When the first phase of the Commanders’ offseason program began April 18, McLaurin participated in strength and conditioning workouts but declined to take part in any on-field work until his contract situation was resolved. (Per the collective bargaining agreement, that phase prohibits on-field work with the football coaches and limits players to non-padded, noncontact drills without a defense.)
After the draft, McLaurin’s holdout escalated, an indication of the dissension in negotiations.
The team, unsurprisingly, added to its receiving corps by drafting Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson in the first round last month. More significant was a move made elsewhere in the NFC East: The Philadelphia Eagles traded for former Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown and welcomed him to the burgeoning $20 million-plus club. Only four wideouts earned that much at the start of the offseason. Brown became the 10th when he signed a four-year, $100 million contract.
“A different player, different style more so than anything else,” Commanders Coach Ron Rivera said when asked during the draft whether Brown’s deal would influence Washington’s talks with McLaurin’s representatives. “It’s just one of those things that you go through negotiations based on what the player is for you. Obviously, they’re going to tell you what they think about what his value should be. So we’ll just work through it and negotiate it and go from there. Just so you know, we have started that process.”
In an offseason in which the market for wide receivers has skyrocketed, Brown was on the shortlist of those next in line, along with Seattle’s DK Metcalf, San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel and McLaurin. Negotiations are underway on a new deal for McLaurin, as Rivera said in April. But according to people with direct knowledge of the discussions, the sides remain far apart.
Washington has limited salary cap space, largely because of its trade for quarterback Carson Wentz. Only the top 51 contracts count against the cap in the offseason, and according to the NFL Players Association’s records, the Commanders had roughly $8.7 million in cap space as of Monday. That will grow June 1, when the cap space from safety Landon Collins’s release is added to the books.
The team, however, had already allocated for a deal for McLaurin.
McLaurin, a 2019 third-round draft pick, has another season remaining on his rookie contract, which carries a cap charge of $3.04 million. The average annual value of the deal is less than $1 million, well below the leaguewide average of $14.7 million for No. 1 wide receivers, according to contract website overthecap.com. (Rookie deals are mostly preset based on a player’s draft slot and the salary cap at the time.) If the Commanders re-sign McLaurin, they could tack on a new deal after the completion of his rookie contract or give him more money upfront in 2022 as part of the agreement.
If the sides remain far apart entering next year, the team could decide to use the franchise tag on McLaurin, but that would still pay him more than $20 million — the 2023 tag for receivers is projected to be worth $20.026 million — and it would be fully guaranteed. A longer-term deal would allow the team to lower the initial cap charges through the contract structure and prorated bonuses.
Although he was the 12th receiver (and 76th player overall) drafted in 2019, McLaurin has emerged as one of the top wideouts in the NFL, averaging more than 1,000 receiving yards in his three seasons. Over the past two, he has led all receivers with 36 contested catches, per Pro Football Focus, and 1,873 offensive snaps.
“When Coach Rivera and the staff got here two years ago, that was one of the main things they said about being a number one wide receiver: You got to be ready to possibly catch 100 balls in a season but also play every snap,” McLaurin told The Washington Post in January. “… For the most part, I’ve been out there every single game playing the majority of the snaps, which is something that I really take pride in because they set that goal out for me and I feel like I’ve lived up to it because of the way I train in the offseason, trying to get my mind and my body right to be able to endure that.”
McLaurin’s emergence as a focal point and leader of the offense — he twice has been voted a team captain — has come amid a years-long rebuild. Washington has cycled through eight starting quarterbacks during his tenure and will turn to No. 9 in Wentz this season.
Offseason workouts are voluntary, but the CBA allows for players to earn at least $295 per day for participating, depending on stipulations in his contract.
If McLaurin and the Commanders have yet to reach a deal by mid-June, it’s unclear whether he would continue his holdout through mandatory minicamp. Missing all three days (June 14, 15 and 16) would come with a maximum fine of $95,877.
Last year the Commanders continued negotiating with its veterans right up until training camp started in July. The team re-signed defensive tackle Jonathan Allen one day before players reported to camp and then agreed to terms with tight end Logan Thomas a day later.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to have Terry continue with us for a long time,” General Manager Martin Mayhew said last month. “So we’re working on that.”