Montez Sweat was challenged in all aspects of his life in 2021.
Both his mother and brother tragically passed away during the calendar year. On top of that, he had to deal with on-field adversity like a fractured jaw, a coronavirus diagnosis, and growing expectations as one of Washington’s most important defensive linemen.
To say it was a tough year for the 25-year-old edge rusher would be an understatement. But Sweat is using the lessons learned from one of the hardest times in his life to progress and face his future head-on.
“It was a difficult time, but I mean, just hold onto things that you grow upon and just facing adversity and moving forward,” Sweat told reporters following Wednesday’s minicamp. “Just remembering those ones that [were] lost and trusting in God.”
Along with the rest of Washington’s defense, on the field Sweat struggled to find his footing last season. He appeared in 10 games and accumulated five sacks, 24 tackles, and three tackles for losses—all career-lows in his third season.
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They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and for Sweat, that lining came in the form of his current offseason routine. Being limited to only 10 games could end up helping Sweat burst back into action come Week 1.
“I really wasn’t as depleted as I usually am because I didn’t play a full season, so I really got straight to it [this offseason],” he said. “I just trained…just focusing on my body, recovery, strength and pass rush skills.”
Washington maintained confidence in their former first-round pick despite a decline in production last season. They exercised Sweat’s fifth-year option, increasing his salary from $2 million this season to $11 million in 2023.
“It’s just a credit to what I done here and how the organization trusts me,” he said. “It’s definitely motivation just to keep on showing that I can be great and keep on getting better.”
Motivation. That was at the base of every answer Sweat provided to questions about his offseason and the upcoming season. He joins Jonathan Allen and Chase Young as members of Washington’s defensive line who are locked into Burgundy & Gold for multiple upcoming seasons.
Though they largely didn’t meet expectations in 2021, the unit is using last season as provocation heading into training camp in late July.
“There’s definitely motivation,” Sweat said. “Definitely, when you have a down year, you want to bounce back, show those naysayers that you still got it. But this year, I’m just trying to prove it to myself. I’m not really worried about the outside at all…I feel the [unit] gelling, but we got a long way to go.”
Sweat will carry not only the painful memories of the losses of his mother and brother, but those of a disappointing on-field campaign into 2022. As head coach Ron Rivera noted on Thursday, “that really weighs on a person,” making it a point of emphasis for the organization to be there for the pass rusher during his most vulnerable hour.
One way in which the team was able to make tangible moves in that direction was hiring Dr. Barbara Roberts as a full-time director of wellness and clinical services, focusing on athletes’ mental health.
As Sweat prepares for the season, he continues to focus on his on-field technique with the hopes of having more success as a team.
“I’m not necessarily changing my approach,” he said. “I’m just worried about winning. I think all that other stuff will take care of itself.”