Despite Ron Rivera's claims, the Commanders are not in a better place

Ron Rivera seems happy with the work accomplished...

Ron Rivera
Ron Rivera / Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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Ron Rivera seems to think the Washington Commanders are in a better place following his four-year stint as head coach. He's wrong.

When Ron Rivera was appointed head coach in 2020, it seemed like a monumental task. As the respected figure embarks on what should be his final game at the helm this weekend, the post-mortems on his Washington Commanders' tenure are already being written.

All signs point to Rivera being relieved of his duties by Josh Harris' group once Washington's contest against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 18 is in the record books. This is more of a foregone conclusion rather than anything speculatory. After another losing season and the introduction of new ownership, there is seemingly no other option.

Are the Commanders in a better place post-Ron Rivera?

Rivera's been getting plenty of questions about his feelings amid such uncertainty. Whichever way it goes for him moving forward, he genuinely believes he's leaving the Commanders in a better place than when he came on board based on comments via the league's website.

"Well, I'd like to think we're in a better place, probably a fair way to say it. I most certainly do appreciate my time here, and we'll see what happens. And again, we'll focus in on what's coming first on Sunday, and that's getting ready for Dallas. What we've done with the culture. I think that was one of the things that somebody asked me the same question, I said, the biggest thing more so than anything else I think is I kind of like where we are. Obviously, it's not where we want to be, but that's just the nature of this game sometimes."

Ron Rivera via NFL.com
Commanders
Ron Rivera / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the current state of affairs, it's hard to see the validity of Rivera's statement. Four straight losing seasons and one playoff appearance after winning the NFC East almost by default is just the start. So let's examine things in a little more detail.

This season might be the worst yet. The Commanders are staring down the barrel of another major rebuild with a 4-13 record unless they can somehow pull off a miracle versus the Cowboys at FedEx Field. Morale within the locker room is at an all-time low. Even when Rivera took play-calling responsibilities on defense after firing Jack Del Rio, no inspiration followed.

Poor game management. An inability to move with the times. The game seems to be passing Rivera by, although his personable approach always seemed to command the respect of his players through the toughest stretches imaginable.

The culture-restoration part of his statement is interesting. Rivera inherited a complete shambles thanks to Dan Snyder. He brought back a sense of resectability within the football operation, distancing it from ownership and ensuring there was a least some structure in place.

That might have been the case initially. However, the murmurings of discontent have emerged frequently this season.

Jonathan Allen's unhappiness is well documented. Traded defensive end Montez Sweat got the feeling everyone was simply going through the motions under Rivera. When asked about what the players want, wide receiver Jahan Dotson said improved culture is right at the top of his list via Clutch Points.

"As far as players, a sense of culture. We got to have a mindset in here that we want change. We can't just accept this type of stuff because this is really hard on a lot of people. I know a lot of people come from winning backgrounds, so we've got to bring that stuff in here. We can't accept anything but winning. That starts with us players, no matter who the coaches are … I feel like the best teams that you see in any sport are player led."

Jahan Dotson via Clutch Points
Commanders
Ron Rivera / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Does this scream strong culture? A solid foundation Rivera mentioned above all else as his shining accomplishment? It seems not.

Let's not forget Rivera is the primary roster builder, too.

Almost every position group has been worse off since Rivera took charge. He failed to stabilize the quarterback position. Even Sam Howell - the only starter who lasted a full season under his leadership - was benched before being immediately reinstalled thanks to Jacoby Brissett's injury. When one examines the coach's personnel flaws, this is arguably the biggest of all.

The offensive line wasn't prioritized. A stable group with one elite player was decimated to mid-level draft picks and suspect free-agent signings. It came as no surprise to see this unit become a real weakness.

Washington's once-vaunted defense received significant investment. The rewards weren't consistent enough. Their capitulation in 2023 saw Harris take matters into his own hands, influencing the trades of Montez Sweat and Chase Young before the deadline to secure valuable assets for the future.

Free agency and the draft haven't gone well for Rivera. There's been the odd hit, but nowhere near enough to keep up with well-run divisional rivals such as the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

So what are the positives? The Commanders are in a healthy salary-cap position. They have a wealth of high-end draft resources. They have some core foundational pieces on both sides of the football. There is a lot of flexibility heading into a vital offseason.

Unfortunately for Rivera, he's unlikely to be around. And the new appointments have a significant amount of work ahead to fix this mess.

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