But he sounded calm Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the last of the movers left his Northern Virginia home, even indicating he may be close to making up his mind on whom the team will choose with the second pick in this month’s NFL draft.
“I’d like to believe in the back of my mind I know what we want to do,” he said in a video conference call with reporters. “But you’ve got to go through the process.”
Rivera never actually mentioned Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young, the player many expect Washington to select, but he didn’t sound ready to trade away the choice in an attempt to collect more draft picks, either.
“If you’re going to pass up Player A and you go back and you’re going to take Player D, Player D has to be equal to Player A, because if Player A is going to play for you for 10 years and Player D may not, then did you really get value or did you just get a whole bunch of picks?” he said. “You’ve got to be able to sit there and say that the next guy that I’m going to take is going to be that high-impact guy, and that’s what I’m looking for.
“I believe … we need a guy that’s going to come in and really change our football team. To me, there’s a few guys on that board that are those kind of players."
Tuesday was the first time Rivera had talked at length publicly about the team since late February — before the team signed a dozen players in free agency, star left tackle Trent Williams renewed his demand to be traded and Rivera traded or cut half of last year’s starters in the secondary.
He revealed little about the team’s strategy with Williams, whom the team has allowed to seek a trade, saying only, “We’re not quite sure what’s going to happen, but at the end of the line he’s a player under contract, he’s a Washington Redskin, and we’re going to leave it at that and see how things unfold.”
But he did admit the team made a huge run at Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper on the first day of free agency, saying, “We were talking about a substantial amount of money.” He expressed disappointment that Cooper accepted a five-year, $100 million contract to remain with the Cowboys.
“That’s a tough one — we would’ve loved to have had him as part of what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We believe he would’ve been a great veteran presence in the [locker] room, especially for those young guys that played last year and had success for this football team.”
Rivera also disputed reports that the Redskins were serious bidders for tight end Austin Hooper, who left the Atlanta Falcons and signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. Hooper “set the market as far as tight ends were concerned,” Rivera said, “and that’s something we most certainly weren’t prepared to do.”
Instead, Rivera talked, as he has done a lot since taking the job, about finding players who will buy in to the culture he wants to establish and removing those who might not fit. He said cornerback Quinton Dunbar was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth-round draft pick because he insisted on a new contract, which Rivera wasn’t ready to give a player he had not coached and who had missed much of the past two seasons with injuries.
He said he cut safety Montae Nicholson mainly because of his off-the-field incidents. Nicholson was arrested in 2018 for punching a man outside an Ashburn bar (charges were later dropped), and the second incident occurred last year when Nicholson dropped off an unconscious woman at a hospital. The woman died later that evening of a fentanyl overdose.
“We just felt a fresh start for him was the best thing to do,” Rivera said.
At times, Rivera glanced at a list next to his computer of the free agents the team has signed, as well as quarterback Kyle Allen, whom he traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Carolina Panthers to acquire. He described the potential competition between Allen and Dwayne Haskins as “good” but quickly added he believes Allen could handle losing the job to Haskins (whom Rivera has said will probably be the starter).
Of the Redskins’ free agent additions, Rivera seemed most excited about cornerback Kendall Fuller (whom he said will probably play outside cornerback and slot cornerback), safety Sean Davis (whom he said will fit well with the other defensive players) and cornerback Ronald Darby (who “is going to play through the receiver to the quarterback with vision” and “tremendous” anticipation).
“One of the things I tried to do [with the Panthers] is we tried to look at guys we could ID and say, ‘This guy is on the cusp of becoming a solid starter,’ not a flash-in-the-pan type guy that you are hoping, but a guy that’s steadily done it over a couple of years,” Rivera said. “We ID’d a few of those guys, and we went out and brought those guys in.”
This week, Rivera was supposed to have met many of his new players for the first time during organized team activities, which were postponed and are unlikely to be rescheduled. But he shrugged at the strangeness of instead sitting in his home, comparing this situation to 2011, his first season as the Panthers’ coach, when a lockout kept him from his players until training camp. He said he has spent the past couple of weeks working in what had been an empty house, preparing for the draft and finding that the silent home helped him focus.
“I’m not too concerned,” he said, “because I’ve kind of gone through this.”
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