Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera addressed the media during the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Here are some of the top takeaways from his press conference.
-- Rivera addressed some of the Commanders' recent roster moves, starting with the release of quarterback Carson Wentz. The veteran quarterback had some solid moments but could not stay on the field with a broken finger injury sidelining him for half the season. Rivera wanted to wish him the best, and he appreciated everything Wentz gave to the team after being traded away by the Colts. "He did the best he could, and we really appreciate that as well."
The other major news pertained to the Commanders choosing to apply the franchise tag to Daron Payne, who was set to be a free agent in March. The team has until July 15 to reach a long-term deal with Payne. Rivera said the move to show the team's commitment to keeping Payne on the team. "The guy's been very integral to the development of this football team and this defense as well as the other guys he plays alongside. We just wanted to make sure everybody understood that we are serious."
-- Rivera also took time to address the new staffing changes that were made earlier today. In addition to the restructuring that assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy made to the offensive side of the ball, he also hired former Stanford offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard to lead the quarterback room in 2023. Pritchard, who played quarterback for the Cardinal from 2006-09, has known Bieniemy for the past decade, so they are familiar with each other and their coaching styles. During his interview with Rivera, Pritchard explained his philosophies and his view on the position, and it was clear to the head coach that he and Bieniemy were aligned in several ways.
-- Questions from national reporters about the Commanders' quarterback situation continue to pop up, and Rivera reiterated that he and Bieniemy want Sam Howell to enter the offseason workout program as the starting quarterback. They like his tools and what he could bring to the position, and Bieniemy said in his interview with Rivera that the Kansas City Chiefs spent time evaluating Howell. He is not the starting quarterback for Week 1 yet; Washington wants to bring in a veteran quarterback to compete with him during training camp. However, Howell will be given every opportunity to earn the job himself.
Eric Bieniemy introduced himself as the Washington Commanders' new assistant head coach/offensive coordinator and laid out his vision to coaches, players and the media on Thursday. Take a behind-the-scenes look at his first day getting to work in Washington. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
-- Regarding why the Commanders are giving Howell this opportunity, Rivera pointed back to his junior year at North Carolina, when the Tar Heels' offense was full of weapons like Dyami Brown. Back then, several teams had high grades on him based on what he was able to do with skill players around him. Rivera also likes what he has seen from Howell since Washington drafted him in the fifth round, and he referred to his performance during the Week 18 win against the Cowboys as a sign of what Howell could accomplish.
"I thought he came out and played the type of game that you're looking for as far as the quarterback's concerned. He's got a tremendous skillset. Got a good arm, the kind of arm that you do look for."
-- Rivera said the Commanders are taking a "long look" at free agency to see where they can improve the roster for the 2023 season. Washington is strong in some positions, like receiver, but there are other areas that could use more immediate help. Offensive line, linebacker and depth at cornerback are three positions that could be strengthened in March, and there are some free agents at each position who could help Washington. Rivera also mentioned the possibility of Washington bringing back some of its own free agents to keep as much of their talent together as possible.
"It takes a lot of pressure off the draft in terms of what you need to do, what you have to do, what you must do," Rivera said.