Washington has cap room, glaring holes, but Ron Rivera says 'we're not desperate'

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Football Team enters NFL free agency with plenty of salary-cap room and a strong desire to improve. That does not mean it will spend wildly.

Washington, coming off a 7-9 season and NFC East title, has the sixth most available cap space -- about $39 million -- according to Roster Management System.

"We're not desperate," Washington coach Ron Rivera said. "There's no immediate need to have to, got to, must. We're looking to build a winning, sustainable culture."

As former NFL general manager and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum said, they must be aware of trying to keep together their defensive line for as long as possible; none are free agents but all will be expensive in coming years.

"That line is historically great," he said. "That's something you have to keep measuring."

That's why the team won't use all that cap space, saving room for future extensions or re-signings. Here's a look at some of its key needs:


Why: They have three on the roster -- Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke and Steven Montez. But they have been actively looking for starting options this offseason.

Best value: Free agency. With the No. 19 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Washington can't count on getting a quarterback it likes in any round. Trading up would be surprising given its other holes. Trading for a proven commodity remains a possibility, but signing a veteran would allow them to use more capital to keep adding young players on offense.

The usual suspects remain possibilities, notably Marcus Mariota (especially if he's released) and Sam Darnold. Perhaps even Teddy Bridgewater, if Carolina adds another quarterback and releases him; he did play for Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner in Minnesota. In free agency, the options include Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor and Jacoby Brissett. One NFL assistant coach said Brissett, with his strong arm, would fit well in Washington’s offense. The same coach said Darnold is the quarterback he'd pursue.

Wide receiver

Why: Washington wants another starter to pair with Terry McLaurin; speed is a priority. Washington aggressively pursued Amari Cooper last offseason, but the 2020 free-agent class wasn't deep and, with the No. 2 overall pick and no choice in the second round, Washington needed to do so.

Best value: The draft. Numerous analysts and talent evaluators have called this one of the best drafts for wide receivers. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. said it could be 40 deep -- and those 40 could change depending on the team. In other words, Washington could add starting-caliber players on the second day of the draft. Knowing that, it could spend elsewhere in free agency. That, however, is not a given.

There are excellent options, players who can make big plays with speed -- notably Curtis Samuel, who was drafted by this staff in Carolina. Nelson Agholor was used more as an outside receiver by the Las Vegas Raiders last season and responded by becoming one of the NFL's best downfield threats. They might be in the $9 million to $11 million range, according to salary-cap expert Joel Corry, a former agent who writes for CBS Sports and hosts a podcast. Will Fuller V is fast, too. At the higher end: Kenny Golladay, the best wide receiver available who would be a huge addition for any offense; JuJu Smith-Schuster and possibly Corey Davis, coming off his best season.

"If you feel it's a [deep] draft at that position, absolutely it helps you fortify that walk-away position [in free agency]," Tannenbaum said.

Tight end

Why: Washington signed Logan Thomas last offseason and he responded with a career-high 72 receptions. But it's thin after him. Last offseason, Washington pursued Austin Hooper, offering about $9 million per year. But it wasn't in the final running as the Cleveland Browns, where he ultimately signed, and San Francisco 49ers offered more.

Best value: Free agency. The tight end class in the draft isn't as deep and there are playmaking tight ends available in free agency, with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith topping the list. If Hooper signed for $10.5 million per year last offseason, Henry will top that and Smith will be in that ballpark. Both would help as all-around tight ends.


Why: Rivera said during the season they wanted more production. Washington has two starting-caliber linebackers -- Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb, and Kevin Pierre-Louis is a free agent they would like to re-sign. They need a linebacker strong in coverage.

Best value: The draft. It's considered a deep class at linebacker. However, that doesn't mean to avoid free agency, which includes strong options: Matt Milano, Jayon Brown and Nicholas Morrow all are considered quality starters and good in coverage. But they'll be expensive. Corry said those players will take note of the contract signed by Lavonte David to stay with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- a two-year deal that averages $12.5 million per year for a good linebacker who is 31 years old.

"That confirms they should be in the same neighborhood," Corry said.

Tannenbaum said he wouldn't pay big money at that position unless the player can help as a pass-rusher. Also, the strong defensive line means Washington might be able to find younger or more inexpensive linebackers who can produce.

"That's not a position they should pay," Tannenbaum said.

Left tackle

Why: Washington traded Trent Williams last offseason and his replacement, Geron Christian, is coming off a torn MCL and has eight career starts in his first three seasons. Veteran Cornelius Lucas served as a capable fill-in, but Washington wants to build a stronger line.

Best value: The draft. There are options in free agency, including Williams (who many expect to re-sign with San Francisco) and veteran Alejandro Villanueva. But all the top ones are 30 or older, including the recently released Eric Fisher. Washington knows there will be strong options available with the No. 19 pick; they could probably trade back, add more selections, and still find a guy they like.


Why: Cornerback Ronald Darby is a free agent and, while both sides would like him to return, there will be strong interest in him. Washington also needs a starting free safety.

Best value: Mixed. The cornerback market isn't great in free agency and Darby likely will command about $10 million, Corry said. Considering he will be one of the best available, he could want more. But re-signing him makes sense. There are also good cornerback options in the draft. At safety, Rivera has favored low-cost veterans. Tre Boston, recently released by the Carolina, has a history with this staff.