Ron Rivera

Three things the Washington Football Team must get right this offseason

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Ron Rivera has the Washington Football Team headed in the right direction. He proved that by taking the rebranded franchise from worst to first in the NFC East during the 2020 NFL season.

Rivera made Washington a playoff team in a year impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the head coach’s own battle with skin cancer. Rivera achieved something remarkable, but he’ll know there’s still plenty of work to be done if Washington is going to be a serious contender in 2021.

This team won its division, but the 7-9 record showed there are holes on the roster. Most of them concern the offense, where the line could use an infusion of talent at left tackle, while the receiving corps is short of a playmaker or two.

Those concerns are nothing compared to Rivera’s challenge of finding a starting quarterback. Alex Smith‘s comeback from injury was miraculous, but the 36-year-old is naturally a diminished force.

Taylor Heinicke gave Tom Brady and the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers an almighty scare in the playoffs, but he remains a largely unproven commodity.

Washington was involved in the Matthew Stafford sweepstakes, proof Rivera is keeping a keen eye open for a new signal-caller. Fortunately, he’s not short of options, with a Cam Newton reunion among the smarter moves Rivera could make.


Solving the QB Problem

Rivera made the right call when he showed Dwayne Haskins the door before the dust had even settled on the 2020 season. It completed a turbulent year under center for Washington.

Haskins was the starter early doors before he was benched for Kyle Allen. Injury wrecked Allen and set the stage for Smith’s triumphant return.

More injury heartache laid the veteran low and put the keys in Heinicke’s hands. He was brilliant in a losing effort against the Bucs, throwing for 306 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another score.

Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner don’t seem to think they’ve caught lightning in a bottle with 27-year-old Heinicke. At least it didn’t look that way when the team made a play for Stafford:

Stafford has since found a new home with the Los Angeles Rams, while Washington has handed Heinicke a two-year contract. It would be quite the story if Heinicke won the starting job, but I’d expect more movement at the position before anything is settled.

There is no shortage of veteran quarterbacks ready to switch teams this offseason. Russell Wilson isn’t being shy about wanting out of Seattle, while the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t averse to dealing Carson Wentz.

Deshaun Watson‘s desire to be traded by the Houston Texans has been known for a while. He’d be the ideal solution to Washington’s QB dilemma, but the haul needed to land him would be significant.

Watson’s contract would also impact the other free-agency plans of a team with just over $38 million worth of projected cap space.

Newton is the most intriguing outside option to consider. He’s 31 but showed at times last season he still has plenty left in the tank. His struggles with the New England Patriots owed more to being shorn of weapons in the passing game.

Rivera got the best out of Newton with the Carolina Panthers and knows how to work with him. A reunion on a low-cost, minimal-risk deal makes sense for both parties.

Finding a left tackle

Trading Trent Williams to the San Francisco 49ers left Washington’s offensive line without its cornerstone. A gallery of serviceable but limited linemen tried to fill Williams’ shoes, but Rivera needs a blue-chip solution at this critical position.

Once again, the trade market could offer the quickest form of salvation:

The Baltimore Ravens’ desire for a major haul to trade Orlando Brown might deter some teams. Fortunately, a trade isn’t Rivera’s only option. He could opt for a free agent like Panthers starter Taylor Moton.

Alternatively, taking a new blindside protector with the 19th-overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft would also solve the problem. NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah has Washington selecting Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw in the first round. That’d work.

Washington has a strong recent history of drafting NFL-ready linemen, with Morgan Moses, Brandon Scherff, and Chase Roullier all quickly making the grade.

Slotting a legitimate talent in at left tackle would go a long way to solidifying a line strong at the other spots. Roullier is a competent center, while Moses remains steady at right tackle.

Keeping right guard Scherff around for the long haul will be a priority. He’s a dominant presence inside but is ticketed for free agency after being hit with the franchise tag last season.

The smarter move would be to draft a left tackle and keep money free to secure Scherff’s future.

Adding a dynamic receiver

Allen Robinson II is the one player Washington should be all over in free agency. He and the Chicago Bears have seemingly hit the pause button in talks over a contract extension.

The Bears either tag Robinson, ahead of a possible trade or let him enter free agency. Either way, the tough-as-nails wide receiver is perfect for Washington.

Turner’s offense already has players who can stretch the field, like Terry McLaurin and Cam Sims. Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic are prolific out of the backfield, but this offense needs a player who can work the middle. Few do it better than Robinson, thanks to his precise route-running and sure hands.

The 27-year-old is also automatic in the red zone:

Signing Robinson would give whoever plays quarterback for Washington in 2021 a natural safety valve. He’s the ideal get-out-of-trouble target against pressure.

Newton, Robinson, and a rookie LT would lead to Playoff return

Being smart with the money is key for Rivera, general manager Martin Mayhew, and VP of player personnel Marty Hurney. The latter worked with Rivera in Carolina, so he’ll also know what Newton can bring to the table.

Heinicke’s emergence and new contract mean Washington’s 2021 season wouldn’t hinge on Newton rediscovering his 2015 form. Cam would just need to be serviceable and efficient, something he’d manage behind a line fortified by a bookend left tackle and a passing attack boosted with Robinson’s reliable playmaking.

Rivera could use remaining cap funds to plug a few holes at linebacker and in the secondary on a defense already among the NFL’s best thanks to an awesome line.

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