When Ron Rivera landed the top job with the Washington Football Team, he brought a whole lot of his former Carolina team along for the ride. Assistant coaches, medical staff, Rivera even traded for his old Panthers backup QB.
This offseason it would make sense for Rivera to again bring in another former Panther.
Curtis Samuel, a second-round pick by Carolina in 2017, looks primed for free agency in March and Washington should be involved early in his recruitment.
Coming off a 1,050 total-yard breakout season, Samuel will have other suitors, but few can boast the familiarity of Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner. They drafted him and worked with him for his first three NFL seasons.
For Washington, Samuel looks like a tremendous compliment to Terry McLaurin, both Ohio State alums.
Plagued by injuries his first two years in the NFL, Samuel has missed one game in the last two seasons. He's also emerged as a threat in the run game; he's averaged more than 150 yards rushing in the last two seasons. With 12 total touchdowns in the last two seasons Samuel also has a nose for the end zone.
Samuel seemed to really find his stride in the second half of the 2020 season.
In the Panthers last eight games, he posted three games with more than 100-yards and had at least five catches in six games. When Carolina beat Washington in Week 16, Samuel posted five catches for 106 yards and another seven carries for 52 yards.
Go back to some of Rivera's old quotes on Samuel and a picture gets painted that makes a Washington reunion between the two seem plausible.
Rivera on Samuel - March 2019 - "You see him going before practice to catch balls. You see him catching balls after practice. He's got coaches that stay after and throw the ball to him. It reminds me a little bit of what Josh Norman learned to do during his career and I thought that was really impressive."
Rivera speaking on D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel - August 2019 - "I think Curtis, DJ Moore, I think those guys don’t have ceilings. I think those guys can become really, really good players. I’m excited to watch them keep developing."
Obviously in free agency cost becomes a major consideration, and while Washington tried to give out a huge contract to WR Amari Cooper last offseason, he decided to stay in Dallas.
After that, Rivera's team went the bargain route in free agency and did well with team-friendly deals for Logan Thomas, J.D. McKissic and Wes Schweitzer.
This offseason the biggest WR names available in free agency will be Allen Robinson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, probably followed by Kenny Golladay and Will Fuller. Of that group, at age 25, Samuel is younger than all but Smith-Schuster.
It's also important to note that last offseason Rivera and his staff did not know what they had in McLaurin, who was coming off an impressive rookie season but was hardly a sure thing. This year, after the first 1,000-yard receiving season in Washington since 2016, McLaurin has cemented his role as WR1 in Washington.
With that in mind, Rivera might not feel the need to dole out $19 million a season for Robinson, which according to the website Spotrac is Robinson's assumed market value.
Samuel's assumed market value? $12 million per season.
Rivera often talks about wanting to find young players on the way up, to push that development into stars. That's Samuel. Robinson and Smith-Schuster are already established as stars.
Plus, depending what happens at quarterback for Washington, the cap space could get tight. League wide the salary cap is expected to drop for the 2021 season after Covid reduced revenues in 2020, and Washington has major decisions to make as it regards to Alex Smith's future and Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff.
Washington has a lot of cap space - more than $33 million to be exact, sixth-most in the NFL - but that could get gobbled up fast if the team moves to add a veteran QB while still dealing with Smith's contract.
After watching Cam Sims and Dontrelle Inman for the 2020 season, Rivera knows he needs more talent at wide receiver to repeat as NFC East champ. But after watching McLaurin for the 2020 season, Rivera might also know he doesn't have to break the bank to get a star. He already has one.
Add Samuel to the mix, and things could get really interesting.