Ron Rivera was torn. After leading the team’s general manager search for three weeks, the Washington coach narrowed down the position to two final candidates: Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney. In a meeting, he sought input from owner Dan Snyder.
Snyder suggested hiring both, Rivera said.
“He said, ‘Maybe, we can do something,’” Rivera said. “That was really the genesis of coming to this decision.”
By hiring Mayhew as the team’s general manager and adding Hurney as an executive vice president of player personnel, Washington was willing to commit the resources necessary to do what Rivera and Snyder felt was best for the direction of the franchise. The move was an unorthodox but creative approach as the team looked to add experienced voices to collaborate with Rivera, who is charged with remaking the franchise.
Now, Washington’s newly expanded brain trust must decide if it’s worth it to take a similar path to the team’s biggest need of the offseason: Quarterback.
As Mayhew and Hurney were formally introduced Wednesday, Washington’s plans for the position dominated the conversation. The team notably struck out on acquiring Matthew Stafford from the Lions over the weekend, but the pursuit was a possible indication that Washington could want to go big in order to secure its quarterback of the future.
The team’s new executives were asked if finding a long-term answer at the spot this offseason is “imperative.” And if that’s the case, just what is Washington willing to do to make it happen?
“I don’t know if there is a line,” Mayhew said when asked about deciding how aggressively a team tries to find a solution. “You want to be smart, but want to be aggressive. That’s what our plan is right now.”
Added Hurney: “You want to be aggressive but don’t want to mortgage the future. This is a team game. … You can’t isolate one position, though it’s an extremely important one.”
Rivera said Washington would take a “nice long look” at all options. That includes the draft, the trade market, free agency and the players already on the roster.
“The biggest thing is we’ve got to make sure we find the right one,” Rivera said. “That’s the key. Is it imperative to find right now? Not necessarily. We would love to, but as we go through this process, we’re going to exhaust all avenues. … Are we in a hurry? No. We want to make sure we do this right and get it right.”
A lot figures to ride on Washington’s decision. Rivera agreed that the team’s window to compete has opened following a surprising 7-9 season that resulted in a playoff berth. Washington has a promising young core — and an elite-level, or even above-average, quarterback could be a difference-maker in elevating the team’s championship aspirations.
On Wednesday, Mayhew and Hurney repeatedly praised veteran Alex Smith — often citing his 5-1 record as a starter this past year. Smith, though, has not said whether he plans to play football next season and even, Washington would have to commit to him being on the roster. Rivera gave no assurance that Smith, who turns 37 in May and whose surgically repaired leg hampered him down the stretch, would be under center for Washington. The team can cut Smith and save millions.
Other internal options include Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke. Rivera said Allen, an exclusive rights free agent, is recovering well from ankle surgery and would be back in 2021, a logical option given he’ll make near the minimum ($850,000) if retained. Heinicke, who started Washington’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay, will be a restricted free agent.
The biggest splash Washington could make is by trading for disgruntled starter Deshaun Watson, who has demanded a trade from the Houston Texans. But that cost is likely to be significantly higher than what the Los Angeles Rams paid for Stafford, who fetched two first-round picks, a third and quarterback Jared Goff.
There will also be a number of veteran, mid-tier quarterbacks available in free agency, including Cam Newton — the passer that Hurney drafted first overall when he was the general manager of the Carolina Panthers.
Mayhew said whoever Washington chooses, that player must have “football intelligence” and a handful of other traits like arm talent and leadership.
“One of the most important things is the football character — and that’s all the preparation that goes into it,” Mayhew said. “That’s understanding the game. That’s being mentally tough. That’s having a passion for it. All those things are required in that position. You really can’t cut any corners there.”
Rivera will rely on input from Mayhew and Hurney, who both have past general manager experience. The coach said he decided Washington needed to add a lead executive in the coming offseason by the mid-point of last year. Rivera’s hybrid role stretched him thin and cancer treatments wore him down.
Rivera said Rob Rogers, the team’s salary cap guru, was an unsung “hero” during the year by handling daily administrative tasks, adding he wanted to hire someone to help get Rogers back to his own duties.
So in leading the search, Rivera turned to Mayhew and Hurney — men he’s known for years. Rivera and Hurney, of course, worked together in Carolina. Rivera and Mayhew served on the NFL’s diversity committee and got to know each other there.
The hires represent a homecoming for both men, who each expressed excitement for their new roles. Hurney, a Maryland native, got his start in football with Washington in the late 1980s and Mayhew was a former cornerback for Washington around that same time — the latter winning a Super Bowl with Washington in 1991.
Mayhew said he sees Washington on the “cusp of something special.” But for that to realistically pay off, Washington knows it needs a quarterback.
“The future can be bright if we do it the right way,” Rivera said.