Whether left tackle Trent Williams will return to the Redskins in 2020 remains a major storyline surrounding the team, but new head coach Ron Rivera has two significant decisions to make about a pair of other players along the offensive line.
Both Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers, Washington's two starting guards from a year ago, are free agents.
Scherff, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, has been one of the Burgundy and Gold's best draft picks over the past decade. While the fifth selection was considered by many to be too high to select a guard, all Scherff has done is turn in three Pro Bowl seasons and establish himself as one of the best in the league at his position.
Flowers' career path has not gone as smoothly. He was selected four picks after Scherff in the 2015 NFL Draft by the New York Giants, as Big Blue expected him to be their franchise left tackle of the future.
It did not work out.
Flowers was considered a major bust in New York and released midway through his fourth season with the team. He signed with Washington on a one-year deal in 2019 with the expectation of any production being an added bonus. But after a position switch from tackle to guard, Flowers became one of the most consistent offensive linemen for the Redskins and a surprise success story.
Now, Rivera has a big decision to make regarding the future of both Scherff and Flowers, whether to keep one, the other, or both.
The case for keeping Scherff
When any team has one of the best players in the league at a certain position, they never want to see them walk away for nothing in free agency. Scherff is exactly that.
In his five years with the Redskins, Scherff has finished three of them with Pro Bowl honors. He allowed just one sack a season ago. He excels in the run game, finishing the 2019 season with the fifth-highest run-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus among qualified guards.
There's also something to be said about keeping your homegrown talent. Scherff was drafted by the Redskins, and now Washington has the chance to ink the right guard for the rest of his prime. Sure, he may be expensive, but he's certainly deserving of the deal he'll get.
Scherff's last two campaigns have ended prematurely due to injury, but he was very durable for the first three years of his career. His injury in 2018, a torn pec, was more of a fluke than anything. No. 75 missed the final three games of the 2019 season with elbow and shoulder injuries, ones he may have played through had the Redskins been in playoff contention.
Then-rookie Wes Martin filled in for Scherff to end the 2019 season. A fourth-round pick in 2019, Martin would likely be the starter if Scherff left.
Guard isn't a flashy position, but it's certainly one necessary for having a productive offense. Losing an elite talent like Scherff would be very costly for Washington.
The case for keeping Flowers
With Scherff expected to command top of the market money, Flowers will certainly be a cheaper option for the Burgundy and Gold.
Flowers has also proven to be durable throughout his NFL career, while Scherff has had two consecutive seasons that ended with a trip to the Injured Reserve list. Flowers only missed two games through the first three years of his NFL career and played all 16 games for the Redskins a year ago.
There's also plenty of room for growth with Flowers. Remember, 2019 was just the first season Flowers played guard instead of tackle. That is a big difference. Having a whole offseason to focus solely on playing guard without having to worry about playing tackle could do wonders for him.
Also, while he's been in the NFL for five seasons, he's only 25 years old. By contrast, Scherff is 28, and the two were taken in the same draft class.
Flowers could still have a decade-plus of good football in him, and the Redskins would regret seeing him blossom elsewhere.
The case for keeping both
Guard isn't a flashy position, but a dropoff in talent is certainly noticeable when there is one. By keeping both, Rivera would solidify the position for years to come.
Both Scherff, 28, and Flowers, 25, have plenty of football left. Scherff's an established guard, one of the best in the game, and a three-time Pro Bowler. Flowers impressed in 2019, his first year as a guard, and has plenty of room for growth at the position.
So, how would this work contractually?
The Redskins have multiple avenues they can take with Scherff if they want to keep him.
The first, of course, is signing him to a long-term deal. Scherff reportedly turned down a hefty extension during the 2019 season, one that would have made him the second-highest paid guard in the league. He's due for a big payday and deservingly so, but the Redskins can also push that off another year by placing the franchise tag on him.
By franchising Scherff, they will still pay the guard top of the market money, but for only one season. With a short-term investment in Scherff, they can allocate money to other needs they have on the team, and then revisit a long-term deal in a year from now, when the roster is expected to look a lot different. While Scherff would prefer the protection of a long-term deal, he stated in October he wants to be a Redskin for the rest of his career.
Flowers likely won't command a lot of money. His deal shouldn't be too hard to work out, assuming the interest is mutual between the two. NBC Sports Washington's Julie Donaldson reported that she expects both guards to be back with Washington in 2020.
Former Redskins head coach Jay Gruden once devalued the position, practically saying a guard is not worthy of a first-round pick. Now, what personnel moves Gruden's successor does at the position will have a major impact on the Redskins offense of the near future.
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