Football Team

WFT Pre-Free Agency Roster Grades: Changes to special teams?

Football Team

With the 2020 season in the books and free agency less than one month away, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Ryan Homler grade the Washington Football Team's position groups before the 2021 signing period begins. Last but not least: special teams.

Special teamers signed: Tress Way

Special teamers hitting free agency: Nick Sundberg, Dustin Hopkins

2020 recap

For a team that has had countless roster turnover over the past decade, the Washington Football Team's specialist trio of kicker Dustin Hopkins, punter Tress Way and long snapper Nick Sundberg has remained largely intact.

Sundberg, who arrived in 2009, is currently the longest-tenured player on Washington's roster. Way, who was signed as a free agent in 2014, has been in Washington and one of the NFL's best punters ever since. And Hopkins, who has dealt with plenty of ups and downs throughout his NFL career, has been Washington's kicker each season since 2015.

For all the positives that Washington had in 2020, though, its kicking game struggled at times. Hopkins made just 27 of his 34 attempts on the season, finishing the campaign with a career-low 79.4 field goal percentage. 

While there's never a good time to miss a kick, it sure seemed that Hopkins' misses in 2020 came at really inopportune times.

In Washington's Week 6 loss to the New York Giants, Hopkins missed a 47-yard field goal on the team's opening drive. The Burgundy and Gold would ultimately lose that game, 20-19, after Washington elected to go for a two-point conversion following a last-minute touchdown. While Rivera cited "going for the win" as his reasoning for the two-point try, it's hard to imagine Hopkins' missed kick from earlier wasn't in the back of his mind, either.

 

One month later, with Washington down 11 in the first half, Hopkins missed a 43-yard field goal wide right against the Detroit Lions in the second quarter. Washington ended up losing the game on a last-second field goal, one that would have only tied the matchup had Hopkins converted earlier that afternoon.

For his midseason struggles, though, Hopkins did finish the year strong. In a December upset over Pittsburgh, Hopkins made all three of his field goal attempts, including a pair of 45-yarders late in the fourth quarter that pushed Washington ahead over the previously unbeaten Steelers. The following week, Hopkins made three of four attempts in another big victory over the San Francisco 49ers, too.

Moving on from Hopkins, though. While Tress Way was not named to the Pro Bowl for a second straight season, the punter remained one of the NFL's elite in 2020.

Way punted a whopping 73 times for Washington in 2020, the second-most of any punter in the league. He averaged over 48 yards per punt, which ranked in the top five across the NFL. Nearly 40% of the time were opponents starting in bad field position following a Way punt, too.

The punter signed a four-year extension in December of 2019, meaning he's still under contract for the next three seasons. For Washington's sake, they hope he's in D.C. for a lot longer than that.

Lastly, we move to Sundberg, who played in every game this past season for the second consecutive year. The long snapper has missed just five games since the 2014 season.

What makes Sundberg's most recent campaign so impressive is that, as NBC Sports Washington's Pete Hailey reported, the long snapper played the entire season with a torn triceps, one he just had surgery to repair last month. 

Hardly, if ever, would Sundberg deliver a poor snap, either.

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Free Agency Options

Both Sundberg and Hopkins are unrestricted free agents this offseason. While there is a chance they both return, there's also the possibility Washington's specialist trio breaks up this offseason.

Washington has several options in free agency if they want to move on from Hopkins. Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, who made 94.3% of his field goals last season, is available, as well as Las Vegas' Daniel Carlson and Chicago's Cairo Santos. Tampa Bay kicker Ryan Succop is also a free agent.

In total, there are eight different kickers that will be free agents this offseason that finished with a higher percentage of made field goals than Hopkins did this past season. 

 

In Sundberg's case, he's one of 11 long snappers from last season set to hit free agency. Only two of them are younger than him, though.

Predicting free agent destinations for long snappers is nearly impossible, so I'll save you the time. But there are options, should Washington want to move on.

Pre-Free Agency ST grade

With two of three specialists set to hit free agency, it's hard to give this unit a grade right now. 

Should Washington run it back in 2021 with this trio, Washington's specialists would earn a B- grade. Way is among the best at his position, but Hopkins will be on a short leash next season if he continues to struggle. This group is certainly passable, but there is room for improvement at kicker.