So no fancy dinner in Ashburn. Not that night.
Instead, Leno hopped on a flight home late Monday and walked in the house around 2 a.m., leaving him and his family little time to decide their future before welcoming another child.
“I wanted to make a decision on where I want to go before that time so we know exactly what we’re going to do,” Leno said in an interview Wednesday. “And that’s what we did. It’s been a whirlwind of a week, and those couple of days my phone was blowing up nonstop.”
Roughly 24 hours before baby Oaklynn arrived, Leno agreed to a one-year deal with Washington that is worth up to $5 million and probably will make him its new starting left tackle. He officially signed after returning from the hospital, holding his newborn daughter in one arm, 11-month-old daughter Carsynn in the other. All three wore custom Washington T-shirts that his wife, Jennifer, made.
“I had my own little signing party,” he said.
In the span of two weeks, Leno’s life changed completely. The starting left tackle for the Chicago Bears was released after the team drafted tackle Tevin Jenkins in the second round. Leno had one year left on his deal with Chicago but also a significant salary cap charge and suddenly a young replacement. So just as NFL rosters were filling out, he became a free agent for the first time.
“It was a crazy experience,” he said. “One of the biggest things that you have to do playing in the NFL, especially at the left tackle position I believe, is compartmentalize. I think that’s the biggest thing that I do well. How do you eliminate those bad plays ...? How do you block it out and move on to that next play?
“That’s something that I had to do in that week span. Right when I got released, we thought my wife was going to give birth right then and there.”
But with his family on the forefront of his mind, Leno, 29, began to parse his NFL options, factoring in livability with a young family, scheme fit, team “culture” fit, city fit, even field fit.
“People don’t think about this much, but a grass field — I need that,” he said. “I’m getting older in my career. I don’t want to be on turf that much.”
Leno said “a handful” of teams showed interest in him as a free agent, but he chose Washington for a slew of reasons. Among them: He didn’t want to move to right tackle, as some teams might have wanted.
Although Rivera has stressed competition across the roster in training camp, Leno appears to have the inside track to start at left tackle; he has experience no other tackle on the roster has (94 starts), especially if it moves on from current right tackle Morgan Moses. The team is letting Moses seek a trade partner, but will probably release him if no deal is reached, ending his seven-year run with the team just as Leno’s begins.
During his visit with the team May 10, Leno met with Coach Ron Rivera, General Manager Martin Mayhew, team president Jason Wright, offensive coordinator Scott Turner and offensive line coach John Matsko. What he found were like-minded coaches who were developing a culture he believed in and instilled teachings already familiar to him. In 2018 and 2019 in Chicago, Leno’s offensive line coach was Harry Hiestand, who was an assistant to Matsko at the University of Southern California in 1987 and 1988.
“So he took a lot of concepts that Matsko uses, and that’s one thing that I really enjoy because I know those concepts,” Leno said. “So it won’t take me a long time to figure out how to adjust.”
The chance to work with Rivera, whom Leno describes as more of a “life coach” than a football coach, was among the bigger selling points. So, too, was the trajectory of the team after it won the NFC East with a 7-9 record last season.
“I remember watching games last year and watching how competitive this team was,” Leno said. “Nobody gave this team a shot last year, and they ended up winning the division and going to the playoffs and actually being competitive in the playoffs. That let me know right then and there that this is a team I want to be with. I’m a very competitive person, and I want to match that, if not intensify that, when I come here.”
Throughout his visit, though, Leno’s mind was mostly on his wife, who was on the verge of going into labor. He secretly hoped Oaklynn would wait until he finalized his next NFL stop and secure his next job for the family. Perhaps she already knew.
“I’m pretty sure my little baby Oaklynn was like, ‘I just want Daddy to make sure he takes care of everything else, then I’ll come next,’ ” he said. “She wanted to be the icing on the cake for everything.”
Oaklynn Cali Leno arrived at 1:28 p.m. Thursday, weighing 7 pounds 5 ounces — just big enough for his father to cradle like a football.
“The birth of a child is the greatest experience I’ve had in my life,” Leno said. “Nothing compares to it. It’s just a joy that you feel and a sense of protection that comes over you. That’s what I’ve been doing for my career is being a protector, but it’s a different sense of protector. I just love being a parent and being a father, and especially being a girl dad. Being a girl dad means a lot to me because my favorite athlete is Kobe Bryant, and he was a girl dad.”
Leno expects to join Washington in early June for the final phase of organized team activities and mandatory veteran minicamp. His wife and daughters and their two dogs, Khaleesi and Kobe, will make the move after the summer.
But until then, Leno will be by his family’s side as a girl dad of two.
“I have my three girls now that I have to take care of,” he said. “It’s an all-time great thing.”