May 6, 2022; Ashburn, Virginia, USA; Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera (R) talks with Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) during Washington Commanders rookie minicamp at Inova Performance Center In Ashburn, VA. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders deny downshift despite DE deals

Washington made waves at the trade deadline on Tuesday by dealing away the Commanders’ two most productive pass rushers this season, former first-round picks Chase Young and Montez Sweat.

Young, the No. 2 pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, was shipped to the San Francisco 49ers for a late third-round pick and Sweat netted Washington a second-round pick in return.

“I’ve gone through this before,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera said. “Do we have that opportunity? I think this is what this is. It’s the same kind of opportunity.”

Rivera said the moves are part of a “paradigm shift” under new ownership. Josh Harris is bringing in elements of analytics and evaluating the merit of a deal like sending Young, in the final year of his contract, to the 49ers for a top-100 pick becomes a black-and-white decision. It also means the Commanders turn to fourth-year defensive ends Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams to start Sunday for Washington (3-5).

“It ain’t like we’re dropping. They’re some good players,” defensive tackle Daron Payne said.

The Commanders might not be ready to look forward, but the future was weighed in both trades. They set Washington up with five picks in the top 100 of the 2024 draft, and the Commanders could have as much as $88 million in salary cap space.

With growing support for quarterback Sam Howell, who makes just over $1 million per season through 2025, the Commanders are in the same maximum flexibility position the 49ers are with $700,000 quarterback Brock Purdy.

“It gives us a chance to spread (money) around and keep some of the guys that we want to keep … go after some of the guys we want to go after [in free agency) and draft who we want to draft,” Rivera said. “That’s pretty good for us going forward.”

–Field Level Media

Jihad Ward of the Giants attempts to sack Sam Howell of the Commanders in the first half. The NY Giants host the Washington Commanders at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on October 22, 2023.

Commanders’ Ron Rivera sticking with QB Sam Howell

Sink or swim, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera maintained his support of starting quarterback Sam Howell despite a 3-4 record and Washington’s seven-point output in a loss to the New York Giants.

“Well, I will tell you this, I’m committed to him and we’ll see how things go,” Rivera said on Monday. “But I can’t predict the future and the only thing I’m going to do is, I’m going to focus in on one game at a time. Because the truth of the matter is, that’s the only thing that matters right now, and that’s getting ready for Philadelphia. Once I get done with this conversation with all you guys, it’ll be on to Philadelphia.”

A fifth-round pick in 2022, Howell is 4-4 in his NFL career and Rivera chose him to start over Jacoby Brissett following a training camp competition based largely on upside.

The Commanders are on record-breaking pace to give up 97 sacks this season with a pressure-allowed percentage of 38.6 percent of dropbacks.

David Carr was sacked 76 times in 16 games as a rookie in 2002.

Howell has been sacked 40 times in seven games this season and was taken down five times in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Giants. He has nine touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2023, but Rivera and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy remain believers.

Rivera said the criticism of Howell isn’t entirely unfair, but made clear the Commanders see more “growth and development” than cause for alarm.

“As long as we have that young quarterback, he’s growing and developing, and we as a team play consistent complementary football, we have a chance,” Rivera said. “We just have to be accountable for what’s happened right now. Step up, develop, grow, and recognize our mistakes and correct those things. And that’s on me. It starts with me and I get that. Believe me, I’ve been doing this for a long time. And I’ll continue to do it as best as I can.”

The Commanders play the Philadelphia Eagles (6-1) at home this week. The Eagles beat Washington, 34-31, on Oct. 1 and sacked Howell five times.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA;  Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels before the game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders’ Josh McDaniels new favorite to be first coach fired

Josh McDaniels is back on the hottest coaching seat in the NFL, at least according to oddsmakers.

The co-favorite before the season by to be the first coach fired, McDaniels earned a reprieve when Las Vegas opened the season with a victory at Denver. However, that victory lost some of its luster due to the Broncos’ ongoing struggles while the Raiders have dropped their past two games.

Three weeks into the season, McDaniels is again the book’s favorite to be the first coach fired at +200.

Just behind him is Matt Eberflus at +225 with Chicago off to an 0-3 start and coming off a blowout loss to Kansas City. A loss at home this weekend to fellow 0-3 Denver would only ratchet the heat up further on Eberflus, who is a combined 3-17 in his second season in the Windy City.

The third-shortest odds belong to Washington’s Ron Rivera at +300. Despite a 2-1 start, the Commanders are coming off an uncompetitive loss at home to Buffalo and the new ownership group has made it clear that Rivera’s fate rests solely on wins and losses. Following a tough trip to Philadelphia in Week 4, Washington plays the Bears at home on a short week before traveling to Atlanta and the New York Giants.

Brandon Staley, who had the shortest odds last week, saw those lengthen to +1100 with the Chargers getting their first win of the season at Minnesota. Conversely, that game also shot the Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell up to +1000 with Minnesota off to an 0-3 start.

Josh McDaniels (+200)
Matt Eberflus (+225)
Ron Rivera (+300)
Kevin O’Connell (+1000)
Brandon Staley (+1100)
Robert Saleh (+1200)
Sean Payton (+2500)
Todd Bowles (+2500)
Mike Vrabel (+2800)
Dennis Allen (+3300)
Mike McCarthy (+3300)
Frank Reich (+5000)
Kevin Stefanski (+5000)
Mike Tomlin (+7500)
Pete Carroll (+7500)
Arthur Smith (+10000)
Bill Belichick (+10000)
Brian Daboll (+10000)
Doug Pederson (+10000)
Jonathan Gannon (+10000)
Matt Lafleur (+10000)
Nick Sirianni (+10000)
Sean McDermott (+10000)
Sean McVay (+10000)
Shane Steichen (+10000)
Zac Taylor (+10000)
DeMeco Ryans (+15000)
John Harbaugh (+15000)
Dan Campbell (+20000)
Mike McDaniel (+50000)
Andy Reid (+100000)
Kyle Shanahan (+100000)

–Field Level Media

Aug 21, 2023; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera on the field against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders owner: ‘Wins on the field’ to decide Ron Rivera’s fate

New Commanders owner Josh Harris needs only one number to decide whether head coach Ron Rivera sticks around: the win total.

Rivera begins his fourth season in Washington with a 22-27-1 record and a goal of getting back to the playoffs.

He’ll have to do it with another new starting quarterback — Sam Howell — which has been the nagging constant since he took over in Washington.

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know coach Rivera,” Harris said Wednesday. “He’s a good man; he’s done a great job in terms of where the team is relative to where it was when he got here and relative to a lot of the distractions going on.

“He has a very capable front office. We’re getting up to speed; we want to hear how you want to learn, how you make decisions. It’s going really well. … Ultimately we have to deliver wins on the field. You don’t need to say anything. It’s just out there. So far, so good.”

Rivera told The Washington Post he and Harris, who grew up in the region attending the team’s games at RFK Stadium, are in full agreement on one thing: the goal is to put a team on the field worthy of the franchise’s long-suffering fan base.

Beyond that, Rivera said he can’t fret his own future while focused on putting a winner on the field.

“If we go 8-8-1 this year and he fires me, and next year they win the division and 40 of the 53 players we drafted, and it’s the same quarterback, I’m vindicated. Send me my Super Bowl ring. That’s the way I look at it,” he told The Post. “I want us to be right and to see this community have that excitement again.”

Howell started one game, the regular-season finale, last season. Rivera sounds optimistic Howell can be a long-term answer to a years-old pain point.

The QB position has been a sore spot with a revolving door of Week 1 starters that weren’t the solution since Kirk Cousins fled to Minnesota in free agency: Carson Wentz (2022), Ryan Fitzpatrick (2021), Dwayne Haskins (2020), Case Keenum (2019), Alex Smith (2018) and Cousins (2017).

Mark Rypien was the last Washington quarterback to start for more than three consecutive seasons (1989-1993).

Every NFC East team reached the playoffs in 2022 with the exception of Washington. The Eagles played in the Super Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys won 12 games and the New York Giants got in to cap a resurgent season under Brian Daboll.

The Commanders fell short with three losses and a tie in their final five games.

–Field Level Media

Jul 28, 2023; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Commanders assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy (R) jokes with Commanders defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina (L) during warmup on day three of Commanders training camp at OrthoVirginia Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Rivera: Commanders players ‘a little concerned’ by Eric Bieniemy’s intensity

A new level of intensity from the new commander over the Washington offense has players “a little concerned,” according to Commanders head coach Ron Rivera.

Rather than discuss their questions with Bieniemy, a vocal and fiery leader hired away from the Kansas City Chiefs, players have taken their issues to Rivera early in training camp.

His advice?

“I said, ‘Hey, just go talk to him,’” Rivera recounted Tuesday. “‘Understand what he’s trying to get across to you.’”

Rivera said he doesn’t expect Bieniemy to tone down the level of intensity because he had success with his coaching style with championship results with the Chiefs.

“It’s not going to change because he believes in it,” Rivera said. “(Defensive coordinator) Jack (Del Rio) has his approach. Having been a head coach, I think Jack has a tendency to try to figure guys out a little bit more as opposed to, ‘Hey, this is it, this is the way it’s going to be.’ That type of stuff. Eric hasn’t had that experience yet.”

Bieniemy was a candidate for multiple head coaching positions in recent years but didn’t land of the NFL’s top 32 jobs.

Rivera said the other side of the equation with coach-player relationships is “young guys, they do struggle with certain things and a lot of it — is from where they’ve been.”

NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes described Bieniemy as “always on” and said he “sets the standard at the highest level” for players.

That doesn’t mean they were always in lockstep. Entering the halftime locker room of an eventual loss to the Indianapolis Colts last season, Mahomes and Bieniemy had an on-field shouting match that both dismissed as frustration.

Bieniemy spent five seasons with the Chiefs before coach Andy Reid allowed him to exit for a play-calling role with Rivera and the Commanders. Rivera and Reid are close friends.

“This is his now,” Reid said of why it made sense for Bieniemy to go to Washington. “He’s working for Ron Rivera, who’s a dear friend, and more of a defensive head coach than offensive head coach, so this allows EB to do his thing, and I’m happy for him.”

–Field Level Media

May 6, 2022; Ashburn, Virginia, USA; Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera (R) talks with Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) during Washington Commanders rookie minicamp at Inova Performance Center In Ashburn, VA. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Rivera senses pressure to make playoffs in Washington

A new team owner brings new expectations, and Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera confessed he feels pressure to make sure Josh Harris gets his money’s worth in 2023.

Harris, approved as owner of the Commanders last week, takes over a team with two playoff wins in the past 24 seasons — all on the watch of previous owner Dan Snyder.

Rivera, 61, went 8-8-1 last season and Washington missed the postseason for the sixth time in the team’s past seven seasons. Rivera is 22-27-1 since Snyder hired him before the 2020 season, and guided the team to the wild-card playoffs that year. He said the Commanders came “too close” the past two seasons not to sense a bit of pressure to make it back to the playoffs.

“Most certainly, I have a lot to prove. We put ourselves in a good position, we have a young team but with some vets in key positions,” Rivera said Tuesday. “I feel like I want to prove myself.”

Harris plans to be on the field observing his team Wednesday and could be involved in multiple facets of the decision-making process Snyder had placed in the purview of president Jason Wright and Rivera.

Rivera said Harris was direct about where the franchise was headed and how soon that direction needed to be established.

“I appreciate how forward he was about that — about winning, about developing, about growing, about culture,” Rivera said.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy leaves the field against the Buffalo Bills prior to the game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Commanders hire Eric Bieniemy as OC, assistant head coach

The Washington Commanders are finalizing a multiyear deal to hire Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to the same position, multiple reports said Friday evening.

In addition to the coordinator role, Bieniemy will serve as Ron Rivera’s assistant head coach, NFL Network reported.

Bieniemy is coming off winning his second Super Bowl as the Chiefs’ coordinator. He worked on Andy Reid’s staff in Kansas City for 10 years, as running backs coach from 2013-17 before his promotion to offensive coordinator in 2018.

Under Bieniemy, the Chiefs ranked first in both total offense and scoring offense in 2022. They were first in both categories in 2018 and never ranked lower than sixth in the league in either statistic in the past five years.

Reid handled most of the play-calling duties for Kansas City, and the offense has flourished since Patrick Mahomes took over at quarterback. A day after the Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 to win Super Bowl LVII, Reid told reporters it was possible Bieniemy could leave the team to find a bigger role.

“Eric Bieniemy has been tremendous for us and I think he’s tremendous for the National Football League,” Reid said. “I’m hoping he has an opportunity to go somewhere and do his thing, where he can run the show and be Eric Bieniemy.”

Bieniemy, who is Black, was passed over in the latest turn of the head-coaching carousel, though he interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts before that team hired Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. According to USA Today, Bieniemy interviewed for head-coaching vacancies 16 times with 15 NFL teams (including the New York Jets twice), with many feeling he had been unfairly passed over because of his race.

Bieniemy, 53, was an All-American running back for a Colorado team that won a national championship in 1990. He went on to play nine seasons in the NFL with the then-San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Eagles.

The Commanders fired offensive coordinator Scott Turner after the 2022 season and were in the market for his replacement. Washington had a top-10 defense but ranked 20th in total offense and 24th in scoring offense last season, and Rivera has said that 2022 fifth-round draft pick Sam Howell is the team’s No. 1 quarterback entering the offseason.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders defensive end Chase Young (99) looks on after the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders activate DE Chase Young from PUP to 53-man roster

The Washington Commanders activated defensive end Chase Young from the physically unable to perform list on Monday.

The return of the former No. 2 overall draft pick has been in the works for some time. Young has not played in more than a year — since injuring his right knee (torn ACL and MCL) on Nov. 14, 2021.

Young was designated to return to practice on Nov. 2, opening a 21-day window for his return to the active roster. There were hopes he would be able to play in Week 10 against the Philadelphia Eagles or Week 11 against the Houston Texans, but the Commanders held off before adding him to the 53-man roster.

Wednesday would have marked the end of the 21-day window, after which Young would have had to move onto season-ending injured reserve.

Coach Ron Rivera did not go as far as to say that Young will play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

“We will work him with the intent that he’s ready to play,” Rivera said. “If he’s not, then we’ll wait another week. He’s ready to go as far as being activated.”

Rivera said the most important thing is to see Young consistently and confidently “cut it loose” during practice.

“We want to make sure he’s confident, no hesitation,” Rivera said. “… You start to see it, especially when he’s not thinking about it. I watch it very closely and every now and then check to make sure it’s fine. We want to make sure because the last thing we want is for him to get back out there and hurt it again.”

Young recorded nine sacks, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 70 total tackles in 24 career games (all starts) over his first two seasons. He was the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year after putting up 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three recoveries.

The Commanders (6-5) are coming off back-to-back wins against the Eagles and Texans and are in the thick of the NFC playoff race entering Sunday’s home game against the Falcons (5-6).

–Field Level Media

Aug 20, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz (11) talks with quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) on the sidelines against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders not ready to make QB call

Commanders coach Ron Rivera plans to report back on the status of the starting quarterback job in Washington when a decision has been made.

Rivera said Tuesday he hasn’t gathered all of the medical information on Carson Wentz, who started the season as the QB1 in Washington until a fractured right ring finger sent him to injured reserve following a Week 6 win over the Chicago Bears.

Heinicke is 3-1 since Wentz went to the sideline with a 2-4 record and the Commanders looking like a team ready to dig into prospect evaluation for the 2023 NFL Draft. He capped the active run Monday night with a 32-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, who were previously unbeaten and among Super Bowl favorites.

Heinicke said Monday night he was prepared to do whatever Rivera needed him to do — start or help the Commanders move forward with Wentz.

“My role this year was to be backup to Carson and, if he went down, be ready to play, and I feel like I’ve done that,” Heinicke said. “I’m just going out there and trying to win games for this team. And if they want to put Carson back in, great. I’ll be the best backup I can be to him and help him in any way I can. But for me right now, I just go in there and try to do the best I can.”

The 29-year-old Heinicke has five touchdowns and four interceptions in 2023, piloting a run-first offense to wins over the Eagles, Colts and Packers in addition to a three-point loss to the other NFC favorite, Minnesota.

“The first thing I’m going to tell everybody is not to get ahead of ourselves — first we’ve got to return him from practice and make sure he’s cleared and ready to go,” Rivera said Tuesday.

Rivera said he would talk to the medical team, front office, coaching staff and quarterbacks before anyone outside of the facility was informed of the Commanders’ direction.

“You guys will be the last ones to get notified,” he said.

Wentz can return to practice Wednesday, but the Commanders then have 21 days to activate him.

Acquired by the Commanders from the Indianapolis Colts, Wentz had 10 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. He was sacked nine times in a 24-8 loss to the Eagles on Sept. 25.

–Field Level Media

Sep 25, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera greets quarterback Carson Wentz (11) before the game between the Washington Commanders and the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders’ Ron Rivera apologizes to Carson Wentz for QB comment

Too late for an audible, Commanders coach Ron Rivera called a mea culpa instead.

In front of the entire team, Rivera said he needed to apologize for suggesting Washington quarterback Carson Wentz was the reason the franchise isn’t in the lead pack of the NFC East this season.

“I didn’t have to. I was fortunate enough that our media relations director contacted him and let him know,” Rivera said in a radio interview Tuesday morning. “And I actually talked to Carson this morning. In fact I talked to the whole team. I had a mea culpa moment and that I should know better. I created a little bit of a distraction and that’s one thing that I try not to do and it’s one thing that I’m very aware of. Again, it’s one of those things that when you misstep, people can’t wait to dive onto it and jump onto it and hold onto it without an opportunity to explain yourself.

“So, hey, that’s on me. I should know better.”

On Monday, Rivera was asked why other NFC East teams are ahead in the division, and he responded: “Quarterback.”

Even the Dallas Cowboys (4-1), winners of four straight with backup Cooper Rush in for Dak Prescott, are in the upper tier along with the New York Giants (4-1) and Philadelphia Eagles (5-0).

But Rivera said Tuesday he meant the familiarity of those quarterbacks with the system the team employs was the reason for their early success.

“No, I got no regrets about that quarterback,” he said Monday of making the Wentz trade with the Indianapolis Colts in March. “I think our quarterback has done some good things. There’s been a couple games that he struggled, but you look at his numbers from yesterday and you would say, ‘OK, look, his numbers he’s had throughout the year, there times he was very solid.’ And then we had the unfortunate Philadelphia game, and he struggled a little bit in the Dallas game. But the way he performed yesterday, and it just shows you what he’s capable of and we chose him because we believe in him. We chose him because we looked at what we felt were things that pointed towards him.”

Wentz has been sacked 20 times this season. He had 359 yards passing and two TDs in the loss to the Titans last week. Rivera repeated the suggestion that time will only improve Washington’s product because of cohesion between players and the quarterback in a familiar system.

“We have a quarterback, he’s been here for his first season, and as he continues to work and develop with our guys and assimilate to what we do, I think we will be progressively better,” Rivera said. “I thought he played very well this past week. He had some really good moments. He had a couple that I know he wished he had back, but the guy played, for the most part, a pretty doggone good football game.”

–Field Level Media