The Commanders enter the regular-season finale with a 4-12 record — including 0-5 within the NFC East — and have lost seven games in a row entering today. New owner Josh Harris planned to let the entire season play out before making a decision, and sources say nothing has been finalized or discussed with the staff. But as the losses have piled up, the decision has become clearer.
Harris hasn’t commented publicly since Nov. 24, when he issued a statement following the firing of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio saying he feels “exactly how our fans feel today: disappointed and frustrated.” The Commanders are 0-4 since then. And it always made sense for Harris, who finalized his purchase of the team in July, to put his stamp on the football operation after the season.
The Commanders job is more attractive than it’s been in decades, thanks to competent ownership, some building blocks on the roster, a potential top-three draft pick and extra draft capital to potentially package and target a new franchise QB. That could appeal to the most coveted candidates in this hiring cycle, such as Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who is expected to have multiple options.
The status of general manager Martin Mayhew is also in doubt, sources say, though that decision might not be made immediately.
Expect the Commanders to explore a modified front office structure that more closely resembles other sports, with a president of football operations-type overseeing the head coach and GM. Eugene Shen, who was hired in October as senior vice president of football strategy, oversees analytics and software for the football department and will remain part of the leadership team moving forward. If the Commanders do hire a person in charge of the entire operation, that person would likely be tasked with making decisions on those currently in the building — including Mayhew. There likely will be other front-office moves aimed at strengthening their situation, too.
The Athletic (paywall)
Unless there is biblical flooding and pestilence in the morning, Josh Harris will finalize the least surprising firing in recent years when he lets Rivera go after four seasons, a tenure that culminated in this season’s 4-13 train wreck. Rivera’s departure, formally, will put Harris front and center as the face of the now-Commanders franchise, with his fingerprints over every aspect of the team, on and off the field. Whether Harris also cleans out all of the existing front office isn’t as clear, but it’s very hard to see him wanting to go forward with any of a group that was loyal, first and foremost, to Rivera.
The coach had to endure a last opponent-fan takeover of FedEx Field on Sunday, pretty much the norm during his home games. The Cowboys’ 38-10 win might as well have been in Arlington, Texas, what with the road fans chanting “defense” while Washington’s offense was on the field and celebrating Dak Prescott’s every completion (and there were a lot of them, against a front that didn’t come close to sacking Dallas’ QB all day). At least Commanders players didn’t have to fly back after one last 2023-24 beatdown, an eighth straight loss to end the season — which, at least, secured the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Washington Post (paywall)
On Sunday night, the Commanders’ locker room was mostly sad. There was some relief — no more losing, the streak stopped mercifully at eight games with the season’s end — but that was overshadowed by mourning for a room that would never be the same. Defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis tapped on his phone, and out of a portable red speaker came the somber a cappella of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men.
All around, players hugged and shook hands. Run game coordinator Juan Castillo sat in front of an empty stall, talking with his offensive linemen. Linebacker Cody Barton, still in his white jersey, leaned against a folding table, seemingly reflective.
“It just gets very heavy,” Way said. “It makes your stomach uneasy. You just don’t know what’s going to happen to anybody. But that’s just the reality of playing … in this league.”
On Sunday, after the Commanders’ 38-10 loss to the Cowboys ended the 2023 season, several players praised Rivera in the locker room after the game. One of those players was Washington’s longest-tenured player, punter Tress Way.
“I remember whenever my father got sick, during the COVID season (2020), Coach Rivera called every night to ask how it was going, and dad passed,” Way said, fighting back tears. “But, I’ll never forget that one, that was…..just called, every night, so, it was cool.”
An emotional Tress Way was among the Commanders in the locker room telling us what Ron Rivera has meant to them. Rivera is expected to be fired tomorrow, but he's left a lasting impact on the guys on the roster.@WTKR3 #HTTC pic.twitter.com/JiEEM169Xk— Marc Davis (@marcdavissports) January 8, 2024
Washington Post (paywall)
If this season was about determining whether Sam Howell could be the guy next season or five seasons from now, well, then, there’s success in that because at least you know: He can’t.
That’s too bad for Howell, who is both tough and admirable.
“The one thing I know about Sam,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said, “the kid has guts.”
That’s true. But guts can’t be — and aren’t — the whole package. When your team owns the second pick in the draft — which was Sunday’s most significant development because the Commanders clinched it — having clarity at the sport’s preeminent position is paramount.
Put another way: The most interceptions thrown and the most sacks taken in the NFL aren’t the best data points to put on a résumé in an effort to impress your new bosses. Howell had both.
After making a 15-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the 2023 season finale, McLaurin surpassed 1,000-yard mark for the fourth consecutive season. McLaurin is the first receiver in franchise history, which has included the likes of Hall of Famer Art Monk, Santana Moss, Gary Clark and several more, to do so in four consecutive seasons.
“I think it would definitely mean a lot,” McLaurin said on Friday. “There’s a lot of great receivers that I’ve had the chance to study and meet since I’ve been here, whether it’s Ary Monk or Gary Clark, just the whole Posse and [Santana Moss], who’s right around the corner. There’s numerous guys who have walked these halls and played on the field out there and had really great seasons. So...to be the first at anything part of this organization, that would be very humbling.”
Former Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat made NFL history on Sunday. Sweat was traded on Oct. 31 from the Commanders to the Chicago Bears, where he played the season’s final nine games.
Sweat was named to his first Pro Bowl last week after establishing a new career-high with 12.5 sacks. Sweat’s previous career-high was nine back in 2020.
Sweat led the Bears with six sacks and the Commanders with 6.5 sacks. And, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Sweat becomes the first player in NFL history to lead two teams in sacks for the same season.
Podcasts & videos
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Ron Rivera to be Fired After Four Seasons | No. 2 Pick in NFL Draft Secured
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders during their Week 18 game against the Dallas Cowboys. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
Montez Sweat led both the Commanders and the Bears in sacks this season. https://t.co/qCnFIYKza7— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 8, 2024
NFC East links
Washington Post (paywall)
The operative question in Philadelphia the past month has been, “What happened to the Eagles, anyway?” On Sunday afternoon, with the playoffs looming, the question became, “Holy mother of God, what is going on, and where do we riot?”
Coming off a game in which the Cardinals bullied them for their fourth loss in five weeks, things got so much worse for the Eagles. The New York Giants destroyed them so thoroughly that Coach Nick Sirianni conceded the NFC East shortly before halftime, wide receiver A.J. Brown limped off the field after he grabbed his right knee while writing on the ground, and quarterback Jalen Hurts completed 7 of 16 passes before leaving with a disfigured middle finger on his throwing hand.
The reigning NFC champions have mostly the same personnel that nearly won last year’s Super Bowl and started this season 10-1. But their secondary has aged, their young defensive tackles faded late in the year, and their pass rush has been merely good rather than taking over games. Hurts regressed over the second half of the season, showing newfound indecisiveness.
The Philadelphia Eagles end their season 11-6, 2nd in the NFC East. Good thing they decided to play the starters! Couldn’t beat the dead dickless Cardinals at home last week so now AJ Brown and Sidney Brown both get hurt while Jalen Hurt’s throwing finger points both East and West:
Don’t think a middle finger is supposed to look like this— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) January 7, 2024
The coaching staff, starting obviously with Nick Sirianni, is getting toasted for this shitshow, as they should. If they go out and give this absolute piss poor effort next week in Tampa it wouldn’t be surprising if the Eagles cut him loose. Think about that. Nick Sirianni made a Super Bowl in his 2nd year and could be out the very next year. Beyond Incredible.
I don’t even know anymore, man. This team had so much potential but anyone educated in the game of football and/or life saw the Eagles weren’t a true 10-1 team. Yes, they found ways to win those 10 games, and kudos to the Birds, but once shit started going the other way there was no chance of recovery. This squad made the Super Bowl last year and assumed they had enough juice to get back on their rep alone. Nope. Turns out you actually need to BE PREPARED TO PLAY GOOD FOOTBALL, and then actually play good football. The Eagles for the majority of the 2nd half of the season chose to do neither.
Washington Post (paywall)
After returning an interception to the Falcons’ 1-yard line with 1 minute 13 seconds to go, the Saints set up in the formation, from which teams normally kneel on the ball to drain the clock with victory assured.
Instead, New Orleans quarterback Jameis Winston handed the ball to running back Jamaal Williams, who plowed into the end zone.
Moments later, once the game had ended, Smith strode to midfield to express his displeasure with Allen. Smith, whose Falcons fell to 7-10, could be heard on the CBS telecast using profanity to angrily make his point.
Arthur Smith and Dennis Allen have a postgame chat pic.twitter.com/s469d2OcWq— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) January 7, 2024
“We should have taken a knee, so I want to apologize to them,” Allen said at a postgame news conference.
[T]he Saints’ coach said his players had “asked me about getting Jamaal a touchdown at the end.”
“I said I wanted to take a knee,” Allen continued. “We put victory [formation] out there, and the guys kind of wanted to get him a touchdown. They did that on their own, and that’s not acceptable.”