Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera proclaimed at the conclusion of the 2021 season that Year 3 of his tenure was about taking a step forward. He made that clear again at the start of the offseason, although there were some critical questions about the roster lingered.
With less than a month left until the draft, the biggest one has been answered.
Less than a week before the league year began, it was reported that the Commanders had a trade in place that would give them veteran quarterback Carson Wentz in exchange for sending multiple draft picks to the Indianapolis Colts. On March 16, that move was made official, providing Washington with a long sought-after solution at the position.
The acquisition of Wentz, Rivera admitted, did change Washington's plans for free agency, given how confident he is in Wentz's ability, he's content with the price tag that came with it. So, now that Wentz is officially a Commander, what are Rivera's next steps for the offseason? It's all about lifting Wentz up as much as possible.
"Can we protect him? We've gotta make sure that offensive line is fortified," Rivera told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson. "Then, it's about the playmakers."
The good news is that Washington already has pieces in place on offense, particularly up front. Washington's offensive line was one of the best groups in the league last year. It had the best run-block win-rate and ninth-best pass-block win rate, according to ESPN.
Several players also had standout individual performances as well. Charles Leno Jr., who signed a contract extension during the season, had the second-highest pass-blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus. PFF also gave guard Wes Schweitzer the ninth-best overall for his position, and while Chase Roullier’s season was cut short because of injury, he still received the fourth-highest grade among all centers.
The 2022 iteration of the group will not be the same as in 2021. Brandon Scherff has since departed for Jacksonville, while Ereck Flowers has been released. The Commanders do at least have a partial answer in Andrew Norwell, though. After spending the last four year with the Jaguars, Norwell has reunited with Rivera and offensive line coach John Matsko.
Norwell has excelled at pass protection throughout his career; he's never received a grade below a 74 from PFF since he joined the NFL in 2014.
"He's pretty much the same guy, just a little bit older," Rivera said of Norwell. "He's a physical player, a smart football player. He's a guy I think his teammates are gonna find is very loyal as well."
Norwell fits one hole on the offensive line, but that still leaves one open spot left. Drafting a player with one of the Commanders' six picks is an option, but players like Schweitzer and Saahdiq Charles could also be the answer.
"We're gonna continue to look at that to make sure we have the right pieces in place," Rivera said.
When it comes to weapons, Wentz should have plenty of options led by Terry McLaurin, who is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The prospect of working with McLaurin is one that has enticed Wentz for years, going all the way back to McLaurin's rookie season.
"I remember…one of his first games when I played against him, I told him after the game, 'I'd love to throw the ball to you someday,'" Wentz said. "Just because I think he took a slant and went 80 and I was like, 'This kid's different.'"
McLaurin is joined by players like Antonio Gibson, who had his first 1,000-yard season in 2021, as well as Logan Thomas and Curtis Samuel, both of whom suffered injuries of varying degrees last season.
On paper, all of that should make for an interesting pass attack. But one of the key questions Rivera wants to press as the offseason continues is whether it will be enough.
"Will those guys coming back from injury be ready for us once we get into training camp and then into the regular season?" Rivera said. "We've got to look at all those things to make sure that fits our offensive attitude, our offensive philosophy and our offensive scheme."
Scroll through some of the best moments from Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz's first time speaking to the local media. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
If the Commanders do decide they need to add to their arsenal, there are some avenues they can take to achieve that. Some analysts are predicting Washington to take a receiver with the 11th overall pick. The consensus appears to be split between USC's Drake London and Ohio State's Chris Olave, but with how deep the position is, there will likely be solid players to be found outside of the first round as well.
"We're gonna spend a lot more time finishing up with our evaluations," Rivera said. "We've got the 30 [in-person] visits pretty soon. That'll be a very important time."
In terms of free agents, the Commanders have their pick of numerous veterans with Julio Jones, Will Fuller, Cole Beasley and others still on the market. Even some of its own free agents like Adam Humphries and DeAndre Carter are still available.
Rivera believes Washington has a lot to offer to players looking for a new team.
"Why not come to us?" Rivera said during league meetings. "We have a solid offensive line. We've got a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver. We just try to make people understand that there's an opportunity to be successful."
The Commanders have been relatively quiet in free agency thus far and mostly focused on re-signing their own players. That doesn't necessarily mean they're done tweaking their roster, though.
"We are looking for the right kind of deal for the right kind of players," Rivera said.
When the 2021 season came to close, Rivera admitted that he was "a little concerned" because Washington hadn't found an answer at the quarterback position. Over the past couple weeks, he feels like the team is in a good spot. He feels confident in Wentz's ability, and he believes the roster can achieve what he envisions.
What happens in the immediate future is only going to strengthen that.
"We've just got to make sure we make some really good decisions in the next month and a half and going forward," Rivera said.