Head coach Ron Rivera has not been shy about bringing in players to improve the Washington Football Team's roster, but when it comes to signing undrafted free agents, the team has been relatively quiet.
In fact, it has been the quietest in the NFL since Rivera became the head coach. As of now, Washington has signed five college free agents during the past two seasons, which is well below the league average of 20. More could still be on the way with rookie minicamp happening this weekend, but for now Washington has only signed Jaret Patterson this offseason.
Those numbers are a reflection of Rivera's strategy of evaluating and structuring Washington's roster. He has cautioned against overreaching for a player, and that message is as true for him whether it is a coveted free agent, a top draft pick or even an undrafted prospect to fill out the roster. In addition to avoiding a bidding war for players, Rivera places high value in certainties over speculations.
"We have found that that is a very difficult thing because it's so competitive," Rivera told 106.7 The Fan's BMitch & Finlay last Monday.
The competition between teams to snag the best players available continues long after the NFL Draft closes Saturday night. Teams are on the phone reaching out to agents, fielding interest from players still trying to pursue professional careers and trying to round out their rosters. While some, like Washington, bring in a smaller pool of players, others bring in closer to two dozen. The Atlanta Falcons, meanwhile, are on the opposite end of the spectrum with 36 college free agents in the past two seasons.
Teams make their bids for the players they deem "priority free agents," but there is never a guarantee that college free agents will make the practice squad, let alone the active roster. Essentially, any money they offer a player to compete at the bottom of the roster is somewhat of a gamble, and since Rivera wants to build a sustainable, winning culture, he's cautious about who he gives those opportunities to.
"At the end of the day, you don't wanna pay more than you want to pay, guarantee more than you want to guarantee, because at the end the day, if you cut a guy, that's lost money," Rivera said. "Or you don't want to guarantee a guy on your practice squad and then he's not good enough to be there."
Rather than try his hand at scores of college free agents, Rivera has opted to go with a more concentrated approach when it comes to signing players, and it has worked out in his favor. Of the four players Washington signed after the 2020 draft, two of them -- wide receiver Isaiah Wright and quarterback Steven Montez -- were on the 53-man roster at some point during the season. And while Montez has yet to make his NFL debut, Wright started six of his 14 appearances and led Washington's receivers with a catch rate of 77.1%.
This year, Washington narrowed its focus even further, thanks in part to trading away a 2022 fifth-round selection in exchange for two extra Day 3 picks -- one in the sixth and one in the seventh. It used those picks to take long snapper Camaron Cheeseman -- general manager Martin Mayhew said it was a priority to address the position -- and defensive end William Bradley-King.
"It was a pick for next year," Mayhew said, "but we felt like there were enough quality players left that we wanted to make a move and get some extra picks."
The move meant Washington would not have to compete for either of those players, which in turn allowed the team to put more attention on Patterson, who Rivera said received a signing bonus and some guaranteed money. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote in his evaluation of Patterson that "if you love production and competitiveness, Patterson is your guy." That is a sound description of exactly what Rivera expects out of his players.
Chase Young, Patterson's former teammate at St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Maryland, also vouched for him, while Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders congratulated him via Twitter. Ultimately, Washington decided Patterson was worth bringing in.
"He vouched for me, he wanted me to come to Washington," Patterson told ABC7's Scott Abraham on May 3. "He vouched for me to Coach Rivera; that definitely shows he believes in me and I'm going to put on."
As of this writing, there are still three open spots left for the team to fill. Could Washington fill those with more college free agents? Possibly, but Rivera added that he is not sure if "signing four or five more undrafted free agents would have helped us any more than taking a group of guys right now that our scouts are looking at." The other option is through free agency, and there are a number of veterans -- some with Pro Bowl experience -- still looking for a new team. More players may be released in the coming days, Mayhew said, and some of them might be invited to Washington's minicamps.
"We're going to look around, and we're going to take a shot on a couple of guys that are out there," Rivera said. "So we're going to add through free agency, hopefully in the next week or so, as we start getting ready for OTAs."
The bottom line is that Washington does not want to spend its money signing a wide pool of players when it can try and get the most out of the ones it does want to see compete for a roster spot. The goal remains the same: find the right players who fit the culture and scheme. That's why it is important for Rivera to take aim at the right targets.
"You've got to be careful," Rivera said, "and that was one of the things that we were coming across very early in the process."