Ron Rivera delivered three nights of gifts to Washington Football Team fans at the start of the NFL’s new league year.
After signing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick late Monday night, Washington made its second big move of the free agency period Tuesday night, signing Cincinnati cornerback William Jackson to a three-year contract worth $14 million annually, with the first two years essentially guaranteed.
Jackson’s signing received an “A+” grade from ESPN, and will give Washington a top-tier cornerback to pair opposite Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) in the secondary.
Wednesday brought a third skill player - former Carolina wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who played alongside Terry McLaurin at Ohio State.
“We really talked about this in the dorms freshman year,” McLaurin wrote on social media, referring the the possibility of teaming up in the NFL.
Samuel left college a year early for the league, and McLaurin stayed five years, meaning the two are at different points in their professional journeys.
The deal for Samuel is also three years and is valued at $34.5 million.
Three years is a magic number for Washington in free agency, since the third year will be the last time Montez Sweat and Chase Young are both on cost-controlled rookie contracts.
While Samuel was a second-round pick when Rivera was coaching in Carolina, he put up his career best numbers this year for the Panthers, when he was used out of the slot as a more dynamic weapon.
In Washington, he’ll take some of the defensive spotlight from McLaurin, who was double-teamed often in the 2020 season.
On the other side of the ball, Jackson, a former first-round pick, isn’t yet a household name. He played for the woeful Bengals, meaning quarterbacks rarely threw the ball his direction.
He also didn’t have many highlight plays, accumulating just three interceptions during five years in Cincinnati — though he was injured for his first season.
The salary makes the deal a win for Washington. The Football Team lost cornerback Ronald Darby to the Broncos, with whom he signed a three-year deal worth $10 million annually.
For not much more money, Washington got a more reliable option, one whose potential hasn’t been realized.
Rivera has a strong reputation working with cornerbacks, including Josh Norman in Carolina, and Darby and Fuller last year.
However, Jackson primarily played man-to-man coverage in Cincinnati, shutting down the other team’s best receiver, and Washington prefers a zone scheme.
Whether Washington moves in a different direction with Fuller and Jackson remains to be seen, but the team has invested in making the position a priority.
The Football Team now has the 11th and 17th most expensive cornerbacks in football (Jackson and Fuller, respectively), in terms of average annual value.
If Jackson develops into a star, particularly in front of Washington’s defensive line, those numbers will look like a bargain in two or three years.
Sundberg won’t return: Long snapper Nick Sundberg, who was with the team for 11 seasons, will not return in 2021, he announced in a social media post.
Other signings: Washington will retain running back Lamar Miller and offensive lineman David Sharpe. Both players had backup roles in 2020.