Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

5 Takeaways From Ron Rivera's Pre-Free Agency Press Conference

Washington head coach Ron Rivera walks on the field during practice at the team's NFL football training facility, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Washington head coach Ron Rivera walks on the field during practice at the team's NFL football training facility, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Head coach Ron Rivera addressed the local media via Zoom to discuss free agency, which kicks off next week, and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Here's what we learned:

1. Rivera emphasizes patience when deciding Washington's next move

Washington has plenty of decisions looming when the new league year begins. The amount of cap space at its disposal allows them to address any of their positional needs. But Rivera made one thing clear: he is not desperate to make a move.

"There is no immediate need to 'have to,' 'got to,' 'must,'" Rivera said. "What we're looking to do is build a sustainable, winning culture, and we want to put the football team together the right way."

The "slow and steady" approach has worked out for Rivera thus far. Other than admittedly going after Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper last offseason, Rivera elected to sign under-the-radar players like Logan Thomas, J.D. McKissic and Cornelius Lucas. All three of those additions played a key role in establishing Washington's core, which lifted the team to a 7-9 record and an NFC East division title.

Those are certainly positives, but Rivera also does not think the immediate success is enough reason to throw that original plan away. One thing Rivera wants to avoid is to put all of his efforts into getting some of the top-tier free agents. That approach could result in Washington having to restart their plans, which is the opposite of what Rivera wants to do.

"I think what you do is you continue to put the pieces of the puzzle in place, and hopefully build it together the right way and put it together the way you need it to be," he said.

That does not mean Washington will avoid the top players available -- Rivera said there are players they will want to go after "immediately." However, there will be a plan should the team miss out on them.

2. Washington continues to "explore all of the options" at quarterback

With free agency starting next week and the draft kicking off in 50 days, Rivera made it clear Washington still has time to address the quarterback position.

"We're going to continue to explore all of the options that are out there," he said. "I get it, you guys want answers, but we don't have answers for you right now because we're still working through the process."

Taylor Heinicke, who signed a two-year deal in February, is the only signal-caller currently under contract for 2021, he's only started two games since entering the NFL in 2015. Kyle Allen is set to be an exclusive rights free agent, meaning Washington can re-sign him for cheap, while the team mutually parted ways with veteran Alex Smith last week.

Rivera said "everything's an impact" in terms of their decision-making process at quarterback, from the current options to the abundance of cap space and to the No. 19 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The players who will complement the quarterback -- offensive linemen, wide receivers, etc. -- are also factors.

Above all, though, Rivera said the team will methodically and judiciously figure out which quarterback best helps build the sustainable, winning culture he has constantly preached.

"If the 'franchise guy' isn't out there, we're going to go with guys that we believe give us a chance to win. And that's really what you do," Rivera said. "Do you want to be able to say, 'This is our franchise quarterback?' Well yeah, you'd love to. But you don't know that until the quarterback starts playing, or quarterbacks. Once that happens, then you'll know. And so we just got to continue to go through this, study the players and get the one we feel like can become that player, and we'll see what happens."

3. How franchise tags have impacted Washington's free agency approach

Some of the best impending free agents never make it to the open market because of the franchise tag, a lucrative one-year deal that keeps a player with his current team.

And by the time the franchise tag deadline arrived Tuesday afternoon, 10 players were off the board, including wide receivers Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson; tackles Taylor Moton and Cam Robinson; and safeties Marcus Maye, Justin Simmons and Marcus Williams.

"Some of them that hit right away, you say, 'OK, take that one off the list,'" Rivera said of players being franchise tagged. "I mean that's just what happens. You sit there and wonder if a guy will get there or not, and if he does, then you have to decide whether you're willing to make that move or not. Some of these decisions were being made for us."

Washington was one of the teams to make a move by tagging guard Brandon Scherff for the second straight season. The four-time Pro Bowler has made it clear he wants to remain in the burgundy and gold, and Rivera emphasized wanting to take care of their own players. The two sides have until mid-July to work out a long-term deal.

"The thing that everyone has to understand is that we want to try and keep our own and we're trying to show our players we want to keep our own, but at the same time, hopefully we can get those things done," Rivera said. "We have something, especially in terms of players who are on this roster, that we think fit us, and we want to be able to keep them around, and we'll see what happens. But you do want to be able to put [the contract] in position to where it is long term, and that puts you in position to take care of the other guys. That's the thing that we have to look at."

4. Rivera looks at overall impact when considering which players to retain

Washington signed many of its acquisitions to one-year "prove-it" deals last offseason, and many of them paid off. But with 13 players set to be unrestricted free agents in 2021, Rivera and his revamped front office have to decide who to retain.

Ideally, Rivera wants to keep as many of Washington's free agents as possible. But that is always a challenge for a variety of reasons, whether it be players wanting to move on or receiving offers from other teams. So, Washington will have to choose carefully on who it wants to prioritize.

"I think it's their overall impact on the team, first and foremost" Rivera said. "How do they impact the team? What do they mean to the team? What do they mean for their specific position? I think that's important. I think guys like that really do help."

Even with that quantifier at the top of Rivera's mind, there are tough decisions that will need to be made in the coming days about players who played key roles in Washington's success last season.

Rivera wants to show the players that the team does want to keep its own on the roster, and he is hopeful it can do that. But with the NFL's rules surrounding the salary cap, Rivera said the team has to decide who to start with, "and we'll work our way down the list and see what we can do."

"That's the hard part," he said. "That's just the harsh reality."

5. Rivera looking for versatile skillset to improve linebacker position

Rivera challenged the linebackers to improve their play in 2020, and they responded during the second half of the season. Cole Holcomb returned from injury and finished with 72 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception, Jon Bostic led the team with a career-high 118 tackles and Kevin Pierre-Louis was one of the league's best cover linebackers with a Pro Football Focus grade of 83.9.

Pierre-Louis' ability to defend the run and pass is exactly what Rivera is looking for when considering how to improve the position. That could include re-signing Pierre-Louis, who is currently slated to be a free agent, or signing others.

"I'd love to have Kevin back," Rivera said. "He played very well for us, did a lot of good things, got better down the line. There are some other guys that are out there that have the same skillset, that play the same way, maybe a little bit younger. You'd like to get those guys, so we'll see what happens. It's one of those things where we'll see what happens in the start of free agency, and then we'll see what happens with the second surge of guys."

As Rivera mentioned, there are plenty of veteran linebackers available who could help improve the position. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently signed Lavonte David to an extension Tuesday afternoon, but he is hardly the only player available who Washington could target to bolster its already impressive defense. (Check out our free agency preview for the linebacker position, HERE.)

Related Content