This past Wednesday marked a pivotal date for the Washington Commanders' finances. Safety Landon Collins, who was released earlier this offseason with a post-June 1 designation, officially had his salary come off the books.
By releasing Collins, the Commanders saved $11.8 million in cap space for the 2022 season. According to OverTheCap, Washington has now up to nearly $18.4 million in cap space for the upcoming year, the seventh-most room of any club.
So, with Washington's newly obtained cap space, what's next? Well, the Commanders have a few options.
For starters, Washington could opt to sign a veteran or two to its roster. Linebacker remains a need, especially after the club didn't draft one in April, and veterans like Anthony Hitchens, Joe Schobert and Kwon Alexander remain available.
Last year, Washington made a pair of post-draft signings in left tackle Charles Leno and safety Bobby McCain. Both players performed well in 2021 and earned multi-year deals with the club earlier this year.
During rookie minicamp in early May, head coach Ron Rivera was asked about the possibility of adding a few more veterans to its roster. He didn't rule it out.
"I think we've got time," Rivera said. "Last year we found our left tackle in Charles Leno in June, we found our returner [DeAndre Carter] in June, so we've got time. I mean last time I looked, kickoff is the second weekend in September."
However, although adding a veteran or two could help the Commanders in the short term, there's one specific way Washington fans hope the team spends its newly freed money. That would be on star wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who is currently away from the team as he seeks a lucrative contract extension.
McLaurin, a third-round pick in 2019, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. To date, the 26-year-old has brought in just over $3 million in earnings. Under his current deal, McLaurin is set to make $2.79 million in 2022.
Anyone who's followed the Commanders -- or the NFL, for that matter -- over the past three seasons knows McLaurin has significantly outplayed his contract. In 2019, he came just nine yards short from breaking the franchise's rookie receiving yards record. Over the past two seasons, McLaurin has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns despite needing two hands to count the number of quarterbacks he's caught passes from.
The wide receiver market has boomed this offseason, as now 10 pass-catchers are set to make $20 million or more in 2022. A.J. Brown, McLaurin's fellow 2019 draftmate, just signed a four-year, $100 million extension with the Eagles after he was traded from Tennessee to Philadelphia on draft night. McLaurin can certainly use Brown's deal as a topic point in negotiations.
Despite McLaurin's continued holdout, Rivera has remained confident the two sides will come to an agreement.
“We've had communications with them," Rivera said on May 24. "We've been working with them. It's just a matter of time.”
So, how does Collins' contract factor into a potential McLaurin extension? Well, the truth of the matter is at least for 2022, not much.
Should McLaurin sign an extension, the increased base salary from his new contract won't begin until 2023 (unless the team rips up the final year of his current deal, which is atypical). Yes, the wideout will get a lucrative sum of money guaranteed at signing, but the Commanders will have the flexibility to spread it out in terms of cap hit. The reality is that McLaurin's cap hit in 2022 is going to be pretty cheap, even if he does sign a long-term extension.
It's also worth noting that Washington and McLaurin's camp began negotiations well before Collins' contract came off the books. Yes, not having Collins' under contract did free up space, but the Commanders would have had the space to pay McLaurin regardless.
Ultimately, Collins' contract should not have been a reason for a holdup in negotiation talks between McLaurin and the team. It comes down to finding the right number that works for both sides.
The optimism from Rivera should give Commanders fans confidence about a potential McLaurin extension. However, only time will tell whether it gets done.