Is Terry McLaurin extension to blame for Commanders’ conservative offseason?

Entering the offseason, the Washington Commanders were expected to be big players in this year’s loaded free agent class. Of course, that notion hinged on whom they pursued and eventually acquired to play quarterback.

While the bloated contracts of Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo would’ve derailed those spending hopes, pursuing a one-year deal with a free agent of Jameis Winston or Mitchell Trubisky’s caliber would’ve kept the dream alive.

When the dust settled, the Commanders acquired Carson Wentz (and his $28 million cap hit) from Indianapolis, which crippled their spending budget. As a result, they’ve opted for low-profile moves in free agency, re-signing key role players while bringing aboard a pair of quality offensive linemen.

Speaking of which, Andrew Norwell’s two-year, $10 million contract still qualifies as the Commanders’ biggest free agent splash. While adding Wentz capsized the team’s cap space, there was still enough leftover to do more than this. 

Tensions reached a boiling point when the Eagles won the James Bradberry sweepstakes. Though linked with Washington and considered a fit, Philly had more money (or was willing to spend it, anyway), to secure the free agent’s signature.

So what gives? Why is Washington being so conservative after back-to-back seven-win campaigns? According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, a big part of it has to do with preserving cap space for a Terry McLaurin extension.

The Commanders conservative offseason is reportedly based around Terry McLaurin’s future extension.

Here’s what Fowler said (subscription required) about the controversy.

I’m told Washington spent mildly in free agency in part because it has budgeted for re-signing McLaurin. The Commanders see him as a true cornerstone and team leader. The money must validate that, and the ballooning receiver market — with $20 million per year serving as a mere entrance fee into the club — looms large here.

Through three seasons, McLaurin has averaged 1,030 yards annually despite playing with nine different quarterbacks, none of whom were long-term solutions at the position. That feat alone is worth serious coin.

This certainly explains a lot … though the NFL salary cap is a walking loophole that’s exploited by countless teams every offseason. Look no further than the Saints, who entered the offseason more than $70 million over the cap. They cleared $100 million in cap commitments for the second straight year and currently have $9.6 million left to spend even after signing Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry.

You won’t find us complaining that Washington is prioritizing a McLaurin extension, but it won’t stop fans from asking why the front office continues to be so conservative with its cap management philosophy, either, and understandably so given several other cap-shortened teams have been able to spend big.

It’s just a tough situation to gauge. Last offseason, the Colts had ample money to throw around, but had a hushed free agency because linebacker Darius Leonard and right tackle Braden Smith were due for extensions.

After securing those deals, Indy went out this offseason and traded for Matt Ryan, signed Stephon Gilmore, traded for Yannick Ngakoue and re-signed several free agents, including Mo Alie-Cox, Matt Prior and Tyquan Lewis.

Do the Commanders have a similar trick up their sleeves with McLaurin? It’s anyone’s guess, but Fowler’s report puts a ton of pressure on the front office to get a deal done with the star receiver. We don’t even want to fathom the uproar if negotiations were to fall by the wayside.