ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — When Landon Collins joined Washington in 2019, he told friends something needed to change.
In the two years since he played his first game in burgundy and gold, just about everything has.
Since Ron Rivera took over as coach and head of football operations on New Year’s Day 2020, he has entirely remade the team in his image. Just 18 players brought in by the previous regime led by former president Bruce Allen and coach Jay Gruden are part of Washington’s initial 53-man roster — a quick and substantial overhaul even in a league full of turnover.
“It was much needed,” Collins said. “What Ron is doing now, man, he’s done an amazing job. I just want to be a part of it as long as I can.”
Collins is one of just 11 starters from two seasons ago who are with Washington now, with the majority coming on the offensive and defensive lines. No. 1 receiver Terry McLaurin is the only skill position player left.
“I think we’re headed in the direction we want to be headed in,” Rivera said. “We like the quality of the young men we have on this football team.”
Newcomers run the gamut from 38-year-old “FitzMagic” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to undrafted running back Jaret Patterson and tight end Sammis Reyes, a basketball player from Chile who had never played football until last spring. Reyes is a player general manager Martin Mayhew believes has strong future potential.
“He has every tool that you would want as an athlete,” Mayhew said Tuesday after Washington set its initial 53-man roster. “It’s just getting him to translate that into playing this game.”
Kicker Dustin Hopkins, who along with punter Tress Way remain from the Gruden days, looks back at team photos from previous seasons and understands just how much player movement there is.
Still, he said of Washington’s turnover, “I didn’t realize how much more of that has taken place in the last two years.”
Rivera appreciates that Collins noticed the changes, which have come with the backdrop of owner Dan Snyder dropping the franchise’s old name, an NFL investigation into workplace misconduct and the process of rebranding the organization for modern times.
On the field, Rivera is taking his part of that seriously.
“One of the things we are trying to do is we’re trying to change things and put things in a position where we accomplish what our intent is — and that is to build a sustainable winning culture,” he said.
Rivera is hoping to build a sustainable winner as he did with Carolina, and that process began with Cam Newton. Asked about New England releasing Newton, Rivera said he was aware of it and added, “Just so you know, Ryan Fitzpatrick is our starting quarterback.”
Fitzpatrick if he’s under center Week 1 against the Chargers would become the fifth different QB to start in just 18 games of Rivera’s tenure. Of that group, veteran Alex Smith and 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins are long gone.
So, now, are three draft picks made by Rivera’s front office: receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden taken in the fourth round and offensive lineman Keith Ismael in the fifth in 2020, along with 2021 seventh-rounder William Bradley-King.
“You really don’t want to cut a guy that you drafted right away, but you want to play the guys that give you the best opportunity to win,” Rivera said last week. “There’s a certain point, every now and then, we just have to admit a mistake to move on.”
Plenty of mistakes were made by Allen and Co., which explains why Washington made the playoffs just twice and never advanced in the 12 seasons before Rivera’s arrival.
Collins noticed a lot of complaining early in his time with Washington and has been pleasantly surprised at the lack of that this year.
“That’s the biggest thing I was worried about,” he said. “They brought some tough guys in here, some great guys, — guys that came out here to compete.”