Before leaving the locker room following Washington’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Morgan Moses had a brief exchange with Brandon Scherff. The right tackle told Scherff that the defeat wasn’t the last game they played together.
But Scherff, a pending free agent, couldn’t answer with the same certainty.
“I said, ‘I hope it’s not either,’” Scherff said, recalling the conversation.
Scherff once again enters the offseason unsure if he’s played his final game with Washington. A year ago, the team gave Scherff the franchise tag to keep the Pro Bowl guard under contract for one more year. Such a move is unlikely this time around, given the massive pay raise it would trigger. If Scherff is tagged again, he would make $18 million for one year — up 20% from the $15 million he made in 2020. For context, only three offensive linemen — all tackles — make more than $18 million per year.
Scherff is coming off arguably the best season of his career. Though he missed three games with a knee injury, Scherff was named first-team All-Pro — becoming the first Washington player to earn the honor since 1996. Thanks to the franchise tag, Scherff was already the league’s highest-paid guard in 2020 in terms of base salary. But now, he could possibly reset the guard market with a long-term deal.
“It’s just finishing what you started,” Scherff said. “I like to do that. I love it here. I’m just looking forward to the offseason and hopefully that I can sign my name to stay here.”
The two sides were unable to reach an agreement last offseason, though part of that was by design. After being hired, coach Ron Rivera wanted some time to evaluate the roster up close before handing out an extension. Scherff, too, needed to see how Washington would be run under Rivera.
Rivera, though, has expressed interest in re-signing Scherff now that they’ve spent time together. Throughout the year, Rivera praised Scherff for his strong work ethic and the leadership he provides. Likewise, Scherff said he “absolutely” loves Rivera.
Washington has already taken steps to potentially re-sign Scherff, as well. On Jan. 2, the team gave center Chase Roullier a four-year, $40 million extension — a move, Rivera said, that makes “it easier” to take care of Scherff. By re-signing Roullier, Washington now has four of its five starting linemen under contract for 2021.
“When you have a majority of the guys under contract and you’re in a good situation, I think that bodes well for you going into it,” Rivera said.
Now that the season is over, Washington can begin negotiating with Scherff at any time and has until March before Scherff can start talking to other teams. But if the franchise wants to retain Scherff, the question becomes at what cost. Typically, NFL teams are wary of allocating significant resources to the guard position.
Only 15 guards, including Scherff, made more than $10 million in 2020. In recent seasons, Dallas’ Zack Martin (six years, $84 million) and Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks (four years, $56 million) have paced the guard market with major extensions. In both cases, Martin and Brooks re-signed with their respective teams. The last guard to redefine the market by changing teams was Andrew Norwell, who left Carolina for Jacksonville to become the then highest-paid player at the position (five years, $66.5 million)
Scherff is the type of talent that teams will likely be willing to splurge on, even as the NFL’s salary cap is set to shrink next season due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to Pro Football Focus, Scherff gave up just three sacks, two quarterback hits, 16 hurries and 21 pressures in 2020 — putting him among the league’s elite.
“Brandon’s the total package,” quarterback Alex Smith said in December. “From a talent standpoint, I think that he’s the best player in that position in the league, one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. It means so much to him. He’s so invested into this team. You can feel his energy in the huddle.”
The concern with Scherff is his health. The 28-year-old has landed on injured reserve for the last three seasons and hasn’t played a complete 16 games since 2016. In that span, Scherff has dealt with an assortment of injuries, most recently a sprained MCL that sidelined him from late September to mid-October.
For his part, Scherff said he won’t worry about negotiations. He added that last year’s experience taught him how to trust his agent and let the process unfold. In the meantime, Scherff plans to spend the offseason in his native Iowa.
“Just enjoy life,” Scherff said. “It’ll come when it comes … So don’t worry about (negotiations) and worry about living your life. And enjoying the cold Iowa weather.”
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