Thursday, February 25, 2021

Standig: Washington must give Brandon Scherff its best offer, not franchise tag


By Ben Standig 2h ago (February 25, 2021)


For the long-term future of the franchise, there’s almost no logic in the Washington Football Team placing the franchise tag on guard Brandon Scherff.

Either the two sides will work out a long-term deal or they won’t, regardless of the tag threat.

The window for all 32 teams to use the tag opened Tuesday and runs through March 9. Washington went that route last year when it was unable to strike a long-term contract with Scherff, one of the top offensive linemen in the game. Now the four-time Pro Bowl selection is the rare NFL player with leverage in contract negotiations because the money being discussed is so out of line relative to others at the position.

If Washington offers a second franchise tag, which would pay Scherff $18.04 million, 120 percent of his 2020 salary, the athletic guard will run to sign that piece of paper. Based on current numbers, that would make him the fourth-highest-paid offensive lineman, behind three left tackles.

Perhaps Washington thinks using the tag buys it more time to agree to terms with Scherff on a contract before July 15, the deadline for signing a franchise-tagged player to a multiyear deal. It shouldn’t. It must put its best offer on the table now, before other teams can — and if it doesn’t, it’s because it is unwilling to spend the projected market rate.

Several league executives with other teams imagine that’s Washington’s thinking, unless it is exceedingly comfortable with paying Scherff a massive salary next season.

It might be — the fifth pick in 2015 was selected first-team All-Pro last season — but that wouldn’t mesh with Washington’s non-Super Bowl contender status. The second tag almost assuredly means Scherff won’t be on the team in 2022, when Washington may position itself closer to the elite.

Scherff, 29, topped all guards in annual salary last season at $15.03 million. Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks paced all non-tagged guards with a $14.1 million average annual salary. Should Scherff, represented by agent Neil Cornrich, agree to a multiyear deal, he’s expected to receive an average annual salary in the $15 million to $16 million range, according to projections from numerous league and industry sources.

“If he goes to market, he’s probably going to get top money,” said Jason Fitzgerald, a salary-cap and contract expert for Over the Cap. “He’s got too much pedigree behind him. You’re really not going to compromise much on price.” Fitzgerald predicted a $15.5 million average annual salary with $35 million in guarantees for Scherff, who told reporters after the season that he “absolutely” wanted to return.

Perhaps a player who missed 16 regular-season games since 2018 because of a variety of injuries — one-third of all games, equal to a full season — desires to lock in more guaranteed money and the peace of mind that comes with a long-term contract.

That would be part of any pitch from Washington, along with the idea of at least doubling the guaranteed money over the tagged amount. League sources suggest Washington could include contract terms like per-game roster bonuses to offset some injury risk. The two sides had yet to begin formal discussions as of a few days before the tag window opened, according to sources.

In the tag scenario, Scherff could punt free agency to 2022 and take the $18.04 million in salary after receiving $15.03 million last season. That’s also with the knowledge another big payday looms the next offseason, when the salary cap could rise dramatically after a cut this cycle because of lost revenue from the pandemic.

Scherff also took the injury risk last year. At the time, his longtime linemate, left tackle Trent Williams, was involved in a nasty divorce from the organization that resulted in a trade to San Francisco. Ron Rivera arrived after the 2019 season to take control of all football matters. The new coach made clear he wanted to learn more about his inherited players before reworking or extending contracts. Perhaps Scherff felt the same.

Then the season played out. Washington overcame a tumultuous 12 months, which included Rivera’s cancer diagnosis, to win the NFC East. Scherff, despite missing three games with a knee injury, became the team’s first player named All-Pro since punter Matt Turk in 1996.

“We never gave up,” Scherff said last month, the day after Washington’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay. “Coach Rivera wanted to come in and change the culture and he did.”

Not known for sharing his feelings publicly, Scherff expressed “love” for Rivera and offensive line coach John Matsko.

“I’ve always said I want to stay where I got drafted. And I’ve been here for six years and I absolutely love it here,” Scherff said.

Pro Football Focus rated Scherff seventh among the guards who played at least 235 snaps last season, and he ranked in the top eight players at the position in three of the prior four seasons. A respected leader, Scherff was also selected by his teammates as Washington’s winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. He’s also an ideal fit in Rivera’s vision for team culture.

“When you look at guys like Brandon Scherff that had a knee injury and came back after three weeks and played and played to the level that they did, that’s impressive,” Rivera said after the season. “That’s a guy that’s in it for the long haul. That’s a guy that’s in it for his teammates. Those are the kind of guys that you remember, that you appreciate.”

With roughly $38.3 million available in salary-cap space, Washington has enough room to fit Scherff’s new contract. Perhaps it could frontload the contract so Scherff’s annual cap numbers decrease by 2023, when players like wide receiver Terry McLaurin, right tackle Morgan Moses and defensive tackle Daron Payne hit free agency. That cap space means Washington could absorb a massive one-year salary, but as one industry insider posed, “Do you really want to pay $18 million next year to a guard with his injury history in a reduced-cap world?”

Losing Scherff in free agency would sting, though Washington would receive a third-round compensatory selection in 2022 for a player of Scherff’s contract status. Washington could also consider the tag-and-trade route.

There’s also broad financial uncertainty for teams and players until the NFL specifies exact salary-cap figures for 2021, though high-end free agents like Scherff aren’t likely affected too much. New England’s Joe Thuney, who also played on the franchise tag last season, is the only other guard ranked on The Athletic’s list of the top 50 free agents.

That Washington doesn’t have an obvious replacement factors into its decision, some league sources said. Wes Schweitzer started three games on the right side with Scherff injured and solidified the left guard spot over the final 11 games.

Washington also remains high on fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles, whose only two snaps during an injury-plagued rookie campaign were at guard. The team could use the money targeted for Scherff in free agency at guard or on a left tackle, or it could select his replacement in the draft.

Other potential factors loom for Washington’s brain trust of Rivera, front-office executives Martin Martin and Marty Hurney and contract negotiator Rob Rogers. Perhaps Cornrich tells Washington that Scherff desires the chance to receive other offers after being denied the opportunity last season. Maybe the Midwesterner takes less on the open market from a team closer to his native Iowa. After trading Williams last year and likely letting Ryan Kerrigan exit in free agency next month, Washington may determine it cannot let another longtime stalwart escape. Plus, there’s always a chance another guard resets the market.

There are scenarios worth considering, including the franchise tag. Consider it, then move on. That’s what Washington should do when it comes to keeping Scherff for 2021.

And, for those recalling the Kirk Cousins saga, he was a quarterback, a position considered superior to all others, and a player whom not everyone in the organization viewed favorably. The end-of-season love fest between Scherff and Rivera provided plenty of evidence both hope to make a deal work. We’ll see if the almighty dollar changes any vibes. Using the franchise tag probably would.

(Photo: Brad Mills / USA Today)


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