A unified front office is essential for any franchise, and the fact that Rivera has a connection with Hurney and Mayhew that he apparently didn’t have with the team’s former vice president of player personnel, Kyle Smith, at least ensures he will be surrounded by men he has chosen. But for all the talk of unity and cohesion and matching thought patterns, what was left largely unspoken was the gravity of the one pressing decision that looms before them: the determination of the team’s next quarterback.
No matter how many trades, free agent signings or savvy draft picks the three make over the next few years, their tenure here is almost certain to be judged by what they decide to do at quarterback this offseason. If they choose well, several seasons of winning could follow, especially given the promise of a defense that Mayhew, the new general manager, described as “somewhere between good and great.” If they choose poorly, they might never recover. Nothing else they do in these next four months will matter as much.
The fact that they made a serious attempt at trading for Matthew Stafford says everything about the urgency Rivera, Hurney and Mayhew feel to find their quarterback for the next several years. Still, when pressed on details about the search, the three were vague, offering noncommittal answers that made it appear they don’t have a plan for solving the problem.
Obviously, there is a plan, even if it is one constructed in haste during Hurney’s and Mayhew’s first days on the job. The ambiguity in their answers was intentional, and Rivera repeatedly noted they will explore all of their options.
“The biggest thing is that we got to make sure we find the right one,” Rivera said. “That’s the key. Is it imperative to find him right now? No, not necessarily. We would love to. But as we go through this process, we’re going to exhaust all avenues. We’re going to take nice long looks at every option that we have out there that’s available to us, and we’ll go with the one that we believe is best for us going forward.”
Almost to emphasize his point, Rivera added: “Are we in a hurry? No.”
And yet the window for finding that quarterback is between now and April’s draft. Even if Rivera, Hurney and Mayhew decide to go with a temporary starter, a bridge player such as Cam Newton or Tyrod Taylor, they may pick that player’s successor in the draft — either maneuvering to grab a bright but raw prospect such as North Dakota State’s Trey Lance in the first round or by gambling on a less-heralded player later.
Whatever they decide, it must be clear by the end of this spring. Rivera can’t go through next season without an idea of whom he will build around at quarterback. There’s no time to waste, not with a defense that is ready to win now and an owner who has never been long on patience.
Everyone said the right thing Wednesday about not barreling into the offseason in a reckless pursuit of the biggest name available. Mayhew talked about finding “somebody who fits what you do offensively,” and Hurney said he wanted “to be aggressive” but didn’t want to “mortgage the future.”
Perhaps that suggests the team will not make a legitimate run at Houston’s Deshaun Watson, who is likely to cost several first-round draft picks, should the Texans decide to trade him. Still, Rivera, Hurney and Mayhew have to do something significant. All of them know how vital it is to have a top quarterback as Rivera and Hurney had with Newton in Carolina and Mayhew had with Stafford when he was the Detroit Lions’ general manager.
Complicating everything is the awkward decision that comes with Alex Smith, whose miraculous return after what was assumed to be a career-ending injury inspired the team and played a significant role in Washington’s run to the NFC East title. Though Smith went 5-1 as a starter, the bone bruise that kept him from starting three of the team’s final four games gave everyone pause. And the way Rivera, Hurney and Mayhew dodged questions about Smith spoke volumes.
For months, Rivera has tried to tuck the franchise’s recent wretched past behind a curtain, urging everyone to look ahead at the new culture he’s building. Smith, despite his impressive comeback and undeniable leadership qualities, is a vestige of the previous regime. Rivera, Hurney and Mayhew will have to search elsewhere — and they will have to do it this offseason.
It’s the most important decision they will make as one.