Updated: Feb 19, 2021
Washington heads into the offseason focused on upgrading needed skill positions on offense while searching for their franchise signal caller of the future. Head coach Ron Rivera's first offseason move was to bring back quarterback Taylor Heinicke, which happened after the unsuccessful attempt to trade for Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. Although Washington's defense was the primary reason Rivera's squad won the NFC East, they still have a major hole that will need to be addressed.
The linebacking core for defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, disappointed in key games, especially in their first round playoff game against Tom Brady and the Bucs. Second year linebacker, Cole Holcomb, dealt with a sprained knee for the first portion of the 2020 season, but made some key plays in wins for Washington down the stretch. Holcomb will certainly be in the fold to start at WLB/SLB, but they're missing the key piece that Ron Rivera and Del Rio covet, which is a true MIKE linebacker.
A player that continues to surface as a popular name in this free agency group is Tampa Bay Bucs linebacker Lavonte David. At 31 years old David continues play at a high level after a strong postseason run. David was a part of the linebacker duo that overwhelmed Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, enroute to defeating Kansas City in the Super Bowl LIV.
Per Bucs Si.com writer Zach Goodall, although Tampa Bay would like to bring back Lavonte David a hometown discount would be necessary.
"David is one of the top playmakers on Tampa Bay's defense and acts as a glue in the linebacking corps as Devin White continues to develop at a fast rate. A nine-year member of the organization, Tampa Bay would like David to retire a Buccaneer, and he's been vocal about wanting to return. David may need to take a bit of a pay cut to make that happen, though".
Although David becomes a free agent in his 10th year in the league, it would be naive to think he wouldn't test free agency. David signed a $50.25 million with $10.74 million guaranteed in 2015; that contract would currently rank 13th among active linebackers if a similar extension was signed. After David's performance as the Bucs defensive captain in Super Bowl LIV, his value has never been higher.
The CAP Situation
Per Spotrac.com, Washington's estimated available CAP will be $41.86 million. According to reports, the team is in the process of working out LTDs with Brandon Scherff and John Allen. Washington will likely free up more CAP with a release or salary reduction for Alex Smith. In turn, they'll have the ammo to go after some of the bigger names, like Lavonte David,hitting free agency.
It's been well documented that the Bucs and David want to work together on a new LTD, but after taking a look at Tampa Bay's available CAP, that could be difficult. The Bucs currently have $27.78 million in available CAP for the 2021 season, but also have a long list of free agents, some of whom, they'd like to bring back. Although fellow linebacker Devin White isn't a free agent until 2022, bringing back the veteran David on a LTD with White's current contract and likely future extension, could be tough. It's rare to see teams dedicate a large chunk of their salary to multiple interior linebackers. Bringing back David an extending White this year or next seems far fetched.
(Devin White contract per Spotrac.com)
With a minimal CAP increase in 2021, successful teams such as the Bucs will attempt to keep their core group intact. The likelihood of Tampa Bay paying market value to extend David into his mid 30's is doubtful. Couple that with a younger inside linebacker with upside in Devin White and the writing seems to be on the wall.
Fit in Washington
Washington's defense was the strength of Ron Rivera's team and the main reason they made the playoffs. Although second year linebacker, Cole Holcomb and veteran Jon Bostic flashed at various points during the season, their issues in coverage were clear. Both have the upside as early down linebackers and can be effective against the run, but a linebacker like Lavonte David is in a different class. David would step in as the MIKE signal caller and showed that as Tampa Bay's Defensive Captain, he could be an effective leader.
Multiple sites have compiled the average salaries of other top inside linebackers around the league, and the $12.5 million -$15 million range is the consensus cost. David fills a need for Washington but also provides this defense with a veteran leader who now has a Super Bowl ring. Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will look to revamp a linebacking core who struggled in coverage in 2020. They'll look to fill their needs through free agency and the draft, but signing David would be the prize signing of the Rivera era. There's no doubt Washington will face competition for Lavonte David, but adding the former Nebraska Cornhusker would go a long way towards becoming the leagues top defense.
Written By Adam Aniba