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Josh Harris spent his first season as Commanders owner patiently. On the first day of his first full offseason, he wasted no time in writing a new chapter — perhaps his most important one as owner.

Harris fired Ron Rivera on Monday after an abysmal 4-13 campaign. Rivera finished 26-40-1 with zero winning seasons and zero playoff wins in Washington.

This was always going to be a transition season. Rivera called it "a relief" when Dan Snyder agreed to sell and relished the chance to focus solely on coaching as training camp opened. But he was dealt a tough hand for a coach facing an audition year. Harris didn't officially take over until July, meaning a meager offseason for a roster in need of major upgrades. The Commanders didn't even finalize their staff until days before kickoff, in early September. Most franchises had done so six months prior.

Rivera was staking his job on a little-improved roster and a second-year former fifth-rounder leading his team to the playoffs, something that hadn't happened since 2001. The early returns on Sam Howell individually were positive, but a woeful defense hindered the win-loss column. So Rivera pivoted to hanging his hat on Howell. But even the good feelings there evaporated. Howell became the first Commanders quarterback to start every game in a season since Kirk Cousins in 2017, but, really it was two seasons wrapped into one.

Sam Howell

Weeks 1-10

Weeks 11-18

Yards per attempt






Expected points added per dropback



Passer rating



>> All worst or second-worst in NFL over span

With Howell sputtering and the defense torn apart, the final results were historically ugly.

  • Finished on eight-game losing streak, tied for the team's longest losing streak in the last 50 years
  • Franchise-record 518 points allowed
  • Zero Pro Bowlers for the first time since 1993

The first signs Rivera's days were limited — and first major steps Harris and his ownership group took — came at the trade deadline in late October. The Commanders shipped Montez Sweat to the Bears and, hours later, sent Chase Young — a former No. 2 overall pick, Rookie of the Year and D.C.-area native — to the 49ers. The Commanders ranked 31st in scoring defense before those trades, so it wasn't an Earth-shattering move in terms of the on-field product. In fact, the Commanders won their next game, their final victory of the season. Even then, though, the disconnect between owners and coaches was on display: Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio made it quite clear he wasn't the one making the moves.

Then it got ugly. After Howell played one of his best games of the season in a loss to the Seahawks, he and the rest of the offense committed six turnovers in a loss to the lowly Giants. Four days later, on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys pummeled Washington, 45-15, with Dallas celebrating roasting their division rival with, quite literally, a roast: Dak Prescott pulling a turkey leg out of a Salvation Army bucket and noshed on it in a pre-planned, pre-approved celebration.

That led to ownership's second major step: firing Del Rio and defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer. While Rivera issued a short, run-of-the-mill statement, Harris had a much longer statement saying he recommended Rivera make the moves and he felt "exactly how the fans feel today: disappointed and frustrated." It was surprising and, frankly, refreshing to see that transparency, something rarely seen under Snyder, and never in the final few years of his ownership.

The beatings, however, continued. In Rivera's first game calling defensive plays, Tyreek Hill had 157 yards receiving, two touchdowns and yet another pre-planned celebration. The Commanders' defense — on which Rivera spent so much time, effort and capital trying to build into one of the league's most feared — was hardly being respected.

Perhaps Harris' most damning indictment of the status quo came in late November, when he told the Sports Business Journal's Dealmakers conference, per the Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala, "There's shortcuts to the middle. You want to be 8-8? I can get you there quickly — 8-8-1. You want to be great? There are no shortcuts."

A .500 record — a record Harris considers unacceptable — was the best season Rivera had in Washington.


It should be noted that this is not all Rivera's fault. Not even close. The ownership "support" Rivera got was often absent at best and whatever the exact opposite of "support" is at worst. Snyder's transgressions ranged from embarrassing to damning to horrifying. In Washington, Rivera held titles of head coach for four years and de facto general manager for one, but might as well have added organizational spokesperson, head of culture, crisis manager and fall guy. When the DEA raided the team's facility in 2021, it was just another day. Things that seemed unthinkable for other organizations were commonplace for the Commanders.

At first, Rivera was the life raft in a turbulent sea both on and off the field. In his first season in Washington, Rivera beat cancer and led Washington to the playoffs despite using four different starting quarterbacks. His team produced the Comeback Player of the Year (Alex Smith) and the Defensive Rookie of the Year (Young). Rivera finished fourth in AP Coach of the Year voting. He had taken the hardest and least desirable job in the NFL and rejuvenated the franchise.

But the good moments came less often. The losses and embarrassments mounted. The roster building stagnated as Rivera, GM Martin Mayhew and VP of football/player personnel Marty Hurney missed on too many free agents and draft picks.

Two of Rivera's defining characteristics are loyalty and honesty. They're great characteristics to have, but they hurt Rivera as Washington's coach. Washington became Carolina North, with 17 players playing for Rivera's Commanders after playing for Rivera's Panthers. They ranged from the game's most important position to special teamers, from has-beens to up-and-comers, from core pieces to spot starters. Fans should rejoice the day the Commanders and Panthers intersect on Immaculate Grid.

Games w/ Rivera in CAR

Games w/ Rivera in WAS


QB Kyle Allen




QB Garrett Gilbert




QB Taylor Heinicke




RB Reggie Bonnafon




WR Curtis Samuel




FB Alex Armah




G Andrew Norwell




G Trai Turner




C Tyler Larsen




DL Efe Obada




LB Thomas Davis




LB David Mayo




LB Jordan Kunaszyk




LB Jared Norris




CB Corn Elder




CB Cole Luke




K Joey Slye




Off the field, that Carolina loyalty carried over to Hurney, Scott Turner — Washington's offensive coordinator for three years despite bottom-half production — and many others. It's not uncommon for coaches to surround themselves with some familiar players and coaches. But too often those Rivera brought along underwhelmed.

Rivera's results weren't good enough in large part because the quarterbacks weren't good enough, and the quarterbacks weren't good enough because Rivera and company weren't good enough at finding them, coaching them and/or putting them in a position to succeed. The Commanders started eight different quarterbacks since 2020.

Each has their own story, but the 2022 season sums it up best:

The Commanders somehow stayed afloat, but with the offense struggling, Rivera went back to Wentz on New Year's Day 2023 for a crucial Week 17 game against the Browns. Wentz threw three picks, and Washington was eliminated from playoff contention later that day — an outcome Rivera seemingly didn't know was possible, that honesty coming out at the worst time.

Howell was next, getting the call in Week 18 of the 2022 season and played well enough to generate some positive feelings. He soldiered through all 17 games of 2023 — Washington's first quarterback to start every game since Kirk Cousins in 2017 — but it was a lost season that only got worse as Howell sputtered.

The Commanders bet big on Rivera when they hired him, appointing him head coach, GM and, informally, seemingly everything else under the sun for a franchise in disarray. Rivera bet big on himself and his loyalty, his honesty and his roster building. In the end, they both lost, and lost a lot.


Things may get worse — or stay roughly the same — before they get better. Harris, like his 8-8-1 quote suggests, isn't afraid of a full teardown and rebuild. The 76ers went through "The Process," losing 50+ games three straight seasons. The Devils had top-seven picks in four consecutive drafts. When it comes to the Commanders specifically, they're far from competing for titles in almost any aspect, up and down the roster.

On the other hand, things may get better quickly, mostly because of the ownership situation. Harris has been a breath of fresh air for a franchise that has reeked toxic fumes. Harris *gasp* bought beers for fans and *gasp* installed bleachers at training camp so fans didn't have to drag their own chairs hundreds of yards up and down hills and *gasp* appeared on a preseason broadcast, with even his awkward handshake with Joe Buck coming off as endearing.

Harris quietly began to bring the franchise up to speed in other areas, too. In late October, days before the Young and Sweat trades, the team hired Eugene Shen as senior vice president of football strategy. There should be more analytically inclined additions going forward.

Now, though, come the biggest steps, the ones that will define the early stages of Harris' ownership. First up is hiring a front office, head coach and staff. Once that group is in place, it will have the exciting and daunting task of building a roster using ample resources. The Commanders have five top-100 picks, including No. 2 overall. Quarterback is very much in play. The Commanders will also have the most cap space in the NFL this offseason, per Over The Cap.

If you need evidence of how quickly things can change, look at the Texans. They hit it big at head coach (DeMeco Ryans) and his staff, at quarterback second overall (CJ Stroud) and further down the draft and at key spots in free agency.

If you need evidence that it's not easy, look at the Panthers, who had a new coach and staff, new quarterback and new veterans … and went 2-15 while firing their coach midseason. The Commanders under Snyder knew those horror stories all too well: awful seasons, overwhelmed rosters and fired coaches.

For the first time in decades, there's an owner committed to big solutions rather than Band-Aids, to a winning product with winning people. He's already added Bob Myers, architect behind the Warriors' dynasty, and former NFL GM (and current co-host of CBS Sports podcast 'With the First Pick') Rick Spielman as advisors in the hiring process.

Harris committed to giving Rivera a year. Even as that year went off course, Harris stuck to his word while also preparing for the future. One can argue the 2023 record, as ugly as it was, wasn't important. You can't tell that to coaches and players, whose livelihoods depend on that record, but 2023 was successful in re-establishing the franchise in the big picture.

Even on the eve of his firing, Rivera commended the passion and drive of the ownership group — a group that was hours away from parting ways with him.

Now this is fully Harris' organization. The future — his future — for the franchise begins today.