- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2022

ASHBURN — Mike Vrabel made a declaration. In early April, the Tennessee Titans coach was asked in a radio interview if his team would ever trade star wide receiver A.J. Brown. And Vrabel answered decisively:  “Not as long as I’m the head coach.” 

Brown was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles weeks later, Vrabel’s job still intact. 

That being said, Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera on Wednesday sounded just as definitive as Vrabel once did. Rivera, unprompted, told reporters that he would not entertain moving on from Terry McLaurin amid a contract dispute. 

“We’re not trading Terry,” Rivera said.

The wide receiver market has exploded this offseason. And as a result, some teams like the Titans ultimately decided it would be more beneficial to recoup assets for their star player rather than pay him a massive contract. 

But as McLaurin’s holdout continued Wednesday, Rivera offered almost nothing but support for the 26-year-old who is in the last year of his contract. The coach said the Commanders have been engaged with McLaurin and his agent for the past week, again expressing optimism that an agreement will eventually be reached. 

“Everything we’re doing is we’re trying to get this done,” Rivera said. “We intend to do this because we believe in who Terry is for us and what he can bring to the table.”

Of course, there’s a major difference between Rivera and Vrabel even though they uttered similar sentiments. Vrabel, unlike Rivera, does not have a major say in the Titans’ personnel. That job belongs to Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson — who only said he did not foresee a trade happening when asked about the possibility of trading Brown. That was hardly a “heck no.” 

The Commanders have a general manager in Martin Mayhew, but the executive and his staff report to Rivera. 

Rivera said he hopes he can reach a deal with McLaurin in part to send a message to the rest of the team.

“Everybody understands this is the type of player we want,” Rivera said.

He used a similar justification when agreeing to long-term deals with tight end Logan Thomas and Jonathan Allen last summer.

Neither Thomas nor Allen chose to skip mandatory minicamp as the 2019 third-rounder has. But Thomas, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal, said he understands McLaurin’s holdout as someone who had to fight to earn every new contract in the NFL. Thomas bounced around the league before finding stability in Washington. 

“The NFL is going to use you,” Thomas said. “You got to get yours. …You got one chance, man, you got one opportunity to make a contract in this league. And Terry’s a great dude, great player, great kid, great person, a person I care about a lot. And do your thing, Terry, you get what you deserve. And the time will come, whether it’s this year, next year, or whenever the time comes, that he’ll get what he deserves.” 

So far, the Commanders and McLaurin haven’t been able to agree on what “deserves” actually translates to in terms of money. Will McLaurin’s deal cross the $25 million average that Brown, the Rams’ Cooper Kupp, the Raiders’ Davante Adams and the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill have all gotten this offseason?  

Brown, in particular, was drafted the same year as McLaurin and has posted similar stats. McLaurin holds the edge in yards (3,090 to 2,995) and receptions (222 to 185), while Brown has more touchdowns (24 to 16) and a better yards per catch average (16.2 to 13.9). 

If Rivera does go back on his word, the Commanders would likely fetch quite the return for McLaurin. The Eagles gave up the 18th and 101st overall picks for Brown. The Raiders sent No. 22 and No. 53 to the Green Bay Packers for Adams. The Chiefs netted five picks — a first, second and fourth in 2022 and a fourth and sixth in 2023 — from the Miami Dolphins for superstar Tyreek Hill.

Yet, Rivera said he believes negotiations are headed in the right direction.

“It is never contentious,” Rivera said. “I can promise you that much. So, we’re feeling pretty good and pretty confident at some point, this will get done.”

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

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