John KeimESPN staff writer5 minutes of reading
Phoenix — Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera said they never considered going after Lamar Jackson, but despite expressing excitement about Sam Howell, he didn’t rule out drafting a quarterback in the first round.
Rivera and the Commanders have maintained all offseason that Jackson was never in the sweepstakes, and a year later they aggressively pursued quarterbacks and traded for Carson Wentz.
However, due to financial considerations regarding the Ravens QB and what the commanders thought of Howell, they chose a different route this offseason.
Rivera has repeatedly said that Howell will begin spring workouts as the No. 1 quarterback. But he also said Howell, who started one game and attempted 19 passes as a freshman last season, should still earn the starting job.
He will compete with Jacoby Brissett. Signed during free agencyto the post.
“If Jacoby earns it, I’ll play Jacoby,” Rivera said Tuesday.
Rivera also said they haven’t ruled out a third contender: a quarterback drafted in the first round. “We’re moving forward with Sam and Jacoby,” Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew said Monday. Later, he said, “We feel good about our quarterly situation.”
However, each quarter over the last six seasons has had a different opening day franchise. Rivera started eight different quarterbacks in his first three seasons.
That’s why they’ll consider taking a quarterback with at least the 16th pick, although it’s uncertain whether any top quarterbacks will be available yet.
“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 available player. It’s twofold because the best player can be in a different position, but the best player can be in that position. We’ll see.”
While Washington is keeping that option open, it doesn’t please Jackson. Baltimore placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, allowing other teams to negotiate with him — but the Ravens could match any offer or receive two first-round picks in exchange.
“We never did,” Rivera said when asked if they had seen Jackson. “We didn’t realize what we wanted to do. I know he’s an amazing talent. I know he’s a player who can impact your team. I don’t think … it was the direction we had as a team. .”
Washington entered the offseason with about $13 million in salary cap space. But the Chiefs wanted to sign defensive tackle Darren Payne to an extension, accomplishing that goal before free agency even began. Payne agreed to a four-year contract worth $59 million guaranteed and $90 million.
Signed receiver Terry McClarin to a three-year extension worth $53 million guaranteed and $68.4 million. They will look to extend players like defensive end Montez Swett and safety Kamren Curl at some point this offseason. Those decisions may depend on what a new owner wants or allows.
But Rivera said if they had changed plans knowing Jackson would be available, their roster would have been different.
“Now you want to do something else that can affect those dynamic playmakers before you try to create,” Rivera said. “We’re making the list for the first time, and we feel really good about doing the things we’re doing right now.”
Rivera said if a new franchise wants to explore other options at quarterback, “of course we should. But again, we’ll do them when they come to us.”
Having a quarterback on a rookie deal like Howell helped them build a strong roster, Rivera said.
“When you bring in a player in big numbers, it affects you, now what do you have to give up? Who do you have to give up?” Rivera said. “It’s something we don’t want to do, let go of specific players that we brought in for specific reasons.
“We’re in a position to sign guys because of the quarterback situation. We’ve had moderate success from that position, which allows us to do some of the things we’ve done.”
Brissett signed a one-year contract worth $9 million. They also have quarterback Jake Fromm under a $940,000 contract.
Howell has three more seasons under contract, but if he plays the way Washington hopes he will, it will cost him big to keep him around.
“But at that point we can plan it and go from there,” Rivera said. “It could be seen as kicking the can down the road a little bit, because we’re not in a position where we have to decide who should go and who should stay.”
Washington drafted Howell in the fifth round last spring, but a source said before the draft that if the Chiefs hadn’t traded for Wentz, they would have targeted him in the second or third round. Rivera said they saw growth during the season, especially in decision-making.
“We think Sam will be a good football player. We really do,” Rivera said. “I don’t think it’s as wild a shot as people think. Part of it is because you’re looking at a young man. [San Francisco’s Brock] Purdy has the season he had last year and you want to think, ‘Wow, we have a guy with that same kind of skill and ability.’