They talked about how they agreed on players, philosophies and the stance to take with star left tackle Trent Williams, whom they had traded to San Francisco earlier in the day.
Finally, Smith, who is 23 years younger than the 58-year-old Rivera, said: “Process is about the people, and Coach and I have a great relationship, and it’s easy. It’s smooth. We’re on the same page.”
The greatest uncertainty of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s plan to put Rivera in charge of the team was that Rivera had never had complete control. Several scouts and executives from other teams said they were sure Rivera would hire a general manager from another organization, even after Rivera promoted Smith from director of college scouting and suggested this offseason would be something of a tryout.
It wasn’t that those scouts and executives questioned Smith’s ability; he has been seen around the league as a rising front-office star for at least the past two years. But they believed Rivera needed someone more experienced to handle free agency and make trades.
In recent weeks, though, those suggestions have subsided as Rivera has said repeatedly that he is comfortable with Smith, praising the offseason plan Smith presented after his promotion and the way he worked through free agency, ran pre-draft meetings and set the team’s draft board. There is a growing sense around the front office that Rivera might soon give Smith the title of general manager, a person with knowledge of the situation recently said.
Rivera has said he doesn’t want to be the final authority on decisions but rather have his front-office executives come to a consensus. Some teams have similar arrangements, but they require everyone to work well together and be united in a philosophy. In previous Redskins regimes, Snyder often was an obligatory and sometimes meddlesome part of the process. But Snyder has not meddled, Rivera has said, limiting his presence to once-daily check-ins just to learn what’s going on. Aside from a congratulatory phone call to first-round draft pick Chase Young on Thursday, Snyder took a back seat all weekend.
Perhaps it was easy for Rivera and Smith to agree during a draft in which the team’s first choice was as obvious as Young, the Ohio State pass rusher widely believed to be the best player available. But Rivera seemed happy with the way Smith, the son of former San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, methodically followed the draft board, using the results of their many planning meetings to guide choices when each selection approached.
The board closely matched the way the draft unfolded and prioritized the players the Redskins liked at each pick, so they found it simple to choose the ones they wanted, Rivera said.
“I thought the communication between Kyle and I as he was setting the final board was exactly what you look for because then as you go through the process, you should see things quite close to one another,” he said. “And again, it’s because we worked through the process. We didn’t go through this and not be prepared for that conversation. I thought we talked ourselves through a lot.”
The more Rivera talked through his first Redskins draft, the more excited his voice grew. He said he loved the versatility of third-round pick Antonio Gibson, a positionless player out of Memphis who can line up at wide receiver or running back. He seemed pleased with the research Smith and his staff had done on LSU tackle Saahdiq Charles and raved about the potential of Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, both fourth-round selections. He pondered the free agents he and Smith had signed as well as the players Smith had helped pick over the previous three drafts, and he said something strangely optimistic for someone taking over a team that went 3-13 last season.
“I think the turnaround can be a little bit quicker than expected — at least I expected,” Rivera said.
At one point Saturday evening, Smith thought about the weeks of meetings with a new boss and a new coaching staff, sorting out the wishes of people he had never worked with, all while communicating solely by phone and video conference. If he had worried about his future with the team, it didn’t show as he talked confidently with Rivera as if they were old friends.
“I’ve been very happy with how easily we’ve meshed after not knowing each other for a long time,” Smith said, referring not just to Rivera but also to offensive coordinator Scott Turner and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “It’s about the people and communicating, and you can’t go wrong when you do it that way.”
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