Growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Adam Humphries spent his summers attending Carolina Panthers training camp at Wofford College. He remembers sitting on the hill during practices, watching then-head coach Ron Rivera build the foundation for what would become a consistent playoff contender.
"I've always had a ton of respect for Coach Rivera," Humphries said during his introductory press conference after signing with the Washington Football Team on March 25. "I think he runs a great ship. I think just the way he emphasizes culture and accountability, I'm excited to be a part of it."
Humphries is one of eight newcomers in Washington’s 2021 free agent class, all of whom signed for a variety of reasons. But one of the most common motivations is a simple one: they all want to play for Rivera.
"Coach Rivera's got a great reputation around the league from other coaches and from a lot of the guys he has coached," said 38-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "Just from being on so many different teams and so many different organizations and knowing guys around the league, I had a ton of great conversations about him. The respect level that he has from his peers and from his players and the way he goes about his business, I'm really excited and looking forward to getting to work with him."
Almost every signee highlighted the "culture" and positive "direction" of the franchise, and it all starts with Rivera. He turned a 3-13 team into a 7-9 division winner amid a global pandemic -- all while battling cancer -- and he did so with the honesty, selflessness and morality that has defined his illustrious three-plus decades in the NFL.
"Guys love playing for him," Fitzpatrick said, and that's not just a cliché. Talk to current and former players (or read this story), and you'll glean the almost magnetic aura of wanting to go to battle with him.
Wide receiver Curtis Samuel did not initially choose to play for Rivera -- the Panthers selected him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft -- but he was grateful to have Rivera help acclimate him to the professional ranks. Samuel increased his production in each of his first three seasons under Rivera while learning the philosophies needed to be a part of a consistent winner.
This offseason, Samuel made his own decision to reunite with Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner in Washington. He intends on passing along those principles to a young team he describes as a "family-type group."
"The way they played last year just shows you how close that locker room is," Samuel said. "I'm just excited to get in there, meet a lot of those guys, build bonds, friendships, and everything else."
Samuel, Fitzpatrick and Humphries will undoubtedly boost the offense, but Washington's best free agent signing, at least according to Pro Football Focus, was cornerback William Jackson III. It also appeared he would be the most difficult to attain.
Unlike Samuel, Jackson had no ties to the coaching staff or the organization. And as PFF’s No. 1 cornerback available, he had plenty of other suitors.
But for Jackson, signing with Washington was a "no-brainer." A vaunted defensive line and a win-now mentality certainly helped, but like his fellow newcomers, Jackson jumped at the opportunity to play for the man in charge of revitalizing this historical franchise.
"All I ever heard was he's a great guy," Jackson said. "I'm talking about everyone. Players that haven't played for him. A lot of corners, we talk in the league. They were just harping on how much of a great guy he is. I want to play for a guy like that. They're just having a conversation with you and they've heard through the grapevine that he's an amazing guy."