Ron Rivera has earned his "Riverboat Ron" nickname by taking risk after risk on fourth down in his coaching career.
If Rivera really wants to elevate his gambling to a whole new level, though, he'll sacrifice valuable assets so he can vault up and claim the presumed fourth passer to be taken in the 2021 NFL Draft later this month.
With the Jaguars, Jets and Niners all slated to select a quarterback first, second and third in a few weeks, Atlanta is where the order and the drama of the event appears to now begin. And as long as those clubs pull off what most are expecting and end up with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones on their rosters, Justin Fields and Trey Lance will still be available for whoever is sitting in the fourth slot (a slot that the Falcons are "open" to ceding).
Now, the draft and rumors go together like a mediocre golfer and curse words, but one former NFL exec thinks the Burgundy and Gold are seriously interested in one prospect from that latter pair.
"I think Washington is going to be the next team to unload all their picks to try to get a QB," Michael Lombardi said on a recent episode of his podcast. "I think they love Lance. I don't think, I know Washington loves Lance. So, will they trade up to get Lance? That remains to be seen."
In that quote, Lombardi didn't specify that Washington would jump all the way up to the Falcons' territory in order to nab Lance. In his mind, he just envisions the organization waiting until the night of the first round and pouncing should the North Dakota State product surprisingly slip.
"If Trey Lance starts to slide, they're going to go get his ass," Lombardi said.
Of course, these comments would resonate about 100 times more if Lombardi was, you know, actually in Washington's front office. However, since he's simply an analyst with an opinion — and there are plenty of those to go around these days — his words obviously shouldn't be treated as gospel.
But what if Rivera and Washington are indeed as infatuated with Lance as Lombardi says they are?
Well, then the franchise's decision makers have a potentially franchise-changing decision to weigh.
Bounding all the way up to where Atlanta currently resides would be supremely costly, and while the price to engage, say, Carolina in a transaction for the eighth selection if Lance makes it there would be slightly cheaper, that'd still require notable capital. In his recent meetings with the media, Rivera has indicated he's not in love with the idea of giving up too much for one guy.
Therefore, Washington could very easily just remain where they are at No. 19, hold onto all of their other resources and land themselves a quality linebacker to round out their defense or a reliable left tackle to bolster their offensive line. Ryan Fitzpatrick is in town, after all, and he has the experience and the aggressiveness to keep the squad relevant.
Yet even if he doesn't seem to be in a hurry to locate a long-term QB, this offseason may represent the best time for Rivera to target Lance (or Fields, for that matter). First off, Fitzpatrick could operate as the starter this year as the hypothetical rookie develops, and secondly, another division title could mean that Washington's draft choice in 2022 is further down the list than 19th, which would limit their ability to trade up for a future signal caller.
Overall, with where Rivera's at in his rebuild (ahead of schedule), the compensation he'd need to offer to advance into a position to snag a quarterback (which would be sizable) and the other holes he could fill by merely staying put (linebacker, tackle or secondary), the coach doesn't have to resort to his typically risky tactics in late April.
But if he and his staff have grown to truly admire one of the up-and-coming pros as they've studied them from their Ashburn headquarters as well as at their respective stadiums and Pro Days, then Riverboat Ron should push his chips to the center of the table.
That's because trading up to steal one of those players, and watching that player transform into a star, would net Rivera one of his largest jackpots ever.