Why Washington's priority in 2021 NFL draft could be finding a left tackle

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Football Team focused on quarterbacks during the offseason and still wants to add its signal-caller for the future. It signed a new starting wide receiver (Curtis Samuel) and added a potential solid player in the slot (Adam Humphries) during NFL free agency. It wants to add more talent at tight end.

But coach Ron Rivera has made it clear: He also wants to build the offensive line, giving the team potentially strong groups up front on both sides of the ball. It's one reason Rivera was reluctant to mortgage Washington's future with a bold trade for a quarterback.

"I don't want to see us get into a situation where we can't put playmakers around our guy, we can't protect our guy," he said. "That's something that we've got to make sure we can do."

What Washington would like most is a starting left tackle. It does have in-house options -- Geron Christian and Cornelius Lucas started there last season and 2020 fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles can play tackle or guard. However, Washington still wants to add a left tackle. The team could then keep Charles at guard and form a young tandem.

Here are the options at the position:

The draft

Washington has the No. 19 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App). As ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said on a conference call last week, "This is a deep class." That has been a consensus opinion throughout the draft process, and Washington believes it can land a potential starter at left tackle somewhere in the first three rounds. Considering Washington has four picks in those rounds, it should be able to fill that desire.

In the first round, Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw or Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins could be available at No. 19. Washington wants a more consistent run game and Darrisaw would help the blocking in that area.

This offseason, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Jenkins has the "ability to adjust to secondary moves. He tests off the charts in terms of work ethic and character. His consistency and talent adds up to late first [round], at worst early second." Kiper also said a pick in the late teens would be a stretch for Jenkins.

Notre Dame's Liam Eichenberg is another tackle expected to be drafted in the first two rounds. Jim Nagy, the director of the Senior Bowl, said shortly after the event that North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz was "our overall practice player of the week. We thought he was the best guy down here hands down." He said Radunz's future is at left tackle, but he also could play guard.

Because of the depth at this position, if a player Washington really wants is gone at No. 19 and the team feels good about multiple players still available, it could trade back and accrue more picks -- whether in this draft or in 2022. If the quarterback of the future can't be found this spring, a future pick could be used to move up next year. And keep in mind: If Washington improves this season, as it expects to, it would be picking lower next year and therefore need more picks to trade up.

Trade for Orlando Brown Jr.

The Baltimore Ravens starter wants to be traded so he can play left tackle, but landing him could be costly. Baltimore knows it can get a third-round compensatory pick for him if he leaves via free agency after this season. So it could cost a second-round pick plus another pick to pry him loose now. Then Brown would need to be signed to an extension. Otherwise, it's a wasted trade. He could end up manning the position for a long time in Washington, but the cost would be steeper than drafting a player.

Also, because Washington would be paying Brown, it could make it hard to then work out a long-term deal with right guard Brandon Scherff. That would be a lot of money to invest on the offensive line when considering future contracts that will be needed to keep the team's young defensive linemen as well as wide receiver Terry McLaurin.

Sign a veteran

There's one quality starter who is still available in free agency -- Alejandro Villanueva. Washington would consider him, but not until after the draft. If the team doesn't land a quality tackle in the draft, then Villanueva becomes an option. He has started every game in Pittsburgh for the past five seasons and would give Washington a solid player as a two-time Pro Bowler. But signing him could mean having to find a future starter at the position in 2022. And, if Washington doesn't land a left tackle because it had to surrender draft picks in a trade to move up for a quarterback this year, for example, then finding a starter could be harder next year.

What's clear is that finding a left tackle will remain important for Washington. Rivera said he wants to build a sustainable winning culture; for him, that includes a strong offensive line.