Thomas Davis thought about retiring once. It was 2018 and the linebacker even went on the NFL Network to announce the forthcoming season would be his last.
But that was two years — and two teams — ago.
The new Redskins linebacker said he gave no consideration this offseason to hanging up his cleats, a year after he first changed his mind about walking away. After the Los Angeles Chargers released him last month, the 37-year-old knew he still wanted to play football and he quickly found a suitor in the Redskins.
Washington coach Ron Rivera brought on Davis to help instill a new culture as the two spent eight years together in Carolina.
Rivera, though, also expects Davis to contribute in areas beyond setting an example.
“Thomas fit that (culture),” Rivera said, “but Thomas is also very productive.”
When Rivera watched Davis’ tape from the 2019 season, he said he saw the three-time Pro Bowler still playing at a “very high level.” Davis posted gaudy statistical lines game after game — recording 112 tackles, 23rd-most in the league — and was on the field often. Davis took 805 snaps, or 82.8% of Los Angeles’ defensive plays.
Davis’ play was enough for Rivera to offer his former team captain a one-year, $3.5 million deal to join the Redskins. The three-time Pro Bowler will join a crowded linebacker room featuring a mix of young (Cole Holcomb, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Reuben Foster) and experienced (Jon Bostic, Kevin-Pierre Louis) players.
Davis said he’s excited not only to reunite with Rivera but because of the talent Washington has on the defensive side of the ball.
“The pieces are in place to be successful,” Davis said. “When you look at in particularly defense, you look at the front four that these guys have assembled and not only the front four, I kind of look at the top six or eight guys I feel like are capable of going out and completely wrecking the game.
“As a linebacker, you want to play behind guys that are capable of doing that, that allows you to be free, that allows you to make plays.”
The Redskins’ defense didn’t live up to expectations in 2019. Despite the apparent talent, Washington finished 24th in defensive DVOA (efficiency) and 27th in points allowed per game. The unit also ranked last in the league of getting off the field, giving up 48.9% of opportunities on third down.
Davis hints that the problems were due in part to the team’s former coaching staff. He used his “good friend” Josh Norman as an example, saying his former teammate had a rough season. But Rivera “knows how to do a good job of getting the best out of every position and every player,” Davis said.
But players have to buy into the system, he said.
“You start to create your identity and who you’re going to become and what you’re going to be in practice,” Davis said. “You just have to change the way you practice, you have to make practice harder than the game.
“That’s something that we’ve done under Coach Rivera for a long time, and it’s shown.”
Davis knows what to expect from Rivera, but his Redskins’ tenure won’t be entirely familiar. The longtime veteran noted how Washington’s defense will be run by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio — not Rivera’.
In Los Angeles, Davis learned a new defense. He expects to do the same this year.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to be right back in the system that you’re familiar with,’ but at the same time, it’s Jack Del Rio’s defense, so there’s going to be a learning curve and it’s something that we are all going to have to go through as defensive players,” Davis said. “We’re excited about it, I know I am, and I’m pretty sure the other guys are as well.”