No team in the NFL spent more money on tight ends than the Redskins did a season ago. And for a multiple reasons, few teams received less production from their tight ends than the Burgundy and Gold in 2019.
So entering the offseason, new Redskins head coach Ron Rivera knew they would need to upgrade the position unit. The Redskins released Jordan Reed in February and Vernon Davis retired earlier this offseason, the need to add at least one, if not two, tight ends, became extremely vital in free agency.
Many expected the Redskins to be major players for former Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper. But just minutes into the free agency legal tampering period, the tight end reached a four-year deal with the Cleveland Browns that made him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL.
While Hooper told SiriusXM in an interview that his decision came down to Cleveland and Washington, Rivera shot down the idea that the Redskins were truly in the mix for the 25-year-old pass-catcher.
"The Austin Hooper thing is we really weren’t in it as much as it’s been portrayed by a lot of people," Rivera told local media during a Zoom conference on Tuesday. "The truth of the matter is he set the market as far as tight ends were concerned, and that’s something we most certainly weren’t prepared to do. We wanted to get into it, but again, once that money climbed very high and very quickly for him and good for him, we decided to move on."
The Redskins signed two tight ends in free agency -- Logan Thomas and Richard Rodgers -- to much shorter and cheaper contracts than the one Hooper received in Cleveland. Neither one is a flashy signing, and it's unlikely either one of the new tight ends will match the production of Hooper's with the Browns.
Thomas is a converted quarterback-turned-tight-end who had a career-high 16 receptions for the Detroit Lions a season ago. But Rivera and tight ends coach Pete Hoener saw something in Thomas that reminded them of longtime Panthers great at the position.
"It’s one of those things that in the system you love to have a guy with Greg Olsen type of ability, who is a primary ball catcher, a guy that goes out and finds the hole, finds the crease, can separate when the ball is in the air at the right time, and that’s one of the things that Greg Olsen did very, very well for us," Rivera said. "You know Logan Thomas is a guy that we see some glimpses of that type of athletic ability."
When Olsen was released by the Panthers earlier this offseason, Rivera wanted to bring the veteran tight end to Washington. Olsen took a visit to Redskins Park but ultimately decided to play in Seattle with Russell Wilson.
But for Rivera to compare Thomas to Olsen, someone who was a team captain for the Panthers and a major part of Rivera's success in Carolina, is high praise for the new Redskins tight end.
"Pete Hoener, our tight ends coach, felt very strongly about [Thomas'] abilities, mostly because he thought he was a very smart and savvy football player." Rivera said. "He's a tremendous athlete and he’s just learning and getting the position right now. Remember he is a converted quarterback, a guy that has a skill set that is a little unique because of his understanding of the way offenses work."
Rivera also has high hopes for Rodgers, someone who always "had a good game" against the Panthers when Rivera was in Carolina.
Over the past four seasons, Rodgers has a total of 43 catches for 438 yards. He's had multiple injuries, too, playing in just eight total games since 2017. His best season came in 2015 with Green Bay, where he was a trusted target of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"We brought in Richard Rodgers, a guy that has had success when he was in Green Bay playing with Aaron Rodgers," Rivera said. "I got to know Aaron a little bit and one thing Aaron always thought that this was the kind of guy who was a safety valve, a go-to guy, that just knew how to get himself open in position. He’s another guy that we just feel that can come in and compete and be a part of what we’re trying to do."
So while the Redskins didn't add the flashiest name in free agency, the new Redskins head coach is confident that both Thomas and Rodgers will be welcome additions to the football team. Both are expected to be used a bunch, too.
"This offense is a multi-personnel offense, we’re not going to just sit there in 11 personnel, three wide-receivers or ten wide-receivers, we’re going to go back and forth," Rivera said. "We’re going to go with one tight end, two tight ends, three tight ends type of offense, so having multiple tight ends on your roster is going to be very beneficial to you so these guys we all believe are going to fit. We like the guys that were here to begin with. And again, we look forward to getting them ready."
The Redskins could still add another tight end to the group during April's draft, too. But when asked about that possibility, Rivera reiterated that he's pleased with what the team has done to address the position and said the Redskins may be wiser to use that pick on a different position.
"Well it is a position we like," Rivera said. "Can we target them? Yeah, we could, but we also feel that there are some other positions in this draft that are available that would really fit some needs for us as well. Again, all options are open to us when it comes to each of those rounds that we’re picking in."
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