Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera made the team’s mindset heading into free agency clear in his very first answer to a reporter in a media availability session Wednesday.
“We’re not desperate.”
Those are three powerful words for a team that is just two years removed from a three-win season. And yet they reflect Rivera’s ultimate goal for the team moving forward: sustainability. Rivera made clear in his Wednesday presser that he is not interested in quick fixes, but long-term solutions. He is not interested in one NFC East title, but many.
With NFL free agency beginning March 17th at 4 p.m., teams will soon have the freedom to pursue free agents around the league. The Washington Football Team has a strong advantage this free agency because of its cap space. ESPN reported that the NFL’s salary cap will be down 8% this season at $182.5 million. Per Over the Cap, Washington is sixth in the league in available cap space at $38.9 million.
This means that the Football Team has the resources to be a big spender in free agency. So far this offseason, Washington has demonstrated its willingness to aggressively go after veteran quarterbacks, including Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. But Rivera emphasized the importance of three components when it comes to pursuing players: coaching fit, cultural fit and schematic playing fit. Rivera reflected on the fact that the team had just two players test positive for COVID-19 last season. It is this emphasis on details both on and off the field that Rivera is searching for as he believes that the small things are often the ones that make a difference.
For this reason, Rivera and the Football Team’s front office staff will continue to practice patience as they build a team that fits their specific culture.
“There’s no immediate need to have to, got to, must,” Rivera said. “What we’re looking to do is build a sustainable winning culture. We want to put the football team together the right way.”
The willingness to wait for the right type of player will be particularly relevant as Washington continues its quarterback search. The team parted ways with veteran Alex Smith last week. The Comeback Player of the Year led Washington to a 5-1 record in his six starts last season. The Football Team re-signed playoff hero Taylor Heinicke to a two-year contract and announced Wednesday that they have tendered Kyle Allen, who suffered a dislocated ankle injury in Week 9 of last season, as an exclusive rights free agent. While Heinicke and Allen will likely get the chance to compete for the starting role, Washington remains in search of a more experienced signal caller. Allen has 17 regular-season starts in his three-year career and Heinicke has one.
Despite the glaring gap that Washington needs to fill under center, Rivera exhibited no sense of urgency.
“What we want to do is we want to get to the point where we don’t have to start all over,” Rivera said. “We want to make sure we look at every option we have and we move cautiously. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we have to start all over again in a year or two.
“If the franchise guy isn’t out there, we’re going to go with guys who we believe we gill us a chance to win. Do you want to be able to say, ‘This is our franchise quarterback?’ Yeah you’d love to but you don’t know that until the quarterback starts playing. Or quarterbacks.”
Having ample cap space gives Washington an advantage in the quarterback search, but Rivera has not let himself get too comfortable. In addition to making offseason moves around the league, he also wants the team to retain their own players. He is therefore prioritizing guys that are already on the team before searching elsewhere.
The Football Team’s decision to place a second franchise tag on guard Brandon Scherff illustrates Rivera’s priority. It is a costly move as the team has to pay 120 percent of Scherff’s previous salary. The Pro Bowler played on a $15.03 million tag last season and is therefore due about $18.04 million this season. This makes him one of the game’s highest paid guards and the fourth-highest-paid offensive lineman.
“We want to try to keep our own and we want to show the players that we want to keep our own,” Rivera said. “We have something special in terms of the players that are on this roster…we want to be able to keep them around.”
Only once Rivera has taken care of his own will the focus shift to free agency. Rivera said that there are certain guys the team would pursue immediately and he is looking for players who can make the kind of impact tight end Logan Thomas and running back J.D. McKissic made last season. Thomas recorded 72 receptions for 670 yards and six touchdowns with McKissic tallied 365 yards rushing and 589 yards receiving.
With a week until free agency begins, Rivera has many options to consider. He remains composed though as he emphasized three other words throughout Wednesday’s presser.
“We have time.”