ASHBURN — Facing the defense for his first time in a Washington Commanders uniform, Carson Wentz threw a series of crisp passes to a variety of receivers. He hit Curtis Samuel, who looks fully recovered from last year’s ailments. The quarterback often found 2022 first-round pick Jahan Dotson, who lined up all over the field. And he even established some chemistry with Dyami Brown, last year’s third-rounder who’s looking to make a jump.
But what stood out most Tuesday was the connection Wentz wasn’t making: the one he’ll need down the road with the missing Terry McLaurin, the team’s No. 1 wideout.
The 26-year-old was on hand for the strength and conditioning portion of Washington’s offseason earlier this year, but he has not participated in any of the on-field work. Tuesday marked the first session that the Commanders could practice in an 11-on-11 setting.
The Commanders, in total, had four players absent from the session: McLaurin, defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat and wideout Cam Sims.
Among the group, McLaurin’s absence is the only one that is contract-related. The fourth-year wideout’s deal is up after this upcoming season. And around the league, McLaurin has watched as contemporaries like Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown all received new contracts — deals that reset the wideout market.
Coach Ron Rivera declined to elaborate much on where negotiations stand with McLaurin, other than to reiterate that talks have started. The two sides reportedly remain far apart.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Rivera said.
Despite the outlook, Rivera arguably didn’t get the turnout Tuesday that he hoped for. As far back as January, the coach openly spoke about the importance of the coming offseason. “Hopefully it won’t be a battle to get guys here,” he said. And yet, two of the Commanders’ biggest stars — McLaurin and Young — were absent.
Rivera said Young was still in Colorado, where the pass-rusher has spent a portion of the last few months focusing on his rehab from a torn ACL.
Though Young wasn’t going to practice, Rivera had previously expressed optimism that Young would be at the facility to be with the rest of the team. But now that won’t happen again for at least another few weeks, Rivera said.
Young will have to report for mandatory minicamp in June, but the coach added he expects the pass-rusher to return before then. Young, like McLaurin, was present for the strength and conditioning portion.
Sweat and Sims, on the other hand, were both away to attend to personal matters. Sweat is expected back Wednesday, while Sims is celebrating the birth of his child, Rivera said.
McLaurin appears to be the only one without a return date in sight. Other players in search of a new contract have skipped mandatory minicamp in recent years, but it’s unclear if McLaurin is willing to do that. The league has taken steps in recent years to try and end holdouts lasting into training camp by increasing fines.
Last year, Washington signed defensive end Jonathan Allen to a long-term contract right before training camp. Allen admitted Tuesday to skipping a portion of the offseason last year in part because he was frustrated with talks.
“It’s tough,” said Allen, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract. “Everyone says, ‘Don’t take it personal,’ but your whole life is about to change, so it’s a very personal experience. … Terry‘s a guy that you want to build a team around. He represents everything we want to build here, so I’m confident we’ll get something done.”
If McLaurin is paid, his salary will likely top Allen’s deal. The Philadelphia Eagles, for instance, gave Brown — from McLaurin’s same draft class — a four-year, $100 million contract upon acquiring him from the Tennessee Titans in April. Rivera has said he doesn’t see Brown’s contract as a corollary, but McLaurin’s agent will likely use it as leverage. New contracts for Adams and Hill also average at least $25 million a year, too.
Only 10 wide receivers make north of $20 million annually, but four have signed this offseason. Of those four, three came after those players were traded to new teams. Adams, Hill and Brown were all dealt from the teams that drafted them, while Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs (four years, $96 million) re-signed. Diggs, however, was traded to Buffalo from Minnesota in 2020.
The Commanders have shown no inclination that they’re willing to trade McLaurin. If the two sides can’t reach an extension, Washington will always have the option to give McLaurin the franchise tag next season. As of now, that projects to be a one-year deal worth slightly more than $20 million.
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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