Defensively, the Washington Football Team proved to be a menace in 2020.
Chase Young showed every critic why he was worthy of being the second overall pick, bringing such a commanding presence, he often required double and triple teams from opposing offenses, freeing up the rest of Washington's defensive front seven to eat to their heart's content. And under the new leadership of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, Washington's marauding defense became the Football Team's entire identity.
But, Washington's defensive line was so dominant, it masked a lot of deficiencies on the back end. Filling those voids at linebacker, safety and corner should be a top priority for the Football Team. With a few holes plugged and a little defensive depth, Washington could truly have a championship caliber defense in 2021.
Ron Rivera likes bringing in players on prove-it deals — each player's desire to prove his own worth helps fuel the competitive atmosphere the head coach hopes to establish in training camp. As Rivera looks to build on the culture change he set into motion in 2020, winning the NFC East in his first year on the job, look for Washington to shop for more potential bargains this free agency period.
Washington found a gem last spring in Kevin Pierre-Louis, who signed an affordable one-year, $3 million prove-it deal. Well, when healthy, the 29-year-old outside linebacker proved it, collecting 56 total tackles with one sack, a forced fumble, two pass deflections and three tackles for loss in 13 games for Washington in 2020.
The Football Team can and should try to re-sign Pierre-Louis, but if they do lose him to free agency, there's no shortage of potential bargains to be found elsewhere in the market. Here are five low-risk, high-reward defensive players Washington should be calling when free agency officially begins on March 17.
Malik Hooker, 24, Indianapolis Colts – FS
2020 Salary: $4 million
2020 Stats: 2 G, 7 tackles (Tore Achilles on Sep. 20)
Malik Hooker was once a highly touted prospect as a first-round pick in 2017, but injuries have been keeping him off the field for the better part of his four-year career, starting with his promising rookie season being cut short with a torn ACL in 2017. The next two seasons, Hooker was able to stay relatively healthy, playing in 13 games each year while putting up modest numbers (2018: 4 Tackles, 2 INT, 3 PD, 1 FR; 2019:51 Tackles,1 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PD, 1 FR). The Colts declined his fifth-year option ahead of the 2020 season, and two games in, he tore his Achilles and was placed on season-ending IR. The 24-year-old safety could revive his career in Washington, and it wouldn’t take much to sign him to an incentive-based contract, should he be able to regain his burst and stay healthy.
Xavier Rhodes, 30, Indianapolis Colts – CB
2020 Salary: $3.75 million
*CMV: 2 years, $14.73M | $7.3M AAV
*Calculated Market Value for next contract
2020 Stats: 16 G, 42 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD, 12 passes defensed
Xavier Rhodes thrived in his first season with the Colts in 2020 after his storied tenure in Minnesota came to an end. The Vikings selected Rhodes in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, after which he was named to three Pro Bowls and, in 2017, First-team All-Pro. He was released by Minnesota ahead of free agency in 2020, and the Colts signed him to a bargain contract. Rhodes helped the Colts' secondary become one of the AFC's best, and the former Florida State standout was exceptional. If Rhodes decides to move on from Indy, he will have several offers on the table, one of them hopefully from Washington.
Alex Anzalone, 26, New Orleans Saints – OLB
2020 Salary: $1.025 million
2020 Stats: 16 G, 41 tackles, 3 tackles for loss
Alex Anzalone could have a similar type of impact as the aforementioned Pierre-Louis had in D.C. last season. Anzalone has played on loaded defenses throughout his NFL career, but has been able to find his niche and make plays. Those are the kind of guys Ron Rivera loves, and Anzalone will become a fan favorite wherever he goes.
Samson Ebukam, 25, Los Angeles Rams – OLB
2020 Salary: $2.28 million
2020 Stats: 16 G, 31 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 7 QB hits, 3 tackles for loss, 1 pass defensed
Samson Ebukam is another under-the-radar linebacker who could change cities after spending his first few seasons with the Rams. If his name sounds familiar, you may remember him from the high-scoring Monday Night Football game against the Chiefs from Week 11 in 2018, when he became just the 11th player since the AFL-NFL merger to return both a fumble and an interception for a touchdown, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Ebukam, who has never missed a game since entering the league in 2017, could fill a major void at outside linebacker on Washington’s defense.
Christian Kirksey, 28, Free Agent (Released by Packers on Feb. 19) – ILB
2020 Salary: $6.68 million
2020 Stats: *11 G, 77 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits, 2 tackles for loss, 2 INTs, 4 passes defensed
*Kirksey missed five games on IR with a pectoral injury
Christian Kirksey was surprisingly waived by the Packers last month, likely as a cap casualty with the NFL salary cap decreasing for the 2021 season. Kirksey, 28, could provide Washington with a strong veteran presence at middle linebacker as Cole Holcomb continues to develop his game. With the Reuben Foster experiment likely over, Kirksey would provide some much needed depth for Washington, and on a one-year, prove-it deal, could solidify the second line of the defense at a reasonable price.