No team was more active than the Washington Commanders on the day of the NFL trade deadline. On Tuesday, the Commanders shipped out their two best pass rushers, Chase Young and Montez Sweat. They received a second-rounder for Sweat from the Chicago Bears and a third-rounder from the San Francisco 49ers for Young. It is not particularly unusual that a 3-5 team would be sending out players for picks at the deadline, but it means more in the case of the Commanders. Young and Sweat were both first-round picks still on their rookie contracts, and while they are far from perfect players they have proven to be effective edge rushers at the NFL level. Guys like that are usually viewed as cornerstones to build around, not trade pieces.
But Washington moved them anyway -- and reportedly at the behest of the new ownership group, per Dianna Russini.
That is not only a sign the Commanders are not expecting to compete this year, it's also a sign they're ready to clean house. And firing Ron Rivera is the natural next step in that process.
Many years ago Rivera was infamous for his fourth-down decision-making and defensive mindset. His Carolina Panthers teams didn't win a Super Bowl but they reached one and were regularly competitive. Moreover, Rivera is known for his high character in NFL circles and frankly there couldn't have been a better guy to lead the Commanders through the disastrous final seasons of Daniel Snyder era. Washington has been bad for the last two years but the team did not completely collapse as multiple investigations ripped through the organization. That is, in all likelihood, due to Rivera's steady presence.
However, the ongoing catastrophe surrounding Rivera helped mask an ugly truth -- he is not a good coach anymore. The "Riverboat Ron" era is long gone. The head coach often goes with the most conservative decision possible when it matters most and it costs his team games. He has stuck with Jack Del Rio as his defensive coordinator despite Del Rio calling the January 6 insurrection a "dust up" and trotting out defenses that performed far below expectations relative to how much talent he got to work with. Last season, Rivera stuck with quarterback Carson Wentz far too long and likely cost the Commanders a playoff spot by keeping him under center for as long as he did. Wentz went unsigned this offseason and now resides on the New York Giants practice squad.
Rivera's poor decision-making may have even set all this deadline action in motion. Before the Commanders' Week 8 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, reports suggested Washington would sell if they lost but would consider keeping the roster intact if they won. They raced out to a quick lead against Philly, but Rivera helped blow that lead by neglecting to challenge a clearly incomplete fourth down pass that led directly to an Eagles touchdown. When asked about it afterwards, he literally shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't see the replay in time.
There was always a strong possibility Rivera would be shown the door once ownership transferred over to the Josh Harris and Magic Johnson-led group. They probably want to put their own mark on the organization and wash clean the stain of Snyder as soon as possible. The logical big move to make in pursuit of that effort is to get rid of Rivera, who was chosen by Snyder. His ineptitude on the sideline merely makes that decision a lot easier.
Dumping talent like this signifies a rebuild is on the way. It may not be a whole-hearted teardown like you might see in the NBA but big changes are yet to come. It feels unlikely they would can him midseason at this point. There's no real reason to. They have to wait until the offseason to interview any coaching candidates who are currently employed so firing Rivera now wouldn't give them a head start on anything. He's there to finish out the season, but he won't be there for much longer afterwards.
Tuesday's moves suggest Rivera is pretty much done. There's always a chance the Commanders rip off a huge win streak and save his job but that was unlikely before they sent out Young and Sweat. Now it feels pretty much impossible. Rivera is on the hot seat by the dictionary definition of the term, but he will almost definitely be getting a pink slip come season's end.