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How The Strategic Patience Of Washington's Front Office Provided Flexibility For The Draft


Ron Rivera sat back and listened as his revamped front office delved into evaluating a particular linebacker from this year's draft class.

As they were going back and forth about various topics, one of them mentioned that he heard through one of his contacts a couple of things about the player they need to keep an eye on. Rivera went back to the film, and sure enough, the things they pointed out were there.

"So, I sit back, and I go: 'Wow. OK. I would've looked right past that without thinking about it,'" Rivera said. "You're getting guys that have a lot of contacts in the league. You're getting guys that have a lot of experience and understanding of players, how players fit, how players fit into schemes, how players fit into teams. I think that's invaluable."

That is the kind of input Rivera was hoping for from a front office that has more than a century of experience between general manager Martin Mayhew, executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney, senior director of player personnel Eric Stokes, director of pro personnel Chris Polian and director of college personnel Tim Gribble. Finishing the 2020 season 7-9 and winning the NFC East was a good start, but Rivera wants to continue building on that success. The way he sees it, the best way to do that is by filling the room with as many savvy executives as possible.

That experience has paid off tremendously, and the group's philosophy of making the right moves at the right time has set Washington up to attack the rest of the offseason.

"Each one of those guys has over 20 years in this league," Rivera said. "We got older, but I think we got a little more experience. I like the fact that we have this type of talent in the room."

Washington had some of the most money to spend in free agency, but it decided the best way to fill the gaps on its roster was to take a "wait and see" approach. The biggest test for this regarded the quarterback position. There were plenty of avenues Washington could have taken, but more importantly, whoever it decided to sign needed to possess the qualities it was looking for in a starter.

"You've got to have football intelligence to play the position," Mayhew told reporters in February. "You've got to have the arm talent. The leadership ability is really important. One of the most important things I think is the football character. That's all the preparation that goes into it, that's understanding the game, that's being mentally tough, that's having passion for it. All of those things are required in that position. You really can't cut any corners there."

Because of that, the 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick was "part of the conversation from the beginning," Rivera said. Washington wanted a player who could help them win and continue to develop its younger players. Not only is Fitzpatrick known for doing both, but he also checks off all the other boxes on the front office's list.

"A savvy veteran who has had a lot of success and who has worked with a lot of other quarterbacks, a lot of young quarterbacks, who's been in a lot of different systems," Rivera said "Also, just the fact that when you look at his numbers analytically, he's actually improved in his play in the last couple years, too. There are a lot of positive things about having this type of guy around. I'm pretty excited, I really am."

Thanks to Stokes providing Washington's front office with updates on which players were still available, the team was able to step in and make moves at positions it did not think it had a chance at. Because teams were not heavily bidding for defensive backs, it replaced the loss of Ronald Darby with William Jackson III. Receivers did not get as much attention as originally predicted, either, so it swooped in and signed Curtis Samuel.

That, along with how senior vice president of football administration Rob Rogers structured the contracts, allowed Washington to then focus on what Rivera called "also positions." That resulted in signing slot receiver Adam Humphries and nickelback Darryl Roberts.

"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.

With free agency in the background, Washington can now focus most of its attention on the draft. And because of the moves the front office made in the past month, the team has a number of routes it can take with the 19th overall pick. It could address needs at linebacker, safety or left tackle; it could also simply take the best player available. Rivera didn't rule out the possibility of drafting a quarterback, either.

Regardless of what decision the team makes with its first-round pick, one thing people can bet on is for it to take the same approach as it did in free agency.

"We're going to react to what's happening in front of us," Rivera said. "That's all we can really, truly do. We're going to watch that."

Washington's front office has implemented a strategic patience this offseason, and so far it has worked out in its favor. It placed a veteran quarterback under center, upgraded the wide receiver position and solidified the team's defensive backs -- all while maintaining some cap flexibility to keep signing free agents, should the need arise.

Rivera knows he can't just buy the type of experience required to know when and how to make those moves. It is something he will continue to hold in high regard as Washington moves towards the next opportunity to improve its roster.

"I don't think you can just show up one day and think you're going to do this," Rivera said. "You've got to have lived it. That's the good thing about having these types of guys around."