After the season ended, Ryan Kerrigan made his intentions clear: The 32-year-old pass-rusher said he believes he’s a starter in the NFL and he wanted to join a team that still sees him as such. Those words made it hard to envision Kerrigan re-signing with Washington, for the simple reason that the NFL veteran was a backup to Montez Sweat and Chase Young in 2020.
But now, all these weeks later, a reunion might not be so far-fetched.
Kerrigan is still on the market and general manager Martin Mayhew didn’t dismiss the idea of trying to re-sign him in the coming weeks — despite the team drafting two pass-rushers in the seventh round to bolster Washington’s defensive line depth.
Kerrigan, of course, would have to accept a lesser role — and it’s unclear if he’d be interested in a return. Still, the longer the process drags on, the more likely that the veteran would have to come to terms with the possibility that teams see him as a mostly rotational piece at this point of his career.
The market so far for Kerrigan’s services has been tepid — he’s made just one visit, to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“We drafted these guys with the idea that these guys can contribute this year,” Mayhew said, referring to seventh-rounders William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney. “We’ll evaluate that during the offseason and keep an eye out for that after the draft. … We definitely plan to upgrade that position through the offseason but we feel both of those guys have a great opportunity with us.”
There’s a chance that more teams beyond Washington could show interest in Kerrigan now that the draft is over. Teams are expected to be more willing to sign veterans in the coming weeks as free-agent deals for the rest of the season won’t affect the NFL’s compensatory pick formula.
Before, during the first wave of free agency, certain signings factored into the formula — with teams gaining picks for qualified players who leave in free agency. If a team signs a player during that time, it affects whether they’ll receive a compensation pick for the following season. For example, Washington is not projected to gain any compensation picks because of the March spending spree. The Los Angeles Chargers, on the other hand, will gain four additional selections because they lost six qualifying players and only signed two to replace them.
Kerrigan is one of many notable veterans who have gone unsigned — names that include cornerback Richard Sherman, pass rusher Melvin Ingram and linebacker K.J. Wright.
Even in a reduced role, Kerrigan was productive last year. He had 5½ sacks — matching his total from 2019, despite playing 245 fewer snaps. In the process, Kerrigan became Washington’s all-time leader in sacks, surpassing Dexter Manley.
Washington also valued Kerrigan for his leadership. The 2011 first-rounder mentored Young and Sweat, with Young often calling Kerrigan “The Dude” as a way of praise. Kerrigan also came in handy when Young battled a hip injury early in the season, starting in place of the 22-year-old for a game. Washington could use the veteran depth on the defensive line. The team likes to use a variety of edge rushers: Last year, Young and Sweat played 73% and 68% of the snaps respectively. Washington also watched 2017 second-rounder Ryan Anderson leave for the New York Giants in free agency.
Bradley-King and Toney, the two seventh-rounders, were both experienced defensive linemen in college. But both fell late in the draft, and it’s hard to know whether their pass-rushing skill set will translate to the NFL.
Mayhew said part of the reason they drafted the pair was because in free agency, they had a hard time convincing veteran edge rushers to sign “because of the guys we have” in Young and Sweat. Drafting players fixes that problem.
Still, if they can somehow convince Kerrigan, that would be a welcomed return.
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