- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2022

ASHBURN — For two seasons, Ron Rivera has resorted to Plan B at the quarterback position. When Dwayne Haskins failed to pan out, in Rivera’s Year 1, the Washington coach turned to Kyle Allen, Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke. In Year 2, he brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick as a temporary fix — only to turn to Heinicke again after Fitzpatrick’s season-opening (and ending) hip injury. 

Rivera knows he can’t get by on duct tape for much longer. 

Entering a pivotal offseason, Rivera said Tuesday he would explore “all avenues” to find an answer at quarterback. This time around, Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew said they believe Washington’s roster is in a better place — the team has roughly $60 million in available salary-cap space — that should allow them to be more aggressive when it comes to finding an upgrade.

A year ago, Washington explored trading for a quarterback — before free agency and then in the draft — but ultimately balked at the cost each time. Rivera justified those decisions by telling reporters that the team didn’t want to “mortgage the future.” He later said Washington would focus on building the rest of the supporting cast, so that the quarterback would be the missing piece when the time comes. 

That time could be soon approaching.

“We feel very good about the roster,” Rivera said. “We do. We like the things that we’ve done. We like the guys that we have. We feel there are a couple spots that we most certainly do feel we need to upgrade.  Just a few. And so again, putting ourselves in the right type of situation, I think is what we’re doing.”

Of course, Rivera’s comments could come off as somewhat disconnected, given that the team actually regressed in 2021. The team finished 7-10 and missed the playoffs, a disappointment since Washington clinched the NFC East the year prior. Rivera, though, saw positives in the depth at tight end and along the offensive line, the latter of which performed especially well.

But Rivera knows there are high expectations for Year 3. And in order for him to meet them, upgrading at quarterback figures to be the key. The question becomes what route Washington wants to take.

In 2020, Washington attempted to trade for Matthew Stafford, now the Rams starter who cost Los Angeles first- and third-round draft picks. If the team wanted to explore the trade market again, veteran names that could be available include Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Las Vegas’ Derek Carr, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins (heh) and Houston’s Deshaun Watson. 

Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler, would be the most controversial of that bunch. The 26-year-old was a healthy scratch for the entire season after more than 20 women accused him of sexual misconduct. Would Washington, investigated for its own workplace scandal, really be willing to entertain that option? 

Rivera refused to comment on Watson, telling reporters he wouldn’t weigh in on a player currently under contract by another team. But generally, Rivera said Mayhew and his staff do “due diligence” on any acquisition.

This year’s free-agent quarterback class lacks a sure-fire star, but does contain some familiar names: Fitzpatrick, New Orleans’ Jameis Winston, Denver’s Teddy Bridgewater, Chicago’s Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, Las Vegas’ Marcus Mariota and Buffalo’s Mitch Trubisky.

Then, there’s the draft. Washington holds the 11th pick — but the upcoming quarterback class is generally regarded to be weaker than past years with no clear No. 1 option. 

Even if Washington found a prospect it liked — Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral are seen as the top throwers — one has to wonder whether a rookie would appeal to Rivera for what figures to be a must-win year. 

Rivera, though, didn’t dismiss the idea.

“I feel we have a pretty good nucleus right here that if we did do that with a rookie, I wouldn’t be afraid to play him because you’re bringing them here for one reason — that’s to play,” Rivera said, later adding, “If we do that, we’re doing that to play him. I’m not doing it to have him wait, because … the third season is when you take another step.”

Rivera followed a similar playbook at his previous stop in Carolina, where he started Cam Newton from the get-go. The difference is that Newton was the first overall pick, a luxury that Washington does not have. 

When the Panthers made the leap from 7-9 to 12-4 in Rivera’s third season, they were able to do so in large part because of the growth from Newton — the type of signal-caller that Washington just hasn’t been able to find. 

“We’ve started the process,” Mayhew said of finding a quarterback. “We’ve been talking about this for several months now and how we move forward. Every avenue (to) uncover every stone. We look at every situation out there and try to find the right guy.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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