- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 28, 2021

RICHMOND —  There were times during negotiations that, no matter how much he tried to keep his cool, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen found himself “emotional” over the way talks with Washington were progressing. Logan Thomas, similarly, thought the team’s opening offer was not “what I thought I could have had.”

Business in the NFL is rarely easy. So when the two men each signed extensions with the franchise, Allen and Thomas said they were relieved. All that hand-wringing and back-and-forth dialogue finally paid off. 

“I know Jon said, ‘Washington for life!” said Thomas, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal. “That’s exactly how I feel as well.”

For Washington, there was an importance in getting the contracts done for reasons that go beyond trying to retain a couple of good football players. So much of coach Ron Rivera’s team-building philosophy comes down to culture, and in his two years with the franchise, Rivera had yet to open up the checkbook to keep any of the team’s stars from leaving — until now. 

As Washington concluded its first training camp practice Wednesday, Rivera admitted to having concerns about his team’s “maturity” this season. Would they be able to handle the success from last season’s trip to the playoffs and continue to grow? Well, keeping Allen (four years, $72 million) and Thomas should help ease Rivera’s concerns. 

Last year, Allen and Thomas were instrumental in setting an example by showing teammates what Rivera wanted from players. Allen, a defensive captain, was a leader in the locker room. Thomas, a career journeyman, showed how a player can thrive in an expanded role when putting in the work. 

Rivera arguably needed these deals to happen. For two years, the coach, who has major say over personnel matters, had been unable to lock down All-Pro Brandon Scherff — who is the same type of leader-by-example player as Allen and Thomas. Unable to reach a long-term deal with Scherff, Washington opted to franchise tag the guard twice and instead will risk him losing next year in free agency. 

Essentially, Rivera can now point to the signings as a path to follow.

“It’s what it tells the other players, the other guys,” Rivera said. “We’re trying to find ways to keep as many as our guys around, guys that we believe fit us and are the right type of guys that fit into the culture that we’re trying to create. That’s important for those guys to understand.” 

At practice, Washington looked out of sorts, at times. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick mistimed passes with receivers. The offensive line struggled with the defensive front, leading to batted balls and would-be sacks (There’s no touching of the quarterback in practice). Other small details were off, here and there.

But as Rivera watched, he said he was pleased with the effort. He could see Washington taking the first steps in building it all over again, just like he wanted.

“I want to make sure we understand that you don’t just show up and pick up where you left off,” Rivera said. “I want to make sure we have to work our way back to where we were last season and play to that ability.”

Maybe it’s no coincidence, then, that Allen echoed the same during his session with reporters. “We’re starting from the bottom,” he said. 

Sure, part of that sentiment stems from a long-running football cliche — every season is one of its own. But there have been plenty of moments when young teams crumble, in part, because of preseason expectations. Just look at the 2019 Cleveland Browns, who didn’t even make the playoffs after being seen as contenders. 

Allen and Thomas get that message. They have both been shaped by their experiences not to take anything for granted — whether it was Allen watching five-star recruits in college at Alabama benched for other five-star recruits or Thomas overcoming being cut 12 times by four teams before arriving in Washington.

“We are both guys from Virginia,” Thomas said. “We understand what Washington is like. We understand the legacy of the old school or what it was in the ‘90s or early 2000s. Some of the struggles, some of the highs, the lows, we respect that.

“We want to see this program be the best it possibly can be for a long time.” 

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