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Ron Rivera: Commanders confident in QB Sam Howell; no interest in pursuing Lamar Jackson

Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera continues to dismiss questions about any potential pursuit of franchise-tagged Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Speaking Tuesday from the Annual League Meeting, Rivera again cited the promise of second-year signal-caller Sam Howell as the motivation for eschewing more expansive options.

"The main reason we're going with Sam is we think Sam's going to be a good football player. We really do," Rivera said. "If the guy had come out (in 2021), he'd have been a first- or second-round pick. We were fortunate. He fell to the fifth round because people didn't think it was a strong class. Remember, he was the frontrunner for the Heisman that year, coming out of a season where he lost three offensive linemen to the draft, a tight end to the draft, a wide receiver, Dyami (Brown), to the draft, and two running backs. That's seven primary players off of an offense that was very dynamic and explosive. Go back and research that and see those things, and you'll see what we've seen. I really do believe that."

Rivera cited Howell's progress late in the 2022 season when he began getting more practice reps as the No. 2 behind Taylor Heinicke, noting that the then-rookie picked up things quicker and began correcting mistakes.

Howell started the season-finale blowout win over the Dallas Cowboys, completing 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards with a touchdown and a red zone interception. It was a solid performance that convinced the Commanders to give the fifth-round pick a shot to win the starting job this offseason.

Rivera mentioned the play of San Francisco 49ers seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy as a reason the club believes Howell can succeed.

"I don't think this is as much a wild shot as people think it is," he said. "Part of it is 'cause you watch a young man like Brock Purdy have the season like he had last year, and you'd like to think, 'Wow, we have a guy that's got the same type of ability and skill set.'"

Purdy was playing in a QB-friendly Kyle Shanahan offense. Howell will be learning a new scheme under Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

Washington inked veteran Jacoby Brissett to a one-year, $8 million contract this offseason as a backstop to the Howell experiment. It's a heady signing, with Brissett showing he can conduct an offense and is a willing teammate.

Rivera reiterated that the Commanders never considered chasing Jackson, given the cost -- financially and draft assets -- it would take to pry the former MVP out of Baltimore. Instead, Washington is attempting to be frugal at the position at this stage and build the club around a cheap option in Howell.

"We never did. Honestly, we never did," Rivera said of pursuing Jackson. "It was just something that we just didn't feel suited what we wanted to do. I know he's a tremendous talent. I know he's a player that can impact a team. I just didn't think -- and we sat down and talked about it -- that was the direction for us as a football team."

Rivera didn't rule out the Commanders selecting a quarterback at No. 16 if one fell to that range but noted he's yet to dive into the QBs in this draft fully.

Asked if the team ruled out using a first-round pick on a quarterback, Rivera responded, "No. We have to look at every avenue."

While most projections expect the top QBs to be off the board before Washington is on the clock at No. 16, if one the team liked fell, that sort of addition would keep with the Commanders going the lower-cost route at the QB position.

One thing Rivera has made plenty clear this offseason remains constant: Sam Howell will have every opportunity to be the Commanders' QB1 in 2023.

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