ASHBURN -- The Washington Commanders began their three-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, but in terms of on-the-field topics, the biggest storyline revolved around a player not present.
As expected, star wide receiver Terry McLaurin did not show up for minicamp as he continues to seek a long-term deal. The 26-year-old is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is set to earn $2.78 million in 2022. Due for a massive pay raise, McLaurin has been away from the team since late April and was not present for any of the team's voluntary OTA sessions over the past three weeks.
Following OTAs last Wednesday, Ron Rivera said he expected every player to be present for minicamp "because it is mandatory." Yet, the Commanders' head coach did not seem overly concerned that his team's best offensive player was absent and continued to express optimism that a long-term deal will get done.
"My thoughts and my only concern is that we continue to work, continue to have a dialogue," Rivera said. "We're not going anywhere with Terry. We want Terry to be here. Terry's a big part of what we want to do and accomplish as a football team. So we're doing everything we can and we'll continue to work with it and try and get Terry here to be part of our football team."
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McLaurin skipping both OTAs and minicamp is certainly not what the Commanders envisioned for this offseason, especially considering the team has a new quarterback in Carson Wentz. Yes, McLaurin has been productive despite who the Commanders have had under center over the past three years. But the reps he's missed out on with Wentz thus far have prevented the two from having the chance to start building chemistry.
Yet, when asked how McLaurin's absence could impact the wideout's ability to form a connection with Wentz, Rivera downplayed the importance of that as well.
"That's not a big concern for a couple reasons," Rivera said. "One, Terry is a professional and so is Carson. They'll get their time and opportunity to work together once we get into training camp. I believe that."
Wentz echoed a similar sentiment as Rivera when asked about McLaurin's absence last week.
“I’ve spoken with Terry quite a bit,” Wentz said. “I’ve been around him a couple times already, so excited for when we do get back out on that field together.”
The head coach's feeling toward McLaurin skipping the team's offseason program is quite the contrast to his approach on the same subject last year. In 2021, standout pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat headlined a select few players on the defensive side of the football that skipped OTAs.
When Washington's defense -- a group that finished top-five in the NFL in most major statistical categories in 2020 -- struggled out of the gate last year, the head coach pointed to lost reps during the offseason as part of the reason why.
Rivera believes McLaurin's situation is different than what transpired last year, however.
"[McLaurin is] one player. We're talking about an entire unit. We have one player that's not here," Rivera said. "But we're also talking about a veteran guy, a guy who's been in our system for a couple of years who understands the system very, very well. He's a tremendously smart football player. So, I'm not concerned about that. I'm really not. Last year, several players that missed a lot of time or several players that didn't get the opportunity to really work, several players that were new to what we were doing. I think there's a tremendous difference right now."
A two-time team captain and a leader of the team, McLaurin's absence this spring has certainly been felt throughout the locker room. Yet, while many of Washington's players admitted that they wished No. 17 was present this offseason, they understand why McLaurin has chosen to remain away.
"Obviously as a team player, you want him to be here, even if he wasn't going to participate on the field," tight end Logan Thomas said. "But I understand where he's coming from, man. You've got one chance, you've got one opportunity to get a [big] contract in this league. Terry's a great dude, a great player, a great kid, a great person -- a person I care about a lot. Do your thing, Terry. You get what you deserve. The time will come, whether it's this year, next year or whenever the time comes, he'll get what he deserves."
Commanders 2022 first-round pick Jahan Dotson, who has shined throughout the offseason with McLaurin absent, also hopes the two sides can come to a resolution soon.
"I'm hoping they get this contract figured out and we can get him back here so I can just soak up as much as possible from him and just learn from him," Dotson told NBC Sports Washington's Jordan Giorgio. "He's one of the better receivers at this level. Any opportunity I can get to learn from somebody like that is amazing."
One player who especially understands McLaurin's stance is star defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. At this time last year, Allen was going through his own contract negotiation with the team. After months of back-and-forth conversations, the two sides agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal just hours before training camp began.
So, if there's anyone in the Commanders' locker room who can relate to what McLaurin is going through, it's Allen.
"It's tough. It's an emotional process. People like to say it's not emotional, it's business," Allen said. "But that business decision is going to change your life. It's an emotional process and not something I take lightly. Obviously being on this team, I hope they get a deal done and it's something Terry's happy with, because he deserves it. ... He's a guy you want to build a culture around."
Although McLaurin's nonattendance from minicamp could be taken as a sign that the two sides remain apart in negotiations, Rivera feels the conversations between the receiver and the team are "headed in the right direction."
"At the end of the day, you both start somewhere and you hope to end up in the middle," Rivera said. "If you end up in the middle, you know for the most part it's going right. ... This is kind of like what happened with Jonathan [Allen] last year. The only difference is we came in earlier with Terry than we did with Jonathan."
If McLaurin and the Commanders are eventually able to agree on a long-term deal, the wideout's offseason holdout should not matter. By remaining away from the team, McLaurin is clearly sending a message. And, while the two sides remain apart in talks, everyone in Ashburn knows how important keeping McLaurin around is for the franchise's overall success, both in the present and in the future.
"It's just a matter of time getting this done," Rivera said. "We want Terry here. We truly do. We respect who he is as a football player and we're trying to get things worked out. But I'd love to have Terry here."