About a year ago, Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera was getting his first look at his new team, hoping to turn around the organization after a 3-13 season. It wasn't going to be easy.
Not only did he need to navigate a culture change from top to bottom and a name change, but the roster wasn't exactly great, either. There were pieces -- like a defensive line headlined by rookie Chase Young and Terry McLaurin on offense -- but there were also numerous questions at quarterback and a lack of true offensive weapons.
Former NFL offensive lineman and current analyst Brian Baldinger remembers seeing the team prior to the 2020 season at training camp in Richmond. And while he had belief in Rivera as a coach and respect for the man, it was hard to see the situation in Washington improving.
"I don’t know how Ron Rivera cleaned up a big old mess over there [in Ashburn] ... but he did," Baldinger said on 106.7 The Fan's BMitch & Finlay. "I remember going down to training camp and Adrian Peterson was running around and Alex Smith was gimpy and I didn’t believe in Dwayne Haskins at all and I thought ‘Oh this is going to be bad.'"
As Baldinger noted, though, it wasn't "bad" under Rivera in Year 1.
Washington went 7-9, but that was enough to win the NFC East. Young emerged as a star, the defensive front became dominant, Logan Thomas and Antonio Gibson stepped up on offense at tight end and running back, Kam Curl became a diamond-in-the-rough at safety and the roster showed that it had a foundation for future success even if the division was bad and the record wasn't pretty.
All the while, Rivera managed the revolving door at quarterback, made tough decisions when needed and beat cancer in the process. During his first season in charge, he took a major step in resetting the culture.
It's clear to Baldinger now that Rivera was the right man for the job. And with the moves Washington made in the offseason through free agency and the draft, he feels a lot better about the situation in 2021 than he did a year ago.
"But I’m bullish on Washington. I like everything they’ve done, including the QB that they put in there," Baldinger said on 106.7 "They could have gone out there and chased one of these quarterbacks and maybe it might have been the best thing to do. But I like what they’re doing. I believe in building around the QB and then when it’s time to get him, you go get him. But right now they just keep building and adding -- an offensive lineman, you add a Curtis Samuel, you add Jamin Davis to the defense and I’m a big William Jackson III fan. I think he’s going to play great for Washington."
As the 2020 season showed, a lot can change from the summer to the end of a campaign. How the team looks in June doesn't completely correlate to what the record will be in January.
Still, based on Washington's trajectory under Rivera and the positive additions made entering the season, Baldinger believes another division title could be in the cards.
"I like everything they’re doing and so I think it’s Washington’s division to lose right now."