was comfortable having him play on the franchise tag knowing that meant he’d be paid as one of the best. He has been recognized by those around the league, and the ways his performance can be quantified, as one of the best. Could he improve? Sure, but he’s taking care of business, and that’s worth rewarding, especially given Washington’s salary-cap situation.

Our decision: Busted

Scherff has proven he ranks among the top at his position. Considering the questions on Washington’s left side, the team trading away a Pro Bowl lineman in Williams and its strong 2021 salary-cap situation (approximately $50 million available), paying one of the best guards in the league seems like a prudent move, even if that’s not a traditional position on which teams spend big.

(Photo: Daniel Kucin Jr. / Associated Press)

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