The regular season is almost here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its second season under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.
Ron Rivera has a lot on his mind right now. He should, because he and his staff need to finalize Washington's 53-man roster by Aug. 31 at 4 p.m.
For the past month, Rivera has been evaluating how he can improve Washington's roster after it won the NFC East in 2020. It's a much bigger sample size than last year; he's seen his players make their best possible cases to earn a roster spot with performances in practice and preseason games. He's weighed and measured their talents and found that every player has a case to make the final cut.
So what's next for the head coach and football operations? They need to take all that information to make the best possible decision for the team.
"We'll talk about our depth and sit down and try to finalize it come Monday," Rivera told reporters after the preseason finale against the Ravens, "and know exactly where we are headed and what direction we are going to put ourselves."
By the time Rivera had his Sunday afternoon press conference, he had already met with his assistant coaches to get assessments on their respective positions. It was during that meeting that they gave Rivera their rankings for each of their players based on performance and development. From there, he met with general manager Martin Mayhew, Executive Vice President of Football/Player Personnel Marty Hurney and the rest of Washington's front office to discuss what they think the potential 53-man roster will be.
There are several questions that Washington must answer when examining the merits of keeping a certain player. Rivera needs to know the depth at each position and whether his coaches think that player is going to develop with more experience.
"People tell you, you have to turn over your bottom four or five or whatever," Rivera said. "You don't necessarily need to do that, especially if you think your bottom four or five guys [are] going to develop. If you do have a question on your bottom four or five...then you're looking to turn that over. We're not going to make change just to make change. We're going to do it because we believe it's going to help us."
The work doesn't stop there, though, because there are a litany of factors to address. Injuries suffered late in camp that curtail a player's time on the field is one of the primary concerns. Rivera specifically mentioned James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill, both of whom did not play Saturday, because he was looking forward to seeing them. From an evaluation standpoint, Rivera called injuries in general "disruptive."
"Those are guys you have slated in certain positions," Rivera said, "and for them to get out there and miss that opportunity to work and help, that's big."
Other circumstances, like the new practice squad rules that allow teams to elevate a player for game days, also have an influence on the roster. Cam Sims, who didn't make the initial cut last year, was elevated multiple times and eventually became one of Washington's more productive receivers. Players like Sims are enough to prove Rivera's point that Washington will need to exercise extra care when choosing practice squad players.
"They're not just developmental guys, but they're going to be guys that could be popped up, ready to play on the game day actives and contribute," Rivera said. "So we will have to be very diligent as we study that as to who we think is going to help us and who we think we want to develop."
Even after the roster is finalized, there are decisions that need to be made regarding the players released from other teams. The staff keeps an eye on social media and has a list of potential cuts that may pop up in the next two days. If a name intrigues them, they'll see if that player is worth adding to the roster.
And unlike last year, Washington will have film from preseason games to make a valid judgement.
"It's more about being able to...have this list of guys and say, 'wow, I really liked the way this guy would fit us,'" Rivera said. "That's what will be more important for us."
Rivera believes this year's roster is more talented than in 2020. That might make decisions more difficult, but it's a good problem to have. Rivera wants to be right, and with more knowledge heading into final cuts, he's confident he'll make the best decision.
"I mean, it's going to be tough. It really is," Rivera said. "This [year] more so than last year, because we know more. So as opposed to last year, where we assumed more. This will be interesting."