Nobody is more bullish on “Riverboat” Ron Rivera and what he is building in our nation’s capital. To date, I have been a firm supporter of most of his efforts to rebuild and change the culture of an organization that has been very poorly run for several decades. This week, the Washington Football Team made a couple of moves that had me raising my eyebrows.
As teams enter Phase 2 of their offseason conditioning programs, NFL GM’s are still looking to tinker with their rosters. Many under-the-radar moves can pay dividends in November or December for those teams that make the right strategic moves over the next few weeks, OR NOT.
The magic date of June 1 will supply cap relief for our current year salary cap books and push off any prorated bonus money into 2022 on a contract that is removed from a teams roster. At this time of year, teams will look to free up some cap space in order to sign rookies from this year’s draft class as well as procure a veteran player they have been eyeing from either on the street or as a cut, from another team’s roster.
A well-prepared NFL scouting staff has been projecting June 1 and NFL cap casualty possibilities for weeks now. Teams spend a lot of time and resources on just who might be cut or available and then target their evaluations based on this. They dive deep into the rosters of their competition to see how the players teams recently drafted will change the makeups of their rosters. The player personnel departments are all pondering if a drafted player might create an excess at a particular position, primarily one of need for another team? My point is that a team’s scouting department is spending a lot of time during this window of May and early June analyzing rosters and anticipating what roster transactions may happen around the league. Point being, it is still a very important time from a team building standpoint.
What they do not expect is for a team, in this instance the WFT, to dump their two starting tackles from the opening month of the prior season. Growing up in the business, I was lucky to have learned and trained under Hall of Fame tackle Mike McCormack when he was the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks. Our head coach, Chuck Knox, was also a former offensive line coach and together these men valued offensive line play like few others in the history of the league. Needless to say, both McCormack and Knox would have liked to have had a word with Rivera before he made these latest roster moves in Washington.
During their time in Seattle, McCormack and Knox would impress on us as a staff to never get rid of an offensive lineman unless you just HAD TOO. They stressed to us the need for depth on the offensive line, especially at tackle. McCormack and Knox would emphasize that its not if you will need them, but when.
The WFT gambled and released both Morgan Moses (97 NFL starts), their starting right tackle, and Geron Christian, who had six starts at left tackle during the 2020 season. I really don’t think either played poorly last year and when the scouting reports from other teams are read, they will no doubt feel the same way. In fact, Christian was quickly claimed by the Houston Texans, a gift in my opinion that they surely didn’t expect. He is a player at a premium position who is making the league minimum salary and surely is a key piece to consider for depth in their rebuild process.
In a recent interview on NFL Radio, Rivera was glowing over the positive attributes of the team’s new second-round pick, Sam Cosmi. His toughness and aggressiveness were the two points that Rivera continued to emphasize during the interview. In my attempt to connect the dots, what those comments told me was that Rivera wasn't happy with the prior makeup of his offensive line in Washington when it came to those two characteristics. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but in my draft preparation I saw more of a workout warrior with bench press strength (35x225 at his pro day) when it came to Cosmi. I didn’t see his athletic ability nor strength transfer to the playing field. That’s not to say that it won’t improve with some development, but Cosmi is not there right now.
My point is, I’ll be shocked if Moses isn’t starting in the league this year and Christian will upgrade the depth on some other team, if not the Texans. Tackles are hard to find. The WFT went from having their OT position being a strength to now making it a question mark just based on “what ifs”. As a GM, Id sleep a lot better if we could have gained any salary cap relief (if that’s what we were looking for) from some other area on our roster. But not by cutting tackles who have starting experience in the league.
Newly signed UFA Charles Leno should be fine at LT, but banking on Cosmi and journeyman Cornelius Lucas (who is on his fifth team) to hold down the right tackle position seems very risky. I realize they also have a 4th round pick from the 2020 draft, Saahdig Charles, on their roster but he was on injured reserve last year and is no more than a developmental guy at this stage.
The changes this team has elected to make will now take time to implement and cause a steep learning curve for a group that is judged by how well they play together. By compromising their depth as well, they are now one injury away from a sizeable step back.
Sometimes change for the sake of change does not always work. This happens when a new coach is settling into a position with a new team. He wants his guys, I get it. I know the salary cap will be blamed partially for these decisions, but I struggle as a team builder with allowing functional offensive linemen to walk out the door. There are just not enough of them to go around.