So much for Washington’s rebrand.
By any name, the (usually) Burgundy and Gold in recent years have far too frequently arrived in Dallas and put on display further evidence this rivalry has been dead about as long as it was alive. Washington vs. Dallas in the NFC Championship Game? My middle-aged ass was a 3-year-old toddler the last time that happened.
Sunday’s 25-10 loss to Cooper f-ing Rush was less a beating than a painful reminder of who this team is. The Commanders aren’t a team that finds ways to win in the face of adversity; they’re a rudderless squad that invites speculation. Their new moniker is an oxymoronic punchline.
Is the offensive line in a shambles because of injuries? Yes. But does that excuse having more penalties (11) than points? Hell no, even if you make the case that half of those penalties were home cooking for Dallas. And by the way — those Cowboys? They basically haven’t had an O-line all season, and they lost their franchise quarterback in Week 1 — and they haven’t lost since.
The arrival of Ron Rivera gave Washington much-needed respect and credibility at a crucial time in the franchise’s history. Ditto for team president Jason Wright. There was legitimate hope after two seasons that Washington was finally on the right track.
But as we move deeper into Year 3 of this braintrust, there’s no significant indication that Washington is any closer to winning — on or off the field — than they were last year or the year before.
“Everything’s fixable,” tackle Sam Cosmi said after the loss to the Cowboys on Sunday. “The ship hasn’t sunk.”
Maybe not yet. But the 1-3 Commanders are taking on a lot of water, even in what might be their most winnable portion of the schedule.
They simply lack leadership to navigate them out of a rapidly deteriorating situation. Let’s take the problems in order:
Carson Wentz is who he is
“At some point it just becomes who you are, not who we’re speculating you are.”@JoeBanner13 explains how indecisiveness and holding the ball too long + bad offensive line play = a recipe for disaster for Carson Wentz and the #Commanders pic.twitter.com/upx3pGNggu
— The 33rd Team (@The33rdTeamFB) September 27, 2022
Those are the words of a man formerly associated with a Philadelphia franchise that traded up to take Carson Wentz No. 2 overall in 2016. Given how Wentz has played his way off two teams in the last two years, Washington’s bet on him to be the face of the franchise is, and always was, the worst bet on a savior since Harvey Dent in the Dark Knight.
I’ve said before and I’ll repeat it here: The 2017 version of Wentz that was the MVP frontrunner on an Eagles team that won the Super Bowl is the outlier, not the ensuing four seasons of injuries and mediocrity. Wentz has a career passer rating of 89.7 and lost (and failed to finish) the only playoff game of his career. What about that resume makes Rivera and company think they have their franchise quarterback?
The Two-Face analogy fits Wentz well, because there are times (like the beginning and end of the Jaguars game Week 1) where he looks really good. But then there’s the first half in Detroit, and damn near all of the Philly and Dallas games.
Speaking of which: I’m old enough to remember when one of the selling points on Wentz was his success in the NFC East, going 16-9 against the division as an Eagle. In Burgundy and Gold (and sometimes black), he’s 0-2 in arguably the two easiest division games he’ll play all season.
Given his history and the issues along the Commanders’ offensive line, he’ll be lucky to make it to the next division game (his Monday night return to Philly Nov. 14).
Rivera is further evidence that NFL coaches can’t also be GMs
For years, in this space and others, I’ve railed against NFL teams allowing the head coach to also serve as general manager. Each of those jobs is so inherently difficult and stress-filled that it’s virtually impossible for an individual to do one of those jobs well without it coming at the expense of the other. At best, it’s counterproductive.
Ron Rivera is no exception. And while he doesn’t carry the official title of general manager, he’s got final say on football matters as part of the “coach-centric” approach that, quite frankly, I don’t think his resume as a head coach merits.
The best evidence? The Commanders’ most expensive players aren’t paying off, with William Jackson being the poster child for wasted salary cap dollars.
CeeDee Lamb scored 30-yard TD on post. Commanders CB William Jackson III: “I was thinking I had a guy in the middle of the field, and I just was going to play it outside in. But they did a good job of creating a 2×2, which took the safety out.” Attention on Dalton Schultz up seam pic.twitter.com/op1nk6wmKh
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 3, 2022
That signing, and eating Wentz’s full $28.3 million cap number for 2022, prevented Washington from being able to add, for example, James Bradberry, one of Rivera’s former Panthers who’s currently ballin’ out of his mind in Philadelphia at the low, low price of $7.2 million — nearly half what Jackson’s getting paid in 2022 to get clowned by Pacman Jones.
Which brings me to my next point on Rivera — he’s pulling the wrong fruit from his old tree in Carolina.
Rivera often refers to his nine-year tenure leading the Panthers — more than a non-Super Bowl-winning coach should, frankly. Yet, puzzlingly, he’s passed multiple times on bringing some of the principal contributors to his success in Carolina with him to Washington.
Cam Newton was his MVP-winning franchise quarterback. Steve Wilks was Rivera’s assistant head coach during the 15-1 Super Bowl season, and perhaps his best defensive coordinator.
Both were available when Rivera took over here in 2020. He chose to trade a fifth-round pick for Kyle Allen instead. Later, he decided to part with a pair of even higher picks and use nearly all available 2022 cap space to pull Wentz out of Indy instead of bringing in Newton — who did some of his best work as a Panther in the very same offense Washington currently runs — on a low-risk, high-reward deal.
Rivera also could have had a second chance at Wilks, who ended up back in Carolina this season after a year coaching in college. You mean to tell me one of your top lieutenants during your best professional run isn’t better than Jack “Dust Up” Del Rio running the defense into the ground?
Oh, and by all means, import the trainer from hell as one of your first hires and then bring back Joe Gibbs-era trainer Bubba Tyer from retirement for the 47th time.
The Bradberry botch isn’t as high-profile as those moves but it’s just as egregious. The big corner was available in 2020, and Washington could easily have afforded the three-year, $45 million contract he ultimately signed with the New York Giants. The Commanders chose to go cheaper with Ronald Darby (who, ironically, is now in Denver, also playing better than Jackson, and for less money).
Rivera has consistently tried to save money where he shouldn’t, only to spend it where he *really* shouldn’t. Consider that the reason why this is the beginning of the end of the Rivera era in Washington.
Which leads to the most disheartening part of all of this.
Owner Dan Snyder is still very much in charge
So much for laying low while still under congressional investigation:
Friends and rivals for 24 years 🤝
Ready for Chapter 1 of Cowboys vs. Commanders#WASvsDAL | #HTTC pic.twitter.com/BllcPeiHKn
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) October 2, 2022
Not only is it a bad look for the face of (alleged) workplace misconduct in sports to be front and center for the clumsy unveiling of the team’s new name/branding, but then to be so visible for your team’s thrashing at the hands of a career backup QB has to be overwhelming for the dwindling remains of a fanbase that’s gone from one of the NFL’s most rabid to straight-up apathetic.
This picture of FedEx Field from Jonathan Newton in the @washingtonpost sure is something. pic.twitter.com/5eBCa6xPMz
— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) September 26, 2022
Even amid reports that Snyder could be in the final days of ownership of the team he’s completely destroyed, his wealth has nearly doubled, as has the value of the franchise. If the NFL has proven anything, it’s that it values nothing more than money — and Snyder has yet to affect the bottom line.
There have been rumblings that the Wentz deal has Snyder’s fingerprints all over it — it does fit his M.O. to a T and it would explain why Washington would make such a reckless move so early in the 2022 offseason.
I’ve said it before in this space and certainly many times in the D.C. Sports Huddle: I believe Rivera, Wright and general manager Martin Mayhew are all good men who could have success in the right environment.
But I also have nearly a quarter-century of evidence that Snyder taints and compromises everything he touches. So black is a fine choice in uniform — it matches his heart and the hope for better days in D.C.