(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)
Q. After you brought in Executive Vice President of Football/Player Personnel Marty Hurney and General Manager Martin Mayhew, when did discussions begin about how you wanted to attack the offseason?
A. Let’s just start with bringing Marty and Martin in. In sitting down with Mr. [Daniel] Snyder and interviewing both of them, [we] came to the conclusion that if it’s possible to have them both, can we? So we decided to do that.
One of the things we talked about was team speed. Getting faster, period. If there was something that we were concerned about, it was that. The next thing we talked about was at wide receiver and at defensive back. We also talked about shoring up the depth, the emphasis being on position flex, predominantly on the offensive line, and then saying, “If we’re going to try and build this roster and try and keep as many of our current guys that we can that we’ve drafted — they’ve played very big roles for us — how can we do that?”
The biggest thing [was] to make sure that we have guys that fit the salary structure that we’re hoping to build and maintain, and make sure that we hit on those guys in the draft.
Q. So your initial plan was to hire one GM?
A. We thought we would roll with a GM and an assistant GM, not knowing which one would be which, if any of them, for that matter. The nice thing about it is we found two guys that were very similar in personality and in attitude in terms of roster building.
It’s also kind of what led us to promote [senior director of player personnel] Eric Stokes. Here’s a guy that’s like-minded as well, that had worked with Marty. Then we went out and we looked at Chris [Polian], our pro personnel director, and with Chris having his experience as a GM, we saw the opportunity to bring these guys in that had very diverse yet similar backgrounds, who share the same type of attitude toward personnel.
Q. Who was involved in the bigger roster decisions?
A. Myself, Martin, Marty. Eric, [director of college personnel] Tim Gribble, Chris Polian and [senior vice president of football administration] Rob Rogers. So seven of us.
Q. You have five people who were GMs or assistant GMs. That’s a lot of experience, but also a lot of strong voices in one room. Is there a balance there?
A. Well, the nice thing is at the end of the day, the responsibility goes back to me. … I think that, for the most part, that allows those guys to be free in their conversation and in their discussion. I’ve told them that. I said the other day, “If we make a decision and we go with it, it all falls back on my shoulders.”
Q. How much of your approach to this year is due to the defense’s play last year, to where you can rely more on that side? Did that group exceed your expectations?
A. I would say they exceeded my expectations. But looking at what’s gone on in the league lately — I love what they did in San Francisco as far as their defense, and I love what they’ve built in Buffalo. I’ve got close ties to both those guys, [Bills Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane], so I talk to those guys and I listen to what they have to say. It’s interesting because I watched [Kansas City Chiefs Coach Andy] Reid and saw what Coach has done.
If you can keep that defensive front as strong as possible, it’s going to help your secondary. What Buffalo did with their secondary and their middle linebacker, they got guys that can all run, so that was the thought on defensive speed. But then you look at Kansas City and look at all that speed they got everywhere, at all their positions on offense, you sit there and go, “Man, we want to be fast like that.”
Then shoring up the offensive line, a great example of not having enough depth — and I don’t know if Kansas City could’ve had enough depth, because of all the injuries they had — but [the Chiefs’ loss in the Super Bowl] just showed me how important all that was.
Having conversations, they either added on to or reaffirmed what I’ve been thinking and that was we had to get faster — on the defensive side in the secondary, and the offensive side at our skill positions — and we had to make sure we have as much quality depth on the offense line.
Q. Where did quarterback come in with those early conversations?
A. That was one of the topics when I was talking to all the [GM] candidates [to] see where everybody was at. The two guys that were probably the most similar were Martin and Marty. It was either, “Hey, we got to go out and identify that guy in the draft right away, and what are we willing to give up if we do that?” And two is, “If we don’t want to give that up, where can we be with our quarterback situation if we got a veteran guy?”
Q. So was Stafford “Plan A?”
A. Stafford and Ryan and a couple of those other guys I can’t name because it’s tampering. As you remember, the Stafford [trade from the Lions to the Rams] went very quickly. So we had to finish the rest of our discussions in terms of do we want to go really young, young, or do we continue to look for that veteran guy?
Q. Was it preferable to get a veteran?
A. Yes, because of what it potentially would have cost us [to trade up in the draft]. To do the things that we want to do, we’ve got to hit on draft picks right now because that helps keep your salary cap in control.
Q. Going into the draft, were you still eyeing a quarterback if the price was right, or had your focus shifted to other positions?
A. I think for right now, the focus has shifted to shoring up the rest of the positions. Again, there’s nothing that says Ryan Fitzpatrick can’t be the guy for a while. If this dude continues to play at the level he has and with Brady showing everybody that these veteran guys can do it — just ask Phil Mickelson, he’ll tell you — then why not? Why would we want to move on?
At the same time, we have a guy we have confidence in in Taylor [Heinicke], we have confidence in Kyle [Allen], and we got a very young player in Steven Montez. So we’re kind of in an interesting position right now.
Q. Did signing Fitzpatrick influence other free agent decisions?
A. We were looking for that speed receiver and Curtis [Samuel] was always on our mind. Our concern was Curtis was going to go right away. When things slowed down on the wide receiver market, we thought, “Wait a minute,” and then that’s when we pursued Curtis.
We wanted to try to re-sign Ronald Darby, but with William Jackson still sitting out there, we said, “Hey, let’s take another look,” and we did. That was great because that conversation I had with Mr. Snyder and explained to him what we’d want to do and how we want to do it and that it wouldn’t impact us in a negative fashion as far as the cap was concerned, he was all for it: “Go for it. Do what you need to do, Coach. We’re good with it.”
Signing both guys helped create the ripple effect for Adam Humphries, as far as being able to add another piece to what we think is going to be a very good offensive puzzle. With the vertical speed that we now have and then drafting Dyami [Brown] and getting Dax Milne, we think we added some pretty good receiving pieces. We got [Antonio Gandy-Golden] who’s out there, we’ve got Cam Sims who’s out there. We got some really good pieces going forward.
Q. Were there Day 1 quarterbacks you really liked and were willing to make a move to get?
A. Oh yeah. I can’t go into who they are for league reasons. One for sure. The asking price was just too much. … We don’t feel a need to mortgage the future.
Q. So were you all in on one prospect? Any disagreement?
A. We were in on probably one guy for sure. There was one other guy we were looking at closely. If the circumstances had suited us, it could have worked. But the biggest thing we had to look at was how it was going to impact our future.
Q. For young quarterbacks especially, it seems like nowadays they’re asked to achieve the impossible. If they’re not stars immediately, they’re quickly written off. How do you handle that as a coach, in trying to patiently develop young players while also trying to win now?
A. That’s where the friction comes between the NFL and NFLPA in the offseason workout program, in my opinion. When you get guys like that, you got to get them here. You’ve got to give them an opportunity to grow and develop as quickly as possible.
I get it. Veteran guys, they know what to do. Great. Fine. But remember, it’s all voluntary. The only thing you’ve got to show up to is mandatory minicamp. We’re not holding anything against anybody. But the truth of the matter is, we have to work with Jamin [Davis], we have to work with Sam Cosmi, we have to work with guys like that to get them trained, and to be able to have them here and interacting with as many guys as possible only helps us.
Q. Why did you feel Jamin Davis was the must-have player at the 19th pick?
A. You have to have linebackers who can run. [When] we were in Carolina, we had Luke [Kuechly] and we had Thomas Davis. What we lacked was that third guy that could run, just flat out run, because if something were to happen to Luke or Thomas, we’d be deficient at that position. The speed takes a guy from being a solid player to being an impact player, in my opinion. When we were in Carolina, we did that one year and, lo and behold, that guy [Shaq Thompson], his rookie year he becomes part of our crew and we got better.
At that position, we were looking for a high-impact guy, and that’s who Jamin was as far as we were concerned.
Q. What is your hope at quarterback? Do you believe you can go as far as you want to go with this setup, cycling through short-term veterans? Or are you still hopeful of getting a younger QB for the long term?
A. I think we’re in a good spot. Like I said, there’s nothing that says right now that, if things go well with Ryan, why wouldn’t we want to bring that guy back? Or if Taylor ends up being the guy, why wouldn’t we want that guy to be the guy for a while?
Do we want a quarterback of the future? Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And ideally, it’d be a guy that could sit back and watch and you could be patient with him.
Q. Do you worry about the window closing on the defense?
A. Whether you can extend that window talks about whether or not you could draft well to replace those guys. When I was in Carolina, we had guys that, if they had been healthy, if they had worked out, we could have taken that window and stretched it. But it didn’t work that way.
I think there are windows. But you try to keep that window open as much as possible by being successful in replacing players.
Q. So if Year 1 in Washington was about setting your standard and establishing the culture, what is the focus of Year 2?
A. Making sure that everybody we have buys into it now. Culture, for the most part, has been established. Now everybody has to be committed. In a commitment, you’re either in or you’re out. There’s no halfway, and that’s one of the things that we got to get across to these guys. “Guys, we need everybody here.”
Next is inundating the new guys, making sure they understand this is how we do things. We do things this specific way because we believe in what we do and what we’re teaching.