PHOENIX – Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera said they never considered pursuing Lamar Jackson but, despite professing excitement about Sam Howell, he hasn’t ruled out drafting a quarterback in the first round.
Rivera and the Commanders have maintained all offseason that they were never in the Jackson sweepstakes, one year after aggressively pursuing quarterbacks and trading for Carson Wentz.
However, because of financial considerations involving the Ravens QB and what the Commanders think of Howell, they opted to take a different route this offseason.
Rivera has said time and again that Howell will begin spring workouts as the No. 1 quarterback. But he also has said that Howell, who started one game and attempted 19 passes as a rookie last season, still has to earn the starting job.
He’ll compete with Jacoby Brissett, signed during free agency, for the position.
“If Jacoby earns it, I’ll play Jacoby,” Rivera said Tuesday.
But, Rivera said, they haven’t ruled out a third competitor: a quarterback drafted in the first round. On Monday, Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew said, “We’re moving forward with Sam and Jacoby.” Later, he said, “We feel good about our quarterback situation.”
However, the franchise has had a different opening day starting quarterback each of the past six seasons. Rivera has started eight different quarterbacks in his first three seasons.
That’s why they would at least consider taking a quarterback with the 16th pick, though it’s uncertain if any of the top quarterbacks would still be available.
“We have to look at every avenue and every opportunity,” Rivera said. “We want to make a decision on the best player for us, the best player available. It’s two-fold because the best player could be a different position, but the best player could be that position. We’ll see.”
While Washington will keep that option open, it won’t entertain Jackson. Baltimore placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, allowing other teams to negotiate with him – but the Ravens would be able to match any offer or else receive two first-round picks in return.
“We never did,” Rivera said when asked if they looked into Jackson. “We didn’t feel it suited what we wanted to do. I know he’s a tremendous talent. I know he’s a player that can impact your team. I just didn’t think… that was the direction for us as a team.”
Washington entered the offseason with approximately $13 million in salary cap room. But the Commanders also wanted to sign defensive tackle Daron Payne to an extension, accomplishing that goal before free agency began. Payne agreed to a four-year deal with $59 million guaranteed and worth up to $90 million.
They had signed receiver Terry McLaurin to a three-year extension with $53 million guaranteed and worth up to $68.4 million. They also will attempt to extend players such as defensive end Montez Sweat and safety Kam Curl at some point this offseason. Those decisions also could hinge on what a new owner wants or permits.
But, Rivera said, had they changed plans knowing Jackson would be available, their roster would look different.
“Now you want to do something different and it may impact those dynamic playmakers, that front you’re trying to build,” Rivera said “We’re roster building for the first time and feel real good about being able to do the things we’re doing right now.”
By having a quarterback on a rookie contract like Howell, Rivera said it enabled them to build a stronger roster.
“When you bring in a player with a big number, it impacts you and now what do you have to give up? Who do you have to let go?” Rivera said. “That’s something we didn’t want to do, letting specific players go that we brought in for specific reasons.
“We’re in position where we can sign guys because of the quarterback situation. We have a moderate hit from that position, which allows us to do some things we did.”
Brissett signed a one-year deal worth up to $9 million. They also have quarterback Jake Fromm under contract for $940,000.
Howell is under contract for three more seasons, but if he plays the way Washington hopes, it would have to pay big money to keep him around.
“But we can plan for that at that point and go from there,” Rivera said. “That might be considered kicking the can down the road a little bit because we’re not at that position where we have to decide who goes and who stays.”
Washington drafted Howell in the fifth round last spring, but one source said before the draft that, had the Commanders not traded for Wentz, they would have targeted him in the second or third round. Rivera said they saw growth in him during the season, specifically in decision-making.
“We think Sam will be a good football player, we really do,” Rivera said. “I don’t think this is as much a wild shot as people think it is. Part of it is because you watch a young man like [San Francisco’s Brock] Purdy have the season he had last year and you’d like to think, ‘Wow, we have a guy with that same type of ability and skill set.'”