Commanders HC Ron Rivera downplays Chase Young's comments: 'I like the direction we're headed'

The Washington Commanders’ activity at the trade deadline signaled a shift in how the club intends to build its roster going forward.

The departures of Chase Young and Montez Sweat via trades netted the Commanders two Day Two draft picks, valuable capital to improve the team in the years to come. But the trades didn’t come without Young taking a parting shot when talking up his new team: the San Francisco 49ers.

“Just stepping in here today, got in here last week,” Young said earlier this week, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “Just the culture, the vibe is a lot different. I definitely know that I am in a building with winners.”

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Rivera was asked about these comments Wednesday. He didn’t bristle at Young’s words. Instead, Rivera pivoted the conversation back toward an optimistic tone.

“I think first and foremost is that, to me as far as I’m concerned, I’m excited about our football team. I like the things that we’re doing,” Rivera told reporters. “I like the direction we’re headed. I think culturally it’s a really solid place.

“We’re still learning and growing. We have a young quarterback that’s learning and growing for us. I do think that for the most part, things can be very bright for us if it continues to go in the right direction. As far as Chase is concerned and his comments, I really appreciate who he is for us and who he was for us. Did some nice things and just wish him all the luck in San Francisco.”

Rivera took the high road in part because he truly feels good about Washington’s outlook. Much of this has to do with the performance of quarterback Sam Howell, who currently ranks second in the NFL in passing yards (2,471) and has posted consecutive 300-plus passing yards performances in Washington’s last two contests. 

On multiple occasions, Rivera has described Howell as the franchise’s first legitimate, long-term option under center in his time with the Commanders (Rivera joined the team in 2020). That he echoed his own comments regarding Howell came as no surprise to anyone who has followed Washington in 2023.

But Rivera is also attaching himself to Howell because he knows his own employment is incredibly dependent on Howell’s production. If Washington proves itself as a competitive team in a tough NFC East, Rivera’s chances of sticking around beyond 2023 improve.

At 4-5, Washington currently sits in third place in the division, trailing the second-place Dallas Cowboys by 1.5 games. Those who have watched Washington will be quick to claim the Commanders might be better than their record suggests.

There’s still time to prove this. Rivera knows it is the most important goal left on his checklist.

“Well, I just think as you look at what we’re doing and we continue to be competitive, that’s probably the biggest thing right now,” Rivera said. “We’ve had a lot of change, a lot of things that we’re doing differently and just trying to put it together. 

“I mean, for me, the biggest thing is just to continue to play hard and continue to do the best we can and hopefully win some football games more so than anything else. I mean, the truth is, this is about winning. That’s the biggest thing that comes from the audition more than anything else.”

Rivera’s use of “audition” is refreshing because he’s openly acknowledging his job is on the line in 2023. With new ownership now in charge, Washington won’t have to search much to find a reason to make a change if they deem it necessary. It will be up to Rivera to prove he’s worthy of another chance in 2024.

At 4-5, the jury is still out on the coach. But with Howell under center, he feels good about his chances.

“I think this team’s a little bit different just in terms of this really is about the development and growth of the quarterback [Sam Howell], the offense,” Rivera explained on Wednesday. “So, the thing for this one more than anything else is just the continued growth and defensively just playing better and keep working towards it. I mean, to me, it’s all in front of us. I really do believe that. Like I said, this to me it’s different just because of where we are as a football team.”

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