It isn’t until March that free agency starts. However, the NFL world is already buzzing with wild rumors regarding the league’s most prominent players looking for new teams. Certainly, the 2021 NFL Free Agency promises to provide an even more interesting free-agent class than last year. For clubs striving to fix their offensive lines, Brandon Scherff should be amongst the top names on the market.
How We Got Here
Brandon Scherff, a right guard out of Iowa, was drafted by the Washington Football Team fifth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. Since then, he has more than lived up to his high reputation.
Scherff started all 16 games in both of his first two seasons, playing 100% of all snaps in the former and earning his first Pro-Bowl selection in the latter. Every year after that he’s had some kind of injury problems. Including playing just eight games back in 2018. However, that has not kept him from being picked for the Pro Bowl four times and earning his first All-Pro selection two weeks ago, which will bring teams attention during NFL Free Agency.
Despite missing three games in 2020, this past campaign, which ended with a bitter loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC Super Wild Card Round, was one of Brandon Scherff’s strongest. Apart from his All-Pro achievements, Pro-Football-Reference rates his Approximate Value (AV) at seven. This is the second-best he’s ever posted, after 11 during the 2016 season.
Furthermore, he committed just two penalties during the 2020 regular season. That figure ties 2015 for the fewest in a year with at least 10 games at right guard.
Washington used the franchise tag – worth $15.3 million – on Scherff in March. That means he is slated to become a free agent. That is unless the team from the capital provides a reasonable extension offer or uses another franchise tag on the club’s first All-Pro selection since 1996. There aren’t many other realistic contenders for the franchise tag so Washington has a clear path to retaining Scherff for at least another year. Nevertheless, should they let him go, many teams with struggling O-Lines will be interested in the 2021 NFL Free Agency.
Brandon Scherff in NFL Free Agency: Staying Put in Washington
It’s not unlikely that Washington could use the franchise tag on its All-Pro right guard or even bring him back on a contract extension. Scherff has already expressed his desire to continue his career in Landover in the past. Furthermore, the team desperately needs to keep Brandon Scherff if it wants a shot at improving one of its worst units, if not, they will have to use the draft, or the NFL free agency to improve in that area.
Washington, en route to securing a playoff berth for the first time since 2015, suffered from offensive-line problems all season long. The group didn’t do a good job protecting Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, and Taylor Heinicke, allowing 50 sacks over the regular part of the 2020 season. This ranked as the second-worst in the league, after the Eagles’ 60 surrendered sacks.
The passing unit didn’t just have issues when it comes to the offensive line. For more than half the campaign, it lacked an efficient and accurate quarterback, probably with the mere exception of Alex Smith’s return.
Moreover, the wide-receiving corps could have used a few additions alongside Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas, both of whom had a good campaign. However, the woeful display by the O-Line seems like the implosion of the biggest size and scope. Any attempt to increase the group’s production has to start by providing Smith more time by adding better linemen through the NFL free agency.
Washington has the available cap space to address their needs in pass-protection. The team is currently projected to be about $43.5 million short of the $176-million salary-cap threshold. As of now, all five WAS O-Line starters are set to return but changes seem, nonetheless, necessary. The most-notable trade/cut candidate perhaps is Cornelius Lucas, who played just 49 percent of offensive snaps in his games. Lucas, whose AV was just 4 due to injury woes, could be released with the club keeping just $500 000 as dead cap space.
That shows whoever the next Washington general manager is could be interested in acquiring a new left tackle. However, bringing back Scherff, the most important name in the unit, will be just as important. The Football Team could do it for just $15.3 million on another franchise tag. The upcoming 2021 NFL Free Agency seems promising for the team with so many resources available to address glaring needs.
Brandon Scherff in NFL Free Agency: Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks’ 2020 campaign will probably be remembered because of the downfall of their secondary, which allowed the second-most yards in 2020. However, the offensive line was just as big a concern, forcing Russel Wilson to take up a tough task and overcome that.
Still, John Schneider and Pete Carroll likely understand how much better the potential of their offensive unit is with upgrades to the pass-protection pocket. That makes the offensive line, and the two guard positions, a key focus during the forthcoming NFL Free Agency.
Over the 2020 NFL season, Seattle’s O-Line conceded 48 sacks, tied for fourth-most in the National Football League. The 2021 offseason is set to be a crucial one for the Seahawks – alongside Quinton Dunbar and K.J. Wright, two starters in the pocket are scheduled to depart. These are left guard Mike Iupati, left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, and center Ethan Pocic.
Pocic, who started 100% of all snaps in 14 of 16 regular-season matchups for Seattle, could be pursued by Seahawks management to re-sign. However, Iupati and Ogbuehi aren’t exactly in the same boat. A new tackle could very well be one of their focuses in the NFL free agency.
Likewise, Iupati, who was present for just 47% of all offensive snaps, is unlikely to be brought back, leaving a hole at left guard for Seattle.
The Seahawks, with $14 million in room for signings, have two options. One of them is going after former Patriot Joe Thuney and the other is chasing Scherff. Thuney’s obvious advantage is that he’s naturally a left guard, not prompting him or right guard Damien Lewis to go through a period of transition on another position.
However, Scherff could very well be considered the better guard out of the two. Neither of them would have a significant problem moving over to the other side, leaving the argument in the quality territory.
Moreover, Brandon Scherff could be slightly cheaper, which would benefit Seattle’s shrinking budget. According to Spotrac, Thuney is projected to get about $13 million per year against Scherff’s $11 million. His desire to stay in Washington over the past two seasons confirms his financial demands are bearable, even when it comes to a team other than the former Redskins.
Brandon Scherff in NFL Free Agency: Cincinnati Bengals
Remember the aforementioned Seahawks and how they were tied for fourth-most allowed sacks in 2020? The team they were tied with was the Cincinnati Bengals. That race for the worst offensive line of 2020 could translate to a race for the signature of Brandon Scherff in the 2021 NFL free agency.
Heading into 2021, half of the pool of starting players in the O-Line looks clear. Second-year tackle Hakeem Adeniji and Fred Johnson could compete for the left tackle job. Meanwhile, the same goes for Trey Hopkins, who is coming back after an ACL injury, and Billy Price at center. Furthermore, Quinton Spain seems locked-up as one of the guards, likely in left.
In addition, the important departures include right guard Alex Redmond, who will join the free-agent market, and Bobby Hart, the right tackle who is said to be a release candidate. Hart’s deal will be in its final year in 2021, with the Bengals clearing $5.9 million and assuming $1 million in dead cap.
That just further adds to the $42 million Cincinnati has available in cap space. Cincy has other needs going into the 2021 NFL free agency, such as the receiving corps and the secondary, but the offensive line is surely their biggest weakness. The opening at right guard would make Brandon Scherff a great fit at a good price that would allow the Bengals to spend their money efficiently and then go after their other needs.