* With the Super Bowl in the past and the 2021 season in the books, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Matt Weyrich take a look at potential free agents that the Washington Commanders could benefit from signing this offseason. Next up: wide receiver Mike Williams.
For the Washington Commanders, the quest to find a standout No. 2 wide receiver opposite Terry McLaurin is ongoing.
Wide receiver talent and depth have been two issues for the Burgundy and Gold for years, and that's especially been highlighted during Ron Rivera's two seasons in Washington. The head coach knows it, too. Washington offered Amari Cooper over $100 million in 2020 before he opted to take less money to stay in Dallas. Then last year, the Commanders signed the versatile Curtis Samuel to a three-year deal in free agency and used a third-round pick on North Carolina's Dyami Brown.
In Samuel and Brown, Washington is still waiting for its ROI. Samuel spent almost the entirety of 2021 injured, finishing with just six receptions and 38 scrimmage yards on the season in five games. Brown played in 15 games as a rookie but struggled to find a consistent role in the offense, totaling just 12 catches as a rookie.
So, as free agency is set to begin in a couple of weeks, wide receiver is once again a position of need for Washington. Spending a lot of money on the position could be a concern for Rivera and his staff, though, as Samuel has a $12.9 million cap hit next season and McLaurin is due for an extension.
But, if Washington -- a team that has nearly $36 million available in cap space -- is willing to pay a premium at the position, Los Angeles Chargers pass-catcher Mike Williams could be a great fit in Scott Turner's offense.
Williams is set to hit free agency for the first time in his career after spending the past five seasons as the Chargers' No. 2 wideout behind Keenan Allen. The former Clemson star took a huge leap in 2021, posting career-highs in receptions (76) and receiving yards (1,146). His nine receiving touchdowns on the year were the second-most he's totaled in a single season.
What Williams brings to the table most is a rare combination of size and athleticism. His incredible size -- 6-foot-4, 218 lbs. -- has allowed him to thrive on contested catches, as he's established themselves as one of the best 50-50 ball receivers in the NFL. Williams finished the 2021 season averaging 15.1 yards per reception, the fourth time in five seasons he's averaged over 15 yards per catch.
Simply put, Williams is a big play waiting to happen. We've seen it time and time again with the Chargers over the past few years.
In Washington, Williams would provide that big-play threat for an offense that badly needs one. Washington hoped Dyami Brown would solve that issue -- the 2021 third-rounder led the NCAA in contested catches in 2019 and 2020 -- but the rookie was unable to showcase his talent much last season.
McLaurin has also proven the ability to be a big-play threat, but much of his work over the past two seasons have come in the short-to-intermediate passing game due to the team's instability at quarterback and constant double- and triple-coverages he's faced.
By signing Williams, Washington would have two true elite wideouts for the first time since Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Just having Williams on the field would force opposing defenses to key on him -- no longer allowing them to bracket McLaurin. And, if defenses were to continue doubling and tripling McLaurin, then Williams would thrive in 1-on-1 coverage on the other side.
Having another receiver of Williams' caliber would allow Turner to get creative running his offense, too. Samuel could slide back into the slot -- a role he thrived in during his final season with the Panthers -- and also line up in the backfield at times, too. Just having a big-play wide receiver on the outside like Williams would allow Turner to use the rest of Washington's skill players -- McLaurin, Samuel, Antonio Gibson and maybe J.D. McKissic -- in a variety of ways.
Washington saw Williams' exceptional talent first-hand last fall. In Week 1, Williams totaled eight receptions for 82 yards, including a fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdown that gave the Chargers a 20-16 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Of course, Williams' price tag will likely be the main factor that could steer Washington away from going after him. Pro Football Focus projects him to sign a four-year, $68 million contract ($17 million per season), which makes him a pricy investment.
With Samuel on the books for $12.9 million and a McLaurin extension a top priority this offseason, that's already a lot of money invested into the position. But, as mentioned earlier, Washington has the cap space to make a move like this possible.
There's little doubt that signing Williams would transform Washington's offense. His skillset matches up very well with what the Commanders need. Ultimately, it's up to Rivera and his front office to determine whether they believe the 27-year-old is worth the lucrative payday he's expected to get, whether that's in Washington or elsewhere.
Other Free Agent Targets:
CBs Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden