Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera addressed the media for the first time since the team bolstered its roster with several additions in free agency. Here are five takeaways from his press conference.
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming in as the starter, but there will be a competition.
Rivera said after the season that addressing the quarterback position was "probably one of the most important things we have to get done and get established," and Washington did just that early in free agency by signing veteran signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick was "part of the conversation from the beginning," Rivera said Thursday, because the revamped front office decided that it wanted to add someone not only with experience but also the ability to help a young team grow and develop. Having had varying levels of success with eight franchises over 16 seasons, Fitzpatrick checked those boxes.
From a skillset perspective, Rivera said that Fitzpatrick still has an NFL arm, makes good decisions and is a "very bright guy." Those traits have allowed him to pick up new offensive systems quickly, Rivera said, and he does not believe that will be any different in Washington.
For all the reasons mentioned above, Rivera said Fitzpatrick will come in as the starting quarterback. But make no mistake: there will be competition.
"We want to play the best football player, obviously, and the one that gives us the opportunity to win," Rivera said. "We feel very comfortable and very confident in the guys that we have, Ryan gives us a different type of football player, and we're excited about what we can become as a football team."
Washington's list of quarterbacks includes Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke. He did not rule out drafting a signal-caller, either. "We'll see," he said. "Can't tell you how things are going to unfold once we get into the draft, and we're going to react to what happens in front of us."
As for finding the "quarterback of the future," Rivera does not feel pressured to define someone as that right now. "If you put all the other pieces into place, and now you start going forward, when that guy does show up, when that guy is in the right position, you can grab him."
2. The investments in front office experience are paying off.
Some of Washington's first moves this offseason involved restructuring its front office, and it leaned heavily into getting more experience by hiring general manager Martin Mayhew, executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney and director of pro personnel Chris Polian, all of whom have been a general manager for other teams.
The three of them, along with senior director of player personnel Eric Stokes and director of college personnel Tim Gribble, have embraced a collaborative effort, and Rivera has already noticed how well they play off each other.
"I like what each guy brings to the table," Rivera said. "When we've gotten together with the top guys...it's kind of neat because there's a lot of experience in those rooms. Each one of those guys has 20 years in this league. So we got older, but I think we got a little more experience, and I like the fact that we have this type of talent in the room.
Some of the biggest examples of this teamwork come from Mayhew and Hurney. Rivera described Hurney as a "road warrior," meaning he likes to visit pro days in person, whereas he sees Mayhew as someone who does a lot of his evaluations based on film study. But while they do have their preferences, Rivera is confident in both of them to handle all aspects of their roles.
"Also having a guy, whether it's Martin or Marty," Rivera said, "in the office and handles the business side of football, that has been very good."
Rivera can tell how valuable their experience is when he has conversations about players. They are able to use what they have heard from their sources to pick up on smaller details, which was the case when evaluating a certain linebacker.
"I look on the tape, and lo and behold, there's exactly what they were talking about," Rivera said. "So you're getting guys who have a lot of contacts in the league. You're getting guys who have a lot of experience and understanding of how players fit, how players fit into schemes, how players fit into teams. I think that's invaluable."
3. William Jackson III gives the defense more flexibility.
Rivera's original plan for the cornerback position involved trying to retain Ronald Darby, but when Darby signed with another team, the focus had to shift towards other options. Fortunately, William Jackson III was still available, and as it turns out, he was someone Rivera and the front office liked a lot.
"A lot of it has to do with his ability to take over a side and shut a side down," Rivera said. "It's going to add to the things that we are currently doing and...some of the things that we want to do."
Regarded as the best cornerback available this year by Pro Football Focus, Jackson has been a nightmare in coverage for opposing quarterbacks. He missed his rookie season with a torn pectoral, but he has 41 passes defensed and three interceptions over the past four seasons. His 90.2 defense grade in his second season was the sixth-highest for a corner since 2011.
"He is really, I think, a tremendous corner who really has the skillset [for us] to say, 'Hey we want to put him on their best guy,' or 'we want to put him over here and roll away from him.' It gives us that kind of flexibility."
Rivera feels Washington signed a dynamic corner because of what he can do in coverage; he excels in man schemes, and he creates opportunities for himself in zone. He doesn't want to give too much away on how the team plans on using him, but it did say the defense can be more diverse.
"We can change things. We don't have to be stuck in certain situations," Rivera said. "My first impression watching him was that this is a pure man [coverage] guy, but as I watched more tape...he knows how to put himself in position. So to me, this is pretty exciting."
4. Washington's free agency approach changed based on the circumstances.
Rivera said Washington entered free agency with a "wait and see" approach, which resulted in the wide receiver and defensive back markets not commanding as much money as expected.
So, as Stokes constantly updated the rest of the front office with available players and contract breakdowns for new signees, it become clear that Washington could make its moves earlier than expected. That resulted in the team locking down a No. 2 wide receiver in Curtis Samuel and adding another proven outside corner in Jackson.
"We got in on Jackson and we got in on Samuel because these were guys that were high on our list that we didn't think we had a chance, but because we were monitoring it and these guys saw it, we decided to dive in," Rivera said. "And lo and behold, we pulled a couple of guys that initially, we didn't have a chance, but it ended up happening because we were paying attention to it."
Rivera added that Washington used the second wave of free agency to attain certain "also positions," which included slot receiver Adam Humphries and nickelback Darryl Roberts. These acquisitions have given the team more flexibility as it continues looking at available players and preparing for the NFL Draft -- which Rivera said is a testament to the new-look front office.
5. Washington has more options for the rest of the offseason.
Washington took a different approach to free agency compared to last season. While it was set on signing under-the-radar players who could become potential starters with the proper coaching in 2020, this year bore different fruit with the likes of Fitzpatrick, Samuel, Jackson and Humphries all being more proven commodities.
Washington now finds itself with the luxury of having multiple options for how to approach the rest of the offseason.
"I think we've done a good enough job to put ourselves in a position where, now as we look at the draft, we're not necessarily pressed to have to as much as we can do as we want to," Rivera said.
Now that free agency is more than two weeks old, Rivera said the focus is going to shift towards the draft, but Washington is not going to completely dismiss free agency. Washington has already targeted a few positions it wants to keep monitoring, but Rivera also knows that he could also address them in the draft.
That is why Rivera feels so good about Washington's situation. It can pursue players if it chooses, but it doesn't feel any pressure to do so.
"We feel pretty good about quite a few of the positions that we're looking at in both free agency and the draft," Rivera said. "When we evaluate it -- next week is when we're going to start our draft readings -- we'll really be able to talk about these things. If we sit there and say: 'You know what, we have to or we should, I shouldn't say have to, grab this position before the draft.' Again, we may not be done in free agency."