Why was Morgan Moses released? Behind the hard truth about a rebuild

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Morgan Moses, Ron Rivera and the hard truth about a rebuild originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

In a move that surprised many, the Washington Football Team released right tackle Morgan Moses this week.

Moses started every game for the organization since 2015 and was under contract for two more seasons at a relatively reasonable rate around $8 million a year.

On the surface, this move doesn’t make a ton of sense.

Certainly Rivera’s decision to release Moses was aided by the team signing veteran left tackle Charles Leno earlier this month, and that signing came just a few days after selecting University of Texas tackle Sam Cosmi in the second round of the 2021 draft.

All of a sudden paying Moses went from necessity to luxury, at least in the eyes of Ron Rivera and the Washington brain trust.

But it’s probably not that simple.

RELATED: Morgan Moses, Geron Christian released 

A third-round pick in 2014, Moses ranked as a veteran leader for the Washington Football Team and a locker room favorite. 

Look around the Washington roster now, however, and the locker room that favored Moses is largely gone. 

The actual physical locker room at the Washington practice facility is a large rectangle, with large double doors entering the room about the center. Walking in, the defensive players go to the right, and the offense is on the left. In the back left corner of the room sat the offensive line, quarterbacks, and specialists, and for years, that was one of the most lively areas of the locker room. 

Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, Alex Smith, Nick Sundberg, Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Ty Nsekhe at various times occupied that back left corner area, and Moses was in the middle of all of it. 

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Now look at that list again, and realize almost none of those players are in Washington anymore. Scherff's still there, but on a one-year deal that looks like could be his last. 

Left out of the physical description of the Washington locker room - or more accurately the old Washington locker room - were the infamous ping pong tables. They also sat towards that back left corner area. 

When Rivera took over the Washington Football job back in January 2020, one of his first actions was removing the ping pong tables.

In hindsight, that was a precursor of things to come for that back left corner of the locker room. 

None of this suggests a defense or even an understanding of Moses' release. With the veteran right tackle, Washington had formidable depth at the position, presumably with Leno and Moses as the two starting tackles and Cosmi alongside veteran Cornelius Lucas as backups. 

Without Moses, much pressure will land on Cosmi to claim the starting right tackle job. Talent evaluators will say he can handle it, but there's a big jump from the Big 12 to the NFC East. 

Two things stand out in trying to understand the Moses move through the eyes of Ron Rivera.

Repeatedly, Rivera has talked about learning from some of his mistakes during his nine-year run as head coach in Carolina. One of those mistakes, as he's explained, is that his team got old fast, and he wasn't quick enough to let veteran players go. 

Well, going into his second year in Washington, Rivera's squad only has six players 30 years or older. That's six out of 90, and when rosters get squeezed down to 53 later this year, that number will likely only be four players 30 or older - Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tress Way, Dustin Hopkins and Jon Bostic. 

That's not an accident. 

Looking back at Rivera's comments from rookie minicamp earlier this month about the 2020 season, the coach almost gave a prelude to the Moses move:

"I told you guys this at one point I remember counting eight guys with first, second-and third-years’ experience that played a lot of football for us and meaningful minutes, not fourth quarter mop up, I am talking about from the kickoff to the end of the game. We had guys with just first, second-and third-years’ experience playing big roles for us. That translates very well going forward because we know how some of these guys play. We know how some of these guys did it under pressure. We know how they reacted to certain things. Going forward, we can build off of that, which we intend to do.”

It's obvious that Rivera wants this team to be young, which provides salary cap flexibility, but to stay young means clearing the path for rookies to get on the field. 

The last Rivera roster move to bring this level of consternation among the fan base came at the end of training camp in 2020. Rivera cut Adrian Peterson, a veteran leader and locker room favorite, not to mention an eventual first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

On the surface, the move didn't make much sense. 

Why cut Peterson to keep Peyton Barber, a plodder and a journeyman?

Well, the coaching staff clearly saw Peterson's presence as a deterrent to the development of third-round pick Antonio Gibson. 

Barber understood his role as a short-yardage banger and that in some games he simply wouldn't get carries. Peterson would not have been comfortable in that role, and Rivera saw that coming. 

In some ways, there could be a similar situation playing out.

Once Washington signed Leno, it became obvious he'd play left tackle. That meant Cosmi would be pushing Moses for the right tackle job, but how would that competition look? Keep in mind Moses had no more guaranteed money left on his contract - and probably wanted some of his $7.75 million salary to be guaranteed - and was an offseason roster battle the best course of action? Moses had the longest consecutive start streak on the team dating back to 2014. Was he really going to be pushed to a backup role?

Maybe Rivera didn't want to deal with those questions, or potential headaches. He sacrificed depth, unquestionably, but maybe it was for more harmony going forward. 

Rivera makes a point of saying he drafts his rookies to get on the field right away. 

Washington fans saw that last season, where No. 2 overall pick Chase Young unseated veteran leader Ryan Kerrigan for his starting spot. Kerrigan's now an Eagle. Gibson and Kam Curl had big rookie seasons too.

This year first-rounder linebacker Jamin Davis and Cosmi look like starters, and third-rounders CB Benjamin St. Juste and WR Dyami Brown could push for playing time right away. Fourth-round tight end John Bates will play a lot too. 

None of this is an accident. 

This is Rivera's plan. 

The Moses release was accelerated by the Bears' release of Leno. That was unexpected. Releasing Moses next February probably was the plan prior to the Leno signing. 

It's not necessarily right - that will be proven on the field this fall - but it's clear Rivera has a strategy to these moves. 

Out with the old, in with the new.

The ping pong tables were the first sign.