ASHBURN, Va. — For 10 years, the Washington Football Team endured drama, an occasional playoff run and a lot of losing. It lost double figure games in five seasons. There was chaos at quarterback — multiple times — there were three head coaches and four defensive coordinators.
And there was linebacker/defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. In an organization that struggled to provide consistency, he modeled it — with his approach and his play. During the 2013 and ’14 seasons, when Washington lost a combined 25 games, he recorded a combined 22 sacks. From 2014-2018, his highest sack total was 13.5 while his lowest was 9.5. He made four Pro Bowls, but only played in three playoff games.
As Kerrigan, the No. 16 overall pick in 2011, begins a new chapter with the Philadelphia Eagles — he signed a one-year deal with the Eagles on Monday — it’s worth looking back on his days in Washington. For a while, fans latched onto his consistency and production because there wasn’t always enough else for them to feel good about.
Only five teams had a worse record during the past decade, so the attachment to a player such as Kerrigan ran deep. Others came and went; Kerrigan, the franchise’s all-time sack leader with 95.5, stayed and put up numbers.
He showed up. He worked. He was productive. It went that way for most of a decade, during which he started the first 139 games of his career before a concussion sidelined him in 2019.
“Those are two things I really want people to remember me as, as consistent and someone who, whether things were going well or things were going poorly,” he said. “My preparation didn’t change if it was late in the season and we’re out of the playoffs or it was the first couple games of the season. I was bringing it, not just on game day but in the preparation and in the meeting rooms and on the practice field. I felt a passion for playing there and playing in front of those fans.”
It wasn’t difficult to be that way.
“I felt I had a job to do no matter what was going on there,” Kerrigan said. “I wanted to be a reason for positivity and optimism.”
He once shared the so-called secrets to his success. There’s no flash, just, again, consistency. He starts every day with two chicken breasts, one cup of oats, a tablespoon of flax seeds, a tablespoon of chia seeds plus raspberries, blueberries and half an avocado. He once said he limited red meat to once a week. He drank 300 ounces of water every day during the season, probably more during training camp. Kerrigan is religious about taking care of his body.
“I’d compare him to a guy like Tom Brady. He’s always on top of things when it comes to his body,” former Washington tight end Vernon Davis said in the summer of 2019. “He talks about it, too — everything he does to make sure he’s prepared when he goes out on the field.”
Kerrigan ranks No. 5 in the NFL in sacks since entering the league, but his role changed last season; he played behind young first-round picks Montez Sweat and Chase Young, which meant in some games there were minimal snaps (one week it was only seven). Kerrigan managed 5.5 sacks, but Washington didn’t make much effort to retain him — it has other young ends it likes and wanted to develop. It happens.
But he did leave a lasting mark on some of the young players, notably, well, Young. Last season, the rookie went back and watched Kerrigan’s game tape from Purdue just to see how he made the progression from a college pass-rusher to an NFL one. He called Kerrigan a “dude” which is one of Young’s highest compliments. Maybe the highest, in a football sense.
Washington’s front has strong leaders including Young. But spending a year with Kerrigan and watching how he takes care of his body can have a long-term impact.
“R.K. didn’t have to open his arms to me and help me throughout the whole season,” Young said. “You hear them stories where that doesn’t happen all the time. I always thank R.K. for doing that and always thank him for the type of man that he is. Just welcoming me with open arms, teaching me the game. R.K. knows it’s all love. We’re going to have this relationship forever. That’s big bro. I’ve got nothing but love for R.K.”
That’s not to say Washington was wrong for letting him leave. Kerrigan thinks he can still play; the Eagles are giving him a chance to prove it and Washington feels really good about its group. That’s life in the NFL.
There are Hall of Famers around the league who don’t finish with their original team and the time for sentimentality in Washington died a while ago; the need is to win. If the team doesn’t feel Kerrigan can help accomplish that goal, then it made a business decision. There was a time when Washington would keep certain players to appease the owner or because the team president liked them. Washington also lost a lot.
Regardless, one day Kerrigan’s name will be in the franchise’s Ring of Fame.
The shame of it is, just when Washington believes it’s on the verge of a legitimate turnaround under coach Ron Rivera, Kerrigan will be elsewhere. He had hoped to enjoy that turnaround; now he won’t.
But you can count on this: His approach won’t change.