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Finlay: What did we learn from WFT's roster cuts?

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The Washington Football Team released 27 players on Tuesday to bring its roster in compliance with the NFL's 53-man limit for the regular season. 

There were some surprises, namely the release of wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden and cornerback Jimmy Moreland.

There were great stories, especially for rookies Jaret Patterson and Sammis Reyes. Both undrafted and both inspirational, Patterson and Reyes could actually prove to be impactful offensive players this fall or in future seasons. 

But in the end, after all the consternation and pixels spent on roster projections and the angst over positional depth, Washington looks somewhat similar to last season. 

There are some major changes - QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WRs Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries and a pair of new offensive tackles. Two rookies, LB Jamin Davis and CB Benjamin St. Juste, should help on defense. 

Still, the 2021 Washington Football Team will likely rise or fall on the shoulders of Chase Young and Montez Sweat, Jon Allen and Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis. 

The strength of this team remains on the defensive front, and if that squad can dominate, then an improved Washington offense could deliver double-digit wins. 

Don't confuse improved offense with good offense though. 

Washington finished last year ranked 30th in yards gained. There are only 32 teams. 

A 10-spot improvement this fall could get Washington's offense into the NFL's Top 20, but still in the bottom half of the league. 

There's reason to think that level of improvement is possible. Analytics suggest that veteran passer Fitzpatrick is playing the best football of his career in his last two seasons. Terry McLaurin is a star and Antonio Gibson looks ready to follow up on a promising rookie campaign. 

 

Two new tackles could lead to trouble though, and Samuel was brought in as a free agent to provide verticality to the offense. He's hurt, and has been hurt since May. No matter how much Washington officials want this to be a minor thing, it's not. Once the calendar hits September and a star speedster hasn't run since late May, that's no longer a minor thing. 

Then there's the depth, which is supposed to be much improved. Is it?

Washington's second, third and fourth-team players got destroyed in the preseason finale against Baltimore. Rivera said going into the Ravens game, he had real roster questions at four positions and that after the game, he had roster questions at six positions. 

That's not good. 

And then when Washington released 27 players from its roster to go from 80 to 53, none of those players got claimed by other NFL teams. Not one. 

All the concerns about players getting poached? They vanished. Washington was able to almost completely fill up their practice squad with players it released. 

It's an inexact science. Just because there weren't any claims made on Washington's released players does not directly correlate with a lack of depth, but it's not a great sign either. 

With the removal of the fourth preseason game, the NFL moved up its schedule to make the final 53-man roster. In turn, that will give Washington and 31 other clubs more time to study other rosters and make selected moves. 

That's good. 

But Washington broke camp with just four linebackers. Four. Out of 53 roster spots. 

That's a position that gave Rivera heartburn last year, and while first-round rookie Jamin Davis should help immediately, it is now a position group that only had four rosterable players. 

Four. 

Of course Washington will add more LBs this week. They have to. Plenty of teams keep six LBs, and those that don't keep at least five. Four linebackers just won't get it done. 

NFL rosters shift tremendously over the course of a season, and that will be amplified with 17 games this year. 

The version of the 53-man roster Washington opened with, the first version that got announced on Tuesday, will look different by next week. It will look very different by October 1st, and then again on November 1st and on into winter. 

But the version that Washington opened with on Tuesday still relies heavily on the same thing it did last year: a nasty defensive front. 

Sure Washington overhauled its offense in the past six months, but for wins that matter in January, Rivera will need his defense.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.