Updated: Sep 28, 2020
"Cut Down Day" is the best of times and the worst of times for NFL hopefuls. For obvious reasons, this off season for NFL teams was very different due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. For NFL Decision Makers, it has proven to be even more difficult then in past years. This being due to the lack of off season, including Organized Team Activities (OTA's), Mini-Camp and Preseason Games. Conventional wisdom would suggest that opportunities for younger players, specifically low draft picks or undrafted free agents would be significantly less fruitful in 2020.
Washington Head Coach, Ron Rivera confirmed how much more difficult evaluating young talent would be in the 2020 Training Camp, compared to past years saying “I said, 'You know, we’re going to cut two or three guys that really should probably make this team but they haven’t had a chance. I understand last year one of the guys that really showed well was Steven Sims and look at him now. He’s a guy that’s got an opportunity." Rivera continued, “These are all things that are playing into our decision-making and have, honestly, really created a situation where we do get bogged down in our conversations because we don't know.”
With all that being said, The Washington Football Team has seemingly done a 180 compared to most other NFL franchises. With the final 53-Man Roster set, Washington is leaning heavily on younger players. Look no further then the surprise release of assumed starter and First Ballot Hall of Famer, RB Adrian Peterson last Friday. Peterson’s release was in favor of Rookie RB Antonio Gibson, 2nd year RB Bryce Love and free agent signing J.D McKissic. Peterson played with the First Team every snap, all through Training Camp, a decision that confused many.
Much like Peterson, FS Troy Apke, did not relinquish the starting spot opposite SS Landon Collins since Day 1 Training Camp. The major difference was the Apke remains on the team, and penciled in as starter for Week 1. Apke is embarking on his 3rd year, after 2 shaky campaigns, with Peterson entering his 14th year in the league.
Rivera and Co. are searching for a young nucleus that can learn, grow and get better together, for years to come. The Coaching Staff knows that they are playing with house money, and have time on their side. Washington brass is trying to build this franchise the proper way. Releasing veterans like Peterson, S Sean Davis, and even CB Aaron Colvin make it clear that the direction is youth. Even with the shortened off season, why not allow the young players to take their lumps in real time? Instead of playing behind a veteran that isn't in future plans, maybe they can become a viable option in an accelerated period of time.
Yes, the team has kept some veterans like DE Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan made this team for a purpose, and his stay will be short lived as a mentor to potential future stars DE’s Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Unlike Peterson, who needs touches to be successful, in turn, taking valuable reps away from the young Running Backs, Kerrigan's situation is different. Kerrigan knows his role on the team, and why he is there. Kerrigan won't be taking meaningful reps in hopes of quickening their progress, years down the road.
It won't make Washington fans happy to hear this, but barring a miracle, do not expect this to be an enjoyable season. The first step is to aim low and take baby steps towards respectability. To see this team getting better through the 2020 season, and obvious progression is there. We see serious flashes from QB Dwanye Haskins and DE Chase Young, in hopes that they can be cornerstones of the franchise. After a phenomenal rookie season, we see WR Terry McLaurin, take the next step as an elite Wide out.
A surprising season would be an incredible feat, but wins and losses are not as important this year, as making sure the foundation is set properly. This franchise has not been set up for consistent success since the early 90's. Washington has had a few seasons over the last 20 years that they should be proud of, but those teams, with those rosters, winning was unsustainable.
Washington fans, have been suffering this long, they may as well build this franchise with a solid foundation and a young nucleus the correct way. Washington fans have seen a new house being built seemingly every year, for the last 20 years. Hopefully this time, they build the house the right way. The foundation is poured carefully and with knowledgeable and experienced people. With patience, Washington allows the foundation to set and dry properly, so there will be no cracks in the future. The plan can not be rushed. With the right plan in place, and a successful implementation of that plan, we may have a team we can once again be proud of.