Ron Rivera has stressed for months that Washington isn’t desperate to grab a franchise quarterback. The team brought in journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick on a one-year deal and re-signed Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke as well. That’s why the coach suggested earlier this month that Washington could even wait a “year or two” before addressing the position for the long term.
So it was a mild surprise last week when a former general manager indicated that Washington might be willing to make a bold move to land top quarterback prospect Trey Lance in this month’s draft.
“I think Washington is going to be the next team to unload all their picks to try to get a QB,” former Browns executive Michael Lombardi said on a podcast. “I think they love Lance. I don’t think, I know Washington loves Lance.”
According to Lombardi, if Lance starts to slide past the fourth pick — held by the Atlanta Falcons — then Rivera and Co. will “go get [him].”
Yes, even if Rivera were interested in Lance, he wouldn’t explicitly come out and say so. No coach tips their hand like that. But if Washington does pull the trigger on Lance — and gives up a haul to move up from No. 19 — then that would run contrary to the message that Rivera has sent since arriving in Washington more than a year ago.
Take Rivera’s comments over the past few months on the surface, and it’s hard to believe he’s in a hurry to take such a swing.
“If you do have your franchise quarterback, can you protect him?” Rivera said in February. “Do you have enough playmakers around him? I’d hate to go get a franchise quarterback or have a franchise quarterback and not have enough tools in place to make him efficient.”
In March, he said: “If we try to take one big shot, now you have to start over again, again and again. What we want to do is get to the point where we don’t have to start all over.” And even on April 1, he said: “This could be one of those situations where we put all the other pieces in place and then a year or two from now the right guy is there and we can make that move.”
Granted, Rivera left some wiggle room to change his mind. He told reporters that Washington would see how the draft unfolds and react accordingly, not shutting down the idea they could draft a quarterback.
Rivera, too, says he’s the type of decision-maker to rely on his gut, citing it when benching Dwayne Haskins last year. Maybe Rivera’s gut is telling him that Lance would be the franchise-changing quarterback his team needs to build an annual contender.
But the price tag required to land Lance is likely too costly for Rivera. Just last month, the San Francisco 49ers traded No. 12, two additional first-round picks (2022, 2023) and a 2022 third-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for the third pick. That package — similar to Washington’s trade for Robert Griffin III in 2012 — is much more palatable to a team like San Francisco, which made the Super Bowl in the 2019 season and has a win-now roster. Washington, on the other hand, knows it has holes to fill after a surprising 7-9 season that resulted in a playoff berth.
If Lance starts to slide, Washington would still probably have to give up a lot, especially with quarterback-needy teams like the Denver Broncos (No. 9) and New England Patriots (No. 15) in front of them.
Quarterbacks don’t come cheap. In 2018, the Arizona Cardinals traded No. 15, No. 79 and No. 152 when they moved up to No. 10 to grab Josh Rosen in 2018. That same draft, the Buffalo Bills grabbed Josh Allen at No. 7 by sending No. 12, No. 53 and No. 56 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also sent back No. 255. Since 2016, there have been 18 signal-callers taken in the first round — 11 of which were acquired by a team moving up in the draft.
Of course, this might not be Rivera’s decision to make. Owner Dan Snyder drove the team’s decision to draft Haskins in 2019 and also approved of the Griffin trade in 2012. If Snyder loves Lance, then perhaps Washington moves up. Rivera, though, insists Snyder hasn’t gotten in the way.
“When we went into this free agency, we had a plan,” Rivera said. “We had to change some things and adapt some things. I called (Snyder) and explained what was happening and told him what we wanted to do, and he said: ‘Hey, good luck. Go get it. I’m behind you.’”
Watch Lance’s film and it’s easy to understand why Rivera might be fascinated by the 20-year-old’s talent. Lance dominated at the FCS level, particularly as a dual threat. Lance can keep defenses honest with his legs and according to ESPN, 23% of Lance’s throws came outside the pocket.
Washington also has an ideal situation in place in which Lance could sit for a year and learn behind Fitzpatrick — draft analysts project Lance as needing time to develop, given his only one year of starting experience.
To land Lance, however, Washington would likely have to do something dramatic. And Rivera has said he’s prepared to let the draft unfold.
“At 19 at the middle of the pack, it’s going to be hard to sit here and think if the guys you really like are going to be there,” Rivera said. “If we like them, chances are the people in front of you really, really like them as well. So, we’ll see how that all happens once we get to the draft itself.”
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.