Ron Rivera is keeping all options on the table at quarterback entering the offseason, and while that may keep fans guessing about Washington's true plan of attack for some time, one thing that's abundantly clear: The head coach is paying close to attention to what's going on around the league at the position.
During his weekly appearance with The Sports Junkies on Tuesday — presented by F.H. Furr — Rivera was overly careful not to rule out any options, saying that he's considering Washington's internal candidates, free agency, the trade market and the draft to address his need at QB.
He also would not rule out pursuing an elite quarterback like Houston's Deshaun Watson, allowing only that "this organization will be able to do what it needs to do."
Rivera has shown a reluctance to go all-in at quarterback in his first two years in Washington, resulting in a turnstile at the position that's seen six quarterbacks — Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Alex Smith, Taylor Heinicke, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Garrett Gilbert — start games under center in 2020 and 2021.
"What if I would have told you, in your first two years, you're gonna have six different starting quarterbacks," said Junkies host Jason Bishop. "What would you have said?"
"I would have been, uh... surprised, to say the least," Rivera stammered. "Believe me, I was fortunate when I started in Carolina that the first pick we made was a quarterback. He gave us seven great years until the injuries just mounted up too much. But that's what you want. You want to be able to find that one guy."
In speaking of the possibility of drafting a quarterback, Rivera revealed a keen awareness to outside pressure. It showed the coach is much more attuned to that pressure than he otherwise usually lets on, and how that could factor into his calculus of not only if, but precisely when it's okay to draft a quarterback.
"The hard part is, if now in our situation, if you find that one guy through the draft, are we gonna get time," Rivera said. "Are the fans gonna be patient? Are you guys gonna be patient? If you drafted the guy this year, my third season, would you be patient? That's the question. Everybody's got to think about this stuff. Or, if you go out in free agency and you find the right guy, now you bring him in and see what happens. There's a lot of things that we've got to go through. There's a process.
"And believe me, we're looking at every avenue and we're going to be diving into all of this stuff. And we've got to find the right answer. Is he on our roster? Is he in free agency? Do you trade for that guy? Or do you draft him? I mean, we have four options that we're gonna look at and we're gonna explore every one of them."
Rivera noted that when Sean McDermott was hired to coach the Bills in 2017, his former defensive coordinator in Carolina took a year to assess Buffalo's roster before going all-in on a quarterback in the following draft. Then Buffalo landed Josh Allen seventh overall in 2018, struggled with him through his rookie season and were in the playoffs by 2019. By 2020, Allen was leading the Bill to the AFC Championship Game and now has them back in the playoffs with an 11-6 record in 2021.
"One of the things I have referenced, and again, I do point to them because I know these guys very closely, is Buffalo," Rivera said. "I mean, they came in their first year and they tried to figure out what they had, and their second year they drafted their quarterback. He struggled that year and then their third year, their second year with him, they get in the playoffs. I mean again, when you look at models and you sit there and say, 'What one makes sense to who we are,' and you say that might be a model for us."
"That might be something that we have to consider as we're going forward," he said. "I mean you've got to look at every avenue and try to determine if that guy, if that's where you're gonna find him. Whether again, like I said, it's on your roster, it's in free agency, do you trade for that guy, or do you draft him?"
Assigned the 11th overall pick, there could be as many as six teams looking to draft a quarterback who are picking ahead of Washington in the 2022 NFL Draft. And in what's widely considered a weak QB class, that could be a recipe for disaster for any team looking to move up, opening the door to a potential over-draft scenario at QB.
"You have to consider, okay, if there is a guy in the draft everybody loves, what are you gonna use? What capital are you willing to spend?" Rivera said. "Is it draft picks and a core player? You know what I'm saying? You've got to really be willing to make that move and say, 'This is the guy we're committing to. This is the guy that's gonna be our guy and we're gonna make that commitment.'"
"But at the same time, do you have enough time to get there? I mean look at what happened with the Chargers," Rivera said. "One coach drafts the quarterback, he only gets one year with him and now you have a new head coach. So, you know, why? Again, if you're gonna make that commitment, are you gonna have time? That's the thing that you always consider."
The Chargers selected quarterback Justin Herbert sixth overall in 2020, entering Anthony Lynn's fourth season as head coach. After finishing the ensuing season 7-9 and missing the playoffs, Lynn was out and Brandon Staley was hired to take over. Yet another instance in which Rivera seems hyper aware of what's going on around the league.
"But again, it goes back, to me, and I really believe this, is you have to go through this process," he said. "You have to evaluate. When I was in Carolina, that was the thing we did. We talked about, if you're gonna find your franchise quarterback and identify him, you better be able to protect him and you better have playmakers around him.
"We were fortunate. We had good protection, we had good playmakers around him, but the thing we didn't have my first two years was we hadn't developed and built our defense yet. And I think that's something to always consider, too, is just how much of your team has been put together and put into place? Are you ready for that? Are you willing to take that next step?"