Commanders have chance to solidify WR corps for years to come

Chris Olave and Terry McLaurin

Entering the 2022 NFL offseason, the biggest task on head coach Ron Rivera's desk was to find Washington a franchise quarterback. While there's plenty of skepticism, the Commanders believe they have done just that after acquiring former Eagles and Colts passer Carson Wentz in a March trade with Indianapolis.

With the sport's most important position solved -- at least temporarily -- and the bulk of free agency in the rearview mirror, the focus for Washington now shifts to two important tasks: the 2022 NFL Draft and agreeing to an extension with star wide receiver Terry McLaurin.

In the coming months, if things go well for the Burgundy and Gold, the Commanders should have their wide receiver corps of the future solidified.

Let's start with the 2022 NFL Draft, where the Commanders have the 11th overall selection. Washington could go multiple directions with that pick, but wide receiver is certainly a position the team could address with that selection.

Speaking with reporters at the annual league meetings in Florida last week, Rivera stressed the need to surround Wentz with more playmakers on offense.

"You guys have heard me say this when I first got here: We've got to make sure we can protect our quarterback and we've got to make sure we've got playmakers around him," Rivera said. "We've got to continue to look at what our options are, not only in free agency but in getting ready for the draft. What impact position player can we find through the draft?"


The 2022 wide receiver class is, once again, loaded. It starts at Ohio State, as the Buckeyes have a pair of wideouts that warrant first-round status in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Wilson is expected to go higher among the two, but there's a realistic chance both are on the board when the Commanders pick at No. 11.

Rivera was present at the Buckeyes' Pro Day in late March scouting the two players. He was even captured speaking 1-on-1 with Olave afterward. Olave spoke with reporters following his workout and said the Commanders plan to host him for a top-30 pre-draft visit, too. Olave's exceptional at stretching the field, which is something Washington's offense certainly hopes to do more of with Wentz under center.

While nothing can be certain until the pick is in, the Commanders are certainly doing their research on two of the draft's top wideouts. USC's Drake London and Alabama's Jameson Williams are also potential options for the Commanders, too.

Wide receiver at No. 11 is far from a certainty for Washington, though. Rivera spoke with NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay during the NFL's league meetings and made it clear the team is exploring all options.

"You don't necessarily have to add a weapon," Rivera told Finlay. "There are some quality offensive and defensive players that don't play quarterback, don't play wide receiver, running back or tight end that we have to really look at."

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It's worth reiterating that the 2022 wideout class is littered with talent that could be available on Day 2, including Georgia's George Pickens and Clemson's Justyn Ross. If Washington bypasses receiver at No. 11, it's a position they might circle back to one day later.

Regardless of what the Commanders do at No. 11, the franchise's focus after the draft will turn back to signing McLaurin, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He, along with other top wideouts from his draft class such as A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel, is seeking a long-term, lucrative contract extension.

Rivera has gone on the record multiple times this offseason to say the franchise has every intention of keeping McLaurin long-term. Earlier this week, he told The Athletic the team wouldn't even entertain the idea of trading McLaurin amidst rumors Metcalf or Brown could be available. But words only go so far and McLaurin's value has only climbed since the new league year began.


The reality is that given recent contract extensions among the top tier of receivers, McLaurin's value is at a minimum of $20 million per season. That almost certainly won't be enough to lock him up long-term. For the Commanders, though, the exact figure at which they come to terms with McLaurin should not matter nearly as much as locking up No. 17 long-term itself.

Not only has McLaurin been extremely productive over his first three seasons, but he's been a high-character guy and a locker room leader. McLaurin's teammates have voted him a team captain twice and the Commanders used him as part of the team's rebrand reveal in February. Those things should also be considered when at the negotiating table.

On the field, Washington has been in search of another elite talent at receiver to pair with McLaurin for two years now. The Commanders hoped the additions of Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown last season would help take some of the defenses' attention away from McLaurin, but Samuel's health and Brown's rookie growing pains limited their production.

Rivera hasn't given up hope on either Samuel or Brown and insisted to Finlay that there are "pretty good pieces" on offense already, including McLaurin and running back Antonio Gibson. 

But if the 2021 season proved anything, it was just how important McLaurin is to the Commanders' offense and the need to add talent at the position. That’s why Washington should strongly consider drafting a wide receiver early in the 2022 NFL Draft, arguably their best chance to find that help right now. The Commanders have the need and there should be multiple talented wideouts available when it's Washington's turn to pick. 

Selecting a first-round wide receiver should not impact Washington's ability to extend McLaurin, either. A potential McLaurin extension would not begin until the 2023 season after his rookie deal expires. So, McLaurin would only count $3 million against the cap this season, which would allow Washington to pay the potential first-round wideout his signing bonus and first-year base salary.

DeVonta Smith's contract with the Eagles is an example. He was selected 10th overall in 2021 and signed a four-year, $20.1 million deal with Philadelphia, all guaranteed. Still, his cap hit was only $3.7 million as a rookie and won’t be higher than $6.4 million over the first four years of his career.


Additionally, Washington has an out on Samuel's contract after the season, should he fail to stay healthy or produce in 2022 -- a post-June 1 cut designation for Samuel in 2023 would be just a $2.4 dead cap hit, according to OverTheCap.

As the Buccaneers, Rams and Bengals have proven over the past two seasons, having a surplus of talent at wide receiver is nearly a necessity to be successful in today's NFL. It's part of the reason why Cincinnati drafted Ja'Marr Chase No. 5 overall last year despite already having two talented wideouts in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Chase went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and helped lead the Bengals to an improbable run to a Super Bowl appearance.

Wide receiver should no longer be considered a luxury position in the NFL. Washington has a big-time talent in McLaurin and the ability to add another top guy in this year's draft. Locking McLaurin up long-term and investing a high draft pick in another receiver could go a long way toward Washington's offense taking the next step and bringing the Commanders back to a competitive level.