Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera has been a part of two rebuilds.
His first came with the Carolina Panthers, following a 2-14 season under John Fox in 2010. Rivera improved the Panthers to 6-10 his first season. The more recent makeover in Washington produced even better results.
Last season, WFT finished 7-9 with a top-five defense and nearly upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Round. Still, the team has room to grow entering the second season of the culture change in the wake of a 5.5-year Jay Gruden regime that failed to produce a playoff win.
As WFT prepares to take on the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Rivera sees comparisons in what Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have done since arriving in Orchard Park in 2017.
It's also a formula to how he hopes to rebuild WFT during his time in D.C.
“They are a measuring stick,” Rivera said Tuesday. “When you talk about teams that have opportunities every year now to compete and do some great things, this is one of them. So, you should measure yourself to the great teams in this league right now, the teams that are really good. So that’s how we feel. We feel like we’re coming up against a measuring stick and really kind of see, you know, where we are and how far we have to go.”
Rivera has seen first-hand the success of Beane and McDermott outside of Buffalo. The trio worked together in Carolina from 2011-16. McDermott was Rivera's right-hand man as Carolina's defensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, Beane became one of the more highly respected executives in waiting working under then-GM Marty Hurney.
Funny how many Carolina storylines can be found on Sunday at Highmark Stadium since Hurney now is with Rivera in Washington working in the front office once more.
“Looking at what they’ve done, the way they’ve done it, they’ve been very methodical,” Rivera said. “They’ve had a plan, they stuck to the plan, they did the things that they’ve needed to do. And again, it’s very similar to what we did when we all were together.”
Carolina's rebuild took time, but the results paid off. Rivera led the Panthers to four playoff appearances, three division titles and a 15-1 season that culminated in a NFC Champion title and Super Bowl 50 appearance.
McDermott and Beane followed a similar formula. The team has made the postseason in three of the four years under the new regime, winning its first AFC East title and playoff game since 1995. Buffalo also seems to have its first franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly with the addition of Josh Allen.
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The expectations every year are to win the Super Bowl. With Allen, McDermott and Beane, that goal feels plausible for the first time since 1993.
Washington, which currently sits at 1-1, launched its similar plan in 2020 . In 2017, Buffalo relied on its defensive play to help propel them to the postseason.
Last year, Rivera trusted coordinator Jack Del Rio push Washington's defense in the right direction. The team finished second in total defense and top five in coverage, holding opponents to an average of 304.6 yards per game.
In 2020, Washington's quarterback concerns were the dilemma as four different names started at least one game. In 2017, Buffalo played three different players, including two starters in Tyrod Taylor and Nathan Peterman.
See the correlation?
Buffalo has hit its stride after Allen's breakout year in 2020. Washington is hopeful the offense can take the necessary steps with Taylor Heinicke as the new starting quarterback. Rivera is also hopeful that the defense of 2021 can rewind the clock and become a more balanced unit after struggling the first two games.
So far, there's more questions than answers on that side of the ball. WFT has allowed 49 points and 815 yards in two games.
Remodels take time. It's important to remember the baby steps along the way. Buffalo took a year off in 2018 before becoming the next great franchise in the AFC over the next two seasons.
Rivera needed two seasons in Carolina before everything clicked. The formula, however, works. The timetable, though, might forever be changing.
"I think we’re trending, and it may not be reflected all the time the way people want it to be reflected,” Rivera said. “But as long as they’re growing, developing, and we’re feeling good about what we’re doing and we’re understanding what it takes, we’re headed in the right direction."