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Exclusive: Commanders coach opens up on ‘relief’ of team’s expected sale

As the news broke on Thursday afternoon that a record-breaking deal to sell the Washington Commanders had been reached (but not yet signed), the emotions inside the team’s headquarters could not be denied.

“Kind of relief,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera told USA TODAY Sports on Friday.

A group led by Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris and including Mitchell Rales and Earvin “Magic” Johnson reached an agreement in principle to purchase the Commanders from Dan and Tanya Snyder for $6.05 billion – the highest price ever for a U.S. sports franchise – and likely end the tenure of the NFL’s most despised owner.

There’s still a window of opportunity over the next couple of days for another bidder, perhaps Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos, to top the record bid. But after weeks of drama that included the question of whether the embattled Snyder would actually sell the team, the transition appears to be imminent.

“It really seemed like a load was lifted, because everybody was on pins and needles for the last couple of months,” Rivera said, reflecting on the reaction. “You kind of wondered what was going to happen.”

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After a short break to process the development on Thursday, what happened next?

“Then we got right back to the draft meetings,” Rivera said. “We’ll still be business as usual.”

Rivera and other key members of the Commanders brain trust, including GM Martin Mayhew and president Jason Wright, have been pressed to carry on as if they are in place for the long haul, even though uncertainty is always part of the package when a new owner arrives.

Then again, as Rivera acknowledged, coaching in the NFL always comes with the urgency of trying to win now…while trying to set the table to win later, too.

“At the end of the day,” Rivera said, “you have to make the best of it right now.”

During the recent NFL league meetings in Phoenix, Mayhew insisted that the prospects of a sale had “zero impact” on the team’s offseason moves. He indicated that he wasn’t privy to details surrounding the bidding process and that he actually preferred that so as to concentrate purely on football matters.

“It’s all about putting together a good football team for 2023,” Mayhew told reporters in late March. “That’s where our focus is.”

After beating the Dallas Cowboys in their finale to close out the 2022 season at 8-8-1, the Commanders made some key moves in free agency to fortify the trenches. After initially placing the franchise tag on defensive tackle Daron Payne, they signed him to a four-year, $90 million extension. They added offensive tackle Andrew Wyllie from the Kansas City Chiefs and center Nick Gates from the New York Giants. Jacoby Brissett, a journeyman who spent last season in Cleveland, is the veteran presence at quarterback to compete with Sam Howell, the front-runner for the starting role who remains unproven as he heads into his second season.

There’s still a decision to make regarding the fifth-year option on defensive end Chase Young, but after signing defensive tackle Jonathan Allen to a four-year, $72 million extension last year, the Commanders are positioned to keep their talented defensive line together for several more years.

Also, the hire of Eric Bieniemy to run the offense also underscores urgency – for the team and for the coordinator bypassed for several head coaching jobs despite his key role on Andy Reid’s staffs with the Chiefs.

“Finishing strong against Dallas was a good tone-setter for the offseason,” said Rivera, heading into his fourth season in Washington. “We’ve tried to build off that. Free agency helped us a lot. So it’s business as usual. Hiring Eric Bieniemy reflected that. Now the draft.”

Barring a trade, Washington will pick 16th in the first round of the draft on April 27. Rivera maintains that the Commanders have the luxury of drafting the best available player.

“We don’t have to take a position,” he said. “We can take whatever players is available in our slot that can best help us. We can only control what we can control. We’ll react to what the people in front of us do in the draft.”

At least one big mystery seems to be on the verge of being resolved. After When both sides finalize terms of the sale, the deal will then be vetted by the NFL’s finance committee before being presented to the full body of owners, with 24 votes needed for approval. Presumably, the owners could be presented a deal to review at their next round of league meetings in Eagan, Minnesota, in late May.  

For Rivera and Co., it’s a different type of business as usual.

As the coach put it, “Now that they’ve come up with a deal, we can continue to do what we’ve been doing.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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