Jonathan Allen was the first piece of what is now considered to be an elite defensive line for the Washington Football Team.
He's earned a payday entering a contract year.
Allen was selected with the 17th overall pick during the 2017 NFL Draft. It was obvious that Washington was going to pick up Allen's fifth-year option for 2021 as early as his second season.
Washington cannot let Allen get to free agency, which means his contract will have to be a priority moving forward.
There has been some shuffling in D.C. — primarily across the offensive line. WFT placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff for the second straight season.
The two sides were unable to come to an agreement before the July 15 deadline. This means he will become a free agent after the season. Before that, Morgan Moses was released and this saved Washington some cap space.
These are moves that could clear some room for Washington to sign an important player on the other side of the ball. At this time, a deal has not been made. But Allen still has high hopes he'll remain close to his roots with the team that drafted him from Alabama.
"I'll say, up to this point, I'm happy with how contract talks have been going," Allen said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. "We've been very communicative with each other."
Washington's defensive line features four first-round talents with Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young. In 2020, the front four led the way for a unit considered among the league's best.
Under the direction of new head coach Ron Rivera, and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, Washington's run defense was its backbone. Opponents averaged 112.8 per game.
Heading into 2021, there are rising expectations and the defense has a chance to be even more special.
"As proud as we are to say we won the division, 7-9 is not what we’re shooting for every year," Allen said. "So I think we just have to keep things in perspective and realize we have a long way to go. We’re not even close to hitting where we think we can be or even where we want to be. And we’ve just got to continue to grind.”
Despite finishing with just two sacks last season, it was arguably the best year of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Allen was one of the top-10 interior pass rushers in the game. Allen finished eighth in pass-rush win rate with 17%. This was up significantly from a 10.2% win rate over the previous two years.
The offense for certainly did not match the defense in 2020, ranking near the bottom of every category. That could change with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries all in the mix.
Expect Antonio Gibson and Logan Thomas to keep improving. Terry McLaurin is nearing the top-10 status of wide receivers.
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"Now, where we are in 2021 compared to 2017 — night-and-day difference,” Allen said. “And that’s no shade to any other regime. I just know what we’re building here now is a winning culture. And I’m a truly a believer that you can’t have a winning team without a winning culture and a winning atmosphere. And that goes from player personnel to the cooks, everybody. Everybody has to be a part of it. And I think that’s what we’re doing here."
Training camp begins on July 27. This is when conversations can begin to heat up between Allen and WFT. It is possible, though, that these talks would halt once Washington takes the field in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
This means Allen would be one step closer to free agency and that is bad news for WFT.
Allen attended Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, and was named the Gatorade Football Player of the Year in the state. Stone Bridge is just five miles from the training facility for Washington.
"I want to be here," Allen said. "This is where I'm from, this is my hometown. I've always had the goal of playing with one team my whole career. I think I have a great opportunity to do that here."
Washington has accomplished its goal of building an elite defense. Now, it is about keeping the band together.
That begins with Allen.
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