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Rating the Redskins: Offensive line


Rating the Redskins: Offensive line

New Redskins GM Scot McCloughan aimed to improve nearly every position through the draft or via free agency. How has he done? Over the next couple of weeks, Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will examine and rate each group on the team. The ratings will be based on the quality of the players as compared to the rest of the league and, in particular, the division.

We’ll use a scale of 1 to 10. To receive a 10, a position group would need Pro-Bowl caliber starters and solid backups. A rating of 1 means the starters are aging and ineffective and there are no promising reserves in the pipeline.

We got it started yesterday with the defensive line. Up today, the offensive line.

Starters: Trent Williams (LT), Shawn Lauvao (LG), Kory Lichtensteiger (C), Spencer Long (RG) and Brandon Scherff (RT).

Reserves: Morgan Moses, Tom Compton, Josh LeRibeus, Arie Kouandjio and Austin Reiter.

El-Bashir: On the defensive line, McCloughan took a quick-fix approach, signing two of the Redskins’ three starters (Stephen Paea and Terrance Knighton) and a key rotational player (Ricky Jean-Francois) in free agency. On the offensive line, though, the new general manager opted to take the long view. He kicked the tires on a few free agents (Houston RT Derek Newton was among them) but ultimately decided to rely on the draft, selecting Scherff with the No. 5 overall pick, Kouandjio in the fourth round and Reiter in the seventh. That’s fine, but it means there will be some growing pains, particularly on the right side of the line. Because, of course, Scherff and Long—the anticipated starters at tackle and guard, respectively—have exactly 18 NFL snaps between them. There are concerns elsewhere, too. For one, Williams, a three-time Pro Bowler and unit captain, is still rehabbing a left ankle injury he suffered six months ago and isn't expected to be ready until training camp. Also, there’s also not a lot of experience among the reserves. In fact, Compton is the most seasoned backup—and he has just a half-year’s worth of meaningful game reps. The addition of position coach Bill Callahan should help immensely, but it would be a stretch to believe a turnaround will happen overnight. Rating: 5.

Tandler: Sure, there has been plenty of change here. The question is, were the changes for the better. The Redskins were first in the NFL in rushing in 2012 and fifth in 2013. After some changes on the line last year they slipped to 19th. That said, this looks like a solid unit. Williams is a perennial Pro Bowl performer who should be entering his prime seasons. Lauvao will be more comfortable in a system that emphasizes power blocking. Although Lichtensteiger may not have the ideal body type for the offense he makes up for it with veteran savvy. Scherff and Long are unknowns but appear to have what they need to succeed. Beyond the starters, however, the depth is questionable. There would be genuine cause for panic if Williams missed any significant time. The backup guards are LeRibeus, who has been unable to gain a foothold in three years in the league, and a very raw prospect in Kouandjio. Rating: 4  

Consensus: 4.5

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These hidden factors could make Brandon Scherff less interested in an extension with the Redskins

These hidden factors could make Brandon Scherff less interested in an extension with the Redskins

In Brandon Scherff, the Redskins have a 27-year-old guard who has delivered on his first-round status, a lineman who has become one of the best in the league at his position and should have many more years of production and defender-mauling left.

Therefore, it's in the Redskins' best interest to extend Scherff this offseason, and the veteran confirmed on Monday there have been talks about getting that done

But during a discussion on the Redskins Talk podcast, J.I. Halsell, a salary cap expert and former agent, laid out something that could force those negotiations to stall.

"There are some things you have to take into consideration because 2020 is the final year of the collective bargaining agreement, so there are some things you have to work around when structuring the deal," Halsell said.

Not only is that deadline approaching, but another one is, too. In 2021 and 2022, the NFL's TV deals with Monday Night Football, FOX, CBS and NBC expire as well.

So, there's a very real possibility the league's salary cap could look much, much different in a few seasons. And that, according to Halsell, may make Scherff much less willing to accept an extension now.

"If you're Brandon Scherff, in 2021, with a new collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap might be $250 million or something crazy like that, with all the new revenue coming into the league," he explained. "And so why would I take a deal today and preclude myself of taking advantage of a very lucrative and larger revenue pie?"

Essentially, it comes down to whether Scherff wants to take a present risk that could pay off down the line (kind of like how Kirk Cousins did a few years back with the Burgundy and Gold). He could probably lock something in over the next few months — Halsell's projection was an agreement for five years, including $45 million guaranteed and a $14.5 million average per year — or step away from talks now and try to cash in later.

Haslell told Redskins Talk he'd probably advise the lineman to take the second route.

"You would say, 'Look, you're a former first-round pick. You've made a decent amount of money in your career thus far,'" he said. "You have the financial wherewithal to not take the bird in hand today that may not be as lucrative as what is out there in 2021. So, bet on yourself and play out the last year of your rookie deal, force them to tag you in 2020 and then see what this new NFL salary cap world looks like in 2021."

Now, who knows truly how much these factors will play into Scherff's back-and-forth with the 'Skins. Nevertheless, you can see why the Pro Bowler's next contract may not be as much of a no-brainer as previously thought.

"If the kid is willing to bet on himself," Haslell said, "then it could be very lucrative on the back end."


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Brandon Scherff confirms that he and the Redskins have 'been talking' about a contract extension

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Brandon Scherff confirms that he and the Redskins have 'been talking' about a contract extension

Bruce Allen identified getting a contract extension done for Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff as one of the Redskins biggest priorities of the 2019 offseason. To this point, however, nothing has happened. 

That doesn't seem to have Scherff concerned. 

"We've been talking, but I'm not really worried about that," he said after OTAs on Monday. "I'm here for another year, so that's all I'm worried about right now. Everything will take care of itself."

Scherff, the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has played at an elite level since his rookie season. He's made two Pro Bowl teams in four years, and until last year, had been remarkably durable. 

In 2018, Scherff's season started very strong. 'Skins coach Jay Gruden described the former Iowa Hawkeye as the best pulling guard in the NFL and it was well-earned praise. Then, in a Week 8 loss, Scherff went down with a torn pectoral muscle. His season was over. 

At OTAs, however, Scherff was a full participant with no brace or apparent encumbrances from the injury. 

"I'm feeling really good, just taking it slow and making sure I'm 100 percent," he said. 

Expect the free agent market to be quite bullish. Once a lesser-paid position than tackle, guards have recently started pulling in significant cash. Zach Martin's recent contract extension in Dallas pays him more than $14 million per season, and Jacksonville is paying Andrew Norwell more than $13 million this year. 

For Scherff, expect top of the market money. He has the talent, pedigree and ability that if Washington won't pay in the neighborhood of Martin and Norwell, he can wait for free agency.