Offensive linemen are often under-the-radar. But they are of the utmost importance.
In his six seasons with the Washington Football Team, guard Brandon Scherff has solidified himself as one of the team’s best, and most underrated, offensive players. The former first round draft pick played on the franchise tag last season. The Football Team announced Monday that Scherff will play on the franchise tag again for the second consecutive year in 2021.
The window to designate franchise players closes Tuesday. Though the Football Team has tagged Scherff, it does not necessarily mean he will play on the tag. Both sides have until July 15th to come to an agreement on a long-term deal.
As Washington faces uncertainty at the quarterback position heading into the 2021 season, keeping Scherff on the team takes on an added significance. Quarterbacks need protection up-front in order to feel both comfortable and confident in the pocket. As Washington looks to decrease quarterback turnover in the organization and sign a signal-caller who can become a mainstay under center, the guarantee of protection on the offensive line is an important selling point. Signing Scherff, one of the best guards in the league, helps make the Washington Football Team a more attractive place to play for an incoming quarterback.
Consider the offensive lines of the NFL teams from the 2020 season based off of Pro Football Focus’ rankings. The Cleveland Browns were ranked No. 1 in a season that saw them win their first playoff game since 1994. Baker Mayfield posted the highest QBR of his career at 72.2. The Green Bay Packers boasted the second-best offensive line in 2020 and they advanced to the NFC Championship before losing to the eventual Super-Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Aaron Rodgers was named the 2020 NFL Most Valuable Player.
These statistics illustrate how a strong offensive line is directly linked to a team’s (and quarterback’s) overall success. Retaining Scherff is therefore important, but it does not come without complications.
Scherff played on a $15.03 tag last season and is poised to reset the market for his position this offseason. His calculated market value is $12.7 million with a potential deal worth $63.7 million over five years, according to Spotrac. Scherff’s salary for 2021 will be about $18.04 million, or 120 percent of his previous salary while playing on his second franchise tag. This would make him one of the game’s highest paid guards and the fourth-highest-paid offensive lineman. Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks leads all non-franchise-tagged guards with a $14.1 million average annual value.
Retaining Scherff is expensive but Washington has the cap space to make it work, especially following Alex Smith’s departure. Per Over the Cap, the Football Team is fourth in the league in cap space available at about $54 million. Parting ways with Smith allowed Washington to save $14.7 million versus the cap and acquire just $8.6 million in dead money.
Scherff had expressed interest in remaining a member of the Football Team at the end of the 2020 season. He said he “absolutely” wanted to stay in Washington. “I’ve always said I want to stay where I got drafted,” he said.
Throughout his time in Washington, the 29-year-old Scherff has proved that he is worth keeping around. Last season, according to Stats LLC, he allowed just one sack and committed one penalty (a false start). He was named to the All-Pro team for the first time in his career in 2020 and has been named to the Pro Bowl four times.
Seth Galina at Pro Football Focus said the following about Scherff:
“Scherff has been one of the most underrated players in the NFL since entering the league, and he’s coming off career-high marks as both a pass-blocker and a run-blocker. Overall, his 86.3 PFF grade ranked fourth among all guards in the NFL.”
An additional positive to keeping Scherff is that it allows Washington to maintain consistency on the offensive line. Signing Scherff to a long-term deal keeps the o-line intact until at least 2023. Center Chase Roullier re-signed a four-year deal in January and Morgan Moses has two seasons left on his contract. Unlike other teams that shift players around on the offensive line, Washington is able to field a cohesive unit that has the benefit of having worked together over the course of multiple seasons – something a new quarterback would likely find appealing.
The biggest concern with Scherff is his injury history. He missed three games last season due to a medial collateral ligament sprain he suffered in Week 2. He has spent time on injured reserve in each of the past three years and hasn’t played a full season since 2016, his second year in the league.
The Washington Football Team can justify signing Scherff (despite the injury history) by seeing an investment in him as an investment in their future franchise quarterback. A signal caller’s success begins with the offensive line and Scherff is the leader of that unit.