Just before Ryan Kerrigan finished one last look over FedEx Field after Saturday’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 32-year-old pass rusher paused to wave to the workers in the stands.
The exit seemed to be more than just a goodbye to the season, it felt like a tip-of-the-cap to his time with Washington.
After spending 10 seasons with the team that drafted him 11th overall, becoming the franchise’s all-time sack leader in the process, Kerrigan is set to hit free agency in March. And in a conversation with reporters, Kerrigan said he’ll explore his options to see which team can give him a bigger role next season.
That meant Kerrigan was part of a rotation in which he played just 38% of the snaps. His lone start came in Week 4, when Young missed the contest due to an injury.
Despite his age, Kerrigan said he has plenty of football left in him.
“I definitely want to be a starter,” Kerrigan said. “I mean, I think any player would say that. I don’t think anybody just wants to settle for being a role player or a reserve player. So I definitely want to be a starter again.”
Kerrigan said he is “open-minded” about playing for any team.
The 2011 first-rounder has yet to win a championship, so gravitating to a contender would make sense. But Kerrigan made it clear he wants a prominent role next season. “I definitely see myself … doing what I’ve done my whole career,” he said.
Even in a limited role, Kerrigan was productive, finishing with 5½ sacks, five tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. Washington preferred Kerrigan coming off the bench to keep the veteran’s legs fresh.
When Kerrigan hits the market, he’ll likely have interest from other teams. Kerrigan’s name emerged in trade rumors the past two seasons and clubs like the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks were linked.
Coach Ron Rivera told 106.7 The Fan on Monday that he “understands and respects” Kerrigan’s desire to be a starter, but expressed interest in possibly re-signing the defensive end.
“He sets the example,” Rivera said, “and we’ve got young guys that need that example.”
Kerrigan’s leadership is a big reason why Washington kept onto the veteran past the trade deadline. Rivera raved about the way Kerrigan, known for his durability and strong work ethic, embraced mentoring Young and Sweat.
Speaking to reporters Sunday, Young said he was thankful for Kerrigan’s guidance. The 21-year-old often refers to Kerrigan as “R.K.” and praised him for being “a dude,” Young’s way of saying a player commands respect.
“R.K. didn’t have to open his arms to me and help me throughout the whole season,” Young said. “You hear them stories where that doesn’t happen all the time. I always thank RK for doing that and always thank him for the type of man that he is.”
No matter what happens, Kerrigan said he considers Washington’s future to be bright. He called it “pretty (darn) cool” to be known as Washington’s all-time sack leader, a goal he achieved earlier this season by surpassing Dexter Manley.
On Saturday, Kerrigan emerged from the locker room to roamed the near-empty stadium. He walked over to sit on a bench and wiped tears from his eyes with a towel.
In that moment, Kerrigan said later, he was reflecting on the past.
He looked at one end zone and remembered the touchdown he scored against the New York Giants in the first game of his career. He glanced at the other fondly, thinking back to how Preston Smith scooped up Kerrigan’s forced fumble on Dak Prescott to help beat the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.
“The crowd was as loud as I’ve ever heard it,” Kerrigan said.
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