Ron Rivera hopes Carson Wentz can be Commanders’ long-term quarterback

Rivera, Wentz hope QB's tenure in Washington is lasting originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It’s no secret that Carson Wentz was not Washington’s first choice.

Last winter, the Commanders finished second to the Los Angeles Rams in the Matthew Stafford sweepstakes. And earlier this offseason, Washington made an offer for former Seahawks star Russell Wilson, but the nine-time Pro Bowler opted to waive his no-trade clause to join the Denver Broncos in the loaded AFC West instead.

In need of a franchise quarterback, the Commanders struck a deal with Indianapolis last week to acquire Wentz in exchange for a pair of draft picks. The trade was made official on Wednesday and Wentz was introduced as the Commanders’ new QB1 a day later.

Although Wentz was not Washington’s No. 1 option, head coach Ron Rivera believes the 2016 No. 2 overall pick has what it takes to be the Commanders’ long-term answer at the position.

“I believe it is. I believe it’s what we’re looking for,” Rivera said Thursday when asked if Wentz’s could be the team’s solution at quarterback. “His skill set speaks very well for us, especially for what we want to do and how we want to attack our opponents. I like our quarterback position.”

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It wasn’t long ago that Wentz was considered a franchise quarterback by another NFC East team. Wentz played at an MVP level for the Eagles in 2017 before tearing his ACL. In 2019, he led Philadelphia on an incredible stretch run that resulted in an NFC East title. After the season, he was rewarded with a four-year, $128 million extension.

But since then, it’s been a black diamond-esque fall for the North Dakota State product. Wentz was benched in favor of Jalen Hurts towards the end of the 2020 season, a campaign Philadelphia finished 4-11-1. Last spring, he was traded to Indianapolis in an attempt to resurrect his career with Frank Reich, his former offensive coordinator. But after just one season and an epic end-of-season collapse, the Colts had seen enough.

Yet, despite the fact that two separate franchises have given up on Wentz in the past 14 months, Rivera doesn’t have any trepidation about acquiring the quarterback.

“When you talk to certain people, you talk to some of the coaches he’s had in the past that I know very well and listen to what they have to say, it was contradictory to what was happening,” Rivera said.

“What I found was very telling was two team captains on the team he just left come out and were dumbfounded that he was being traded and had nothing but positive things to say about him,” Rivera continued. “That’s more than enough as far as I’m concerned. The players know. If there’s one thing that happens in this league, the players know exactly what’s going on. The players know exactly who people are. You can’t fool them.”

During his initial conversation with Wentz, Rivera made it clear that the quarterback was wanted in Washington — something that was no longer the case in Indianapolis or Philadelphia prior to that.

“The message to him, more so than anything else, is that we believe in him. That’s why we went ahead and did it,” Rivera said. “My intent was to make sure he knew it, make sure he understood it was because we believe in him, we want him here, he is wanted here and I think that helps make the transition a little bit easier as well.”

As Wentz gets set to suit up for his third franchise in as many years, the quarterback admitted that it’s refreshing to feel wanted after how his prior two stops ended.

“Knowing that you’re wanted and feeling that support from everybody in the organization means a lot,” Wentz said. “It allows you to go play confidently freely, which I think ultimately will allow me to play my best ball and try and elevate everybody around me to the full extent that I can. And I look forward to doing that.”

Although the Colts were ready to move on from Wentz, acquiring the quarterback for Washington didn’t come cheaply. The Commanders will take on the entirety of Wentz’s contract, which means the QB will be owed $28 million this year. 

Shortly after the trade went down, several fans and analysts wondered why Washington took on all of Wentz’s salary. But as Rivera explained on Thursday, the franchise did not want an attempt to negotiate Wentz’s number with Indianapolis to end up being the reason the trade didn’t end up happening.

“That was something we talked about a little bit. But at the end of the day, if it was going to be something that could have held us up or created a situation where we could lose him, we went ahead and decided that was the best thing for us,” Rivera said.

The head coach was then asked if any other teams had inquired about Wentz besides Washington, which he declined to answer. But the head coach did make it clear the Commanders did not want to get outbid trying to trade for a QB similar to how they were by the Rams for Stafford a year ago.

“We were going to make sure we got what we wanted. At the end of the day, it’s like what happened last year,” Rivera said. “Does anybody remember what the [Stafford] trade was if it was successful? I get it if it doesn’t work. But our intention and everything we plan to do is to be successful.”

Acquiring Wentz also impacted the rest of Washington’s roster construction. With the quarterback having a large salary cap hit, the Commanders released multiple players this week — Landon Collins, Matt Ioannidis, and Ereck Flowers — who were major contributors.

In today’s NFL, though, having a franchise quarterback is more important than anything else. Finding one is not an easy thing to do. So with the opportunity to make a move for Wentz — a player Rivera and the rest of Washington’s brass believes can be the guy — the Commanders felt they had to make the move.

“Let’s be honest about what you see in the league today, this is about [having] a quarterback,” Rivera said. “When you have an opportunity to get a young man that has that type of ability, you gotta strike. That’s what we decided.”

Even after acquiring Wentz, Rivera said that drafting a quarterback is still a possibility. But even if the Commanders were to select a signal-caller during the annual April event, there’s no question who the starting quarterback is in Washington moving forward.

“This trade doesn’t preclude us from doing anything,” Rivera said. “But he is our QB1 going forward. And as he said, and I do hope, I’d love to see this be a really long tenure. I really do. I mean that.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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