As the weeks of free agency with Ryan Kerrigan going unsigned dragged on, a hopeful question made the rounds among Washington fans: Does a lack of interest elsewhere open the door for the veteran’s potential return to the Washington Football Team?
The answer came Monday, and it has to sting for local fans.
The longtime face of the Washington defense is now a Philadelphia Eagle.
Washington drafted Kerrigan No. 16 overall in the 2011 draft out of Purdue, and the 32-year-old became one of the franchise’s most popular stars. Stuck on mostly losing teams, Kerrigan still found ways to make an impact — the four-time Pro Bowler tallied 95½ sacks, breaking Dexter Manley’s franchise record last fall. He also was reliably durable, once holding the NFL’s longest active iron man streak of 139 games.
But the veteran became a free agent in March, and now he’ll join the likes of Sonny Jurgensen, Brian Mitchell and other notable Washington alumni to play for both teams.
“I know I probably wasn’t your favorite player over the past decade, but Philadelphia Eagles fans I’m fired up to be playing for you guys now!” Kerrigan wrote on Instagram.
Over the course of his 10-year career in Washington, Kerrigan was a key part of the defense. But as the team drafted young, talented edge rushers like Montez Sweat and Chase Young, Kerrigan’s time on the field waned. He played all 16 games but started only once in 2020. He still managed 5½ sacks and one fumble recovery despite participating in 38% of the defensive snaps — the lowest of his career.
Kerrigan’s free-agent market appeared slow to develop. Kerrigan went unsigned in the first wave of deals, and there were rumors that Washington would be interested in the pass rusher’s return as the situation lingered. General manager Martin Mayhew, too, didn’t dismiss the idea when asked about Kerrigan’s status after the draft.
Kerrigan, though, told ESPN on Monday that the team informed him at the start of free agency that the club was moving on. Kerrigan also wanted a bigger role — and the Eagles could provide a better opportunity for the pass rusher to see the field more often.
“I’ll never be able to sum up what these past 10 years have meant to me in an Instagram post, but what I can say is that they have been some of the best of my life,” Kerrigan wrote. “I hope you had as much fun watching me as I did playing for you. Thank you, Washington, for everything.”
The Eagles announced Kerrigan’s contract is a one-year deal.
Kerrigan is the latest among a group of prominent players who have made the inter-divisional jump later in their careers — and the results have been mixed. Washington added wide receiver DeSean Jackson in 2014 after three Pro Bowl seasons in Philadelphia. Jackson, who returned to the Eagles for two seasons before being cut this offseason and signing with the Rams, posted two 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Football Team in 2014 and 2016.
Washington traded for Donovan McNabb in 2010 — a move for an established quarterback that turned into a bust. McNabb played 13 games, throwing 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, before he joined the Vikings in another trade the following offseason.
And going the other way, Mitchell, running back and return man, left Washington after 10 seasons to join Philadelphia, where he played another three seasons. Mitchell’s influence for the Eagles was mostly in the return game; he averaged 4.1 rushing yards per game, although he averaged 11.7 yards per punt return and ran two punts and kickoffs back for touchdowns.
There’s also David Akers, a kicker who’s a member of the Eagles’ Hall of Fame. Before he established his six-time Pro Bowl career in Philadelphia, he played one game for Washington in 1998. He made both of his extra points but missed both field goals — a 48- and 49-yard try — in the 24-14 loss to Seattle.
Kerrigan’s exit from Washington prompted an outpouring of appreciation for the defensive end on social media from former teammates and fans. Young commented underneath Kerrigan’s Instagram post, as did Jonathan Allen, Pierre Garcon and Brian Orakpo.
“R.K. didn’t have to open his arms to help me throughout the whole season,” Young said in January. “You hear them stories where that doesn’t happen all the time. … That’s big bro. I’ve got nothing but love for R.K. He knows that.”
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