“We sat back and listened,” Coach Ron Rivera said.
Then they hung up and did nothing.
“We didn’t think seriously about making any move,” General Manager Martin Mayhew said.
This is a different kind of Washington team, one ruled less by impetuousness and more by the kind of reasoning that has worked in other cities. Just two years ago, with a need for a new franchise quarterback, owner Daniel Snyder pushed his front office to draft Dwayne Haskins over the protests of the team’s scouts and coaches. On Thursday, with Haskins gone and the need for the quarterback of the future still there, Snyder appeared to let Rivera’s staff hang up on the calls. Instead, Washington followed the draft board carefully constructed by its scouting staff, stayed with the 19th overall pick and selected Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis — a player Rivera described as a “fit.”
Who knows how much pressure Snyder put on Rivera to draft the team’s next big quarterback Thursday night. Snyder has always been enamored by exciting quarterbacks such as Haskins, Jeff George and Robert Griffin III, all of whom eventually turned into disasters. This year’s draft was particularly overinflated with quarterback hype. Yet when pressed on the idea of trading up, Rivera said there were only “a couple” of players who the front office considered worthy of dealing a hefty number of draft picks to get. They might not have even been quarterbacks.
“They were guys we felt could help our football team,” was all Rivera would say.
All winter, Rivera talked about not wanting “to mortgage the future” of his team, believing it has a core of gifted young players who could be part of a Super Bowl contender if the rest of the roster is carefully built. It has been the guiding philosophy for how he has reconstructed the team, matching careful, low-risk free agent signings with an earnest reliance on the draft board.
“If you get to a point where … in my opinion you give up too much for the wrong guy and you say, ‘We need a guy [at a particular position],’ well, how badly do we need him that we’re going to handicap us at another position?” Rivera said Thursday night.
“So you have to do it judiciously,” he added.
On Thursday night that meant ignoring the lure of the first-round quarterbacks and trusting a draft board that both Rivera and Mayhew described as being “stacked” well by the scouting staff. It meant not dealing next year’s first-round pick — and perhaps much more — to make a move for a quarterback for whom there didn’t appear to be unanimous support inside team headquarters.
It meant saving next year’s choices while adding a needed player in Thursday’s first round.
“For us, draft picks are very valuable,” Mayhew said. “It’s a means to get younger, to get faster and, honestly, with the salary cap, to get cheaper. … We want to build this team through the draft and supplement our draft process through free agency. For us as a football team right now, we see investing in this group with draft picks will make us better and make us better fast.”
In the end, they took Davis, a player Rivera coveted not only for his speed and 6-foot-3, 234-pound body but for his intelligence and the way he talked as much about his team and teammates at Kentucky as he did himself. That told Rivera that Davis would be unselfish and willing to learn — something the coach values as much as talent.
Perhaps Washington will pick its next great quarterback later in the draft. Maybe that player won’t come along at all this year. In the meantime, Rivera will continue to “put pieces in place,” as he said Thursday night, adding Texas offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi in Friday’s second round and Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste and North Carolina wide receiver Dyami Brown in the third.
That could mean adding desperately needed depth on the offensive line or more linebackers, safeties or cornerbacks. It might mean continuing to carefully build, filling roster holes in hopes winning soon follows.
After a free agency period in which Washington got a temporary quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, a starting wide receiver in Curtis Samuel and a cover corner in William Jackson III, it added a linebacker who could be a difference-maker.
“We felt very comfortable,” Mayhew said of the draft board that led the team to Davis.
On a night when the phone rang with the kind of temptation that would have blown up many of the team’s draft boards in the past, Washington barely listened.