Before the start of the 2016 season, us fans of the Washington Redskins believed that the team had assembled its most talented collective group of wide receivers and tight ends since the early 1990’s.
Between DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed, Niles Paul, and Vernon Davis, no team in the NFL had the level of talent at depth at both wide receiver and tight end that the Redskins had. But, like with any other modicum of success that us Washington, D.C. sports fans get to enjoy, anything good we have is bound to come to a premature and abrupt end.
If you’ve been reading the tea leaves — or whatever the internet equivalent of those may be — lately, you’re probably getting the same feeling that most other Redskins fans have been getting: that said abundance of riches, namely at the top of said wide receiver rotation, might be very short lived. More specifically, with the NFL’s free agency period set to start at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, and with the league’s “legal tampering period” set to start today at 12:00pm, it seems like wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon could very well leave Washington, and sign over their services to new teams, by the time the weekend is over.
I’m already on the record as stating that Jackson is as good as gone from Washington next year. I think he’s looking for some combination of a big fat contract (which will almost certainly be the last “big deal” of his career), and a quarterback who can throw him deep balls that he doesn’t have to slow down and wait for. I originally thought that he was a shoo-in to go back to Philadelphia, but the rumor du jour is that Tampa Bay is hot in pursuit of him, and with the 4th most available salary cap room of any team in the NFL (reportedly over $66.1 million in funds to spend), they’re raring to make Jackson an offer he can’t refuse. I’ve heard they’re basically going to fly him down to Florida, and hold him captive in the facility, not letting him leave before he signs a contract for an absurd amount of money. The Buccaneers’ biggest need this offseason is at wide receiver, as they desperately need someone to help take away the focus that opposing teams were placing on (superstud) wide receiver Mike Evans. Getting a player like Jackson, to help stretch the field and open up things underneath for Evans (where he excels), and pairing him with the emerging Jameis Winston, makes a lot of sense for both parties; Jackson would finally have a quarterback who’s got the arm strength to deliver him the football deep down the field, too.
Even if Jackson doesn’t end up in Tampa, it’s not like there will be any shortage of demand for his — or Garcon’s — services. By my count, there are at least 10 teams who have wide receiver among their three biggest positions in need of an upgrade. Philadelphia, Tennessee, and even New England (though much less likely), could all be in the mix for his services.
It sounds like the Redskins brain trust — a term that sounds increasingly contradictory, based off the reported dysfunction as of late — are all but content with letting Jackson test the free agent waters. That decision was largely based on the idea that they could, or would, bring back Garcon. But if you’ve been paying attention lately, there’s not exactly much hope of that happening, either.
First off, there was the (perhaps overblown) issue of the total radio silence between the Redskins and Garcon since the end of the season. Still, many people chalked that up to the Redskins waiting ’til the NFL Combine –taking place right on the heels of the start of free agency — to begin substantive conversations with Garcon’s representatives.
But, the offseason developments of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan getting head coaching jobs also presented unforeseen variables in the “Garcon coming back to DC” equation. Both of them took jobs with teams that might have the least talented groups of wide receivers in the entire NFL (the Los Angeles Rams and San Franciso 49ers). While the 49ers could basically state their top needs as “all of the above,” after releasing wide receiver Torrey Smith this morning, the top two wide receivers currently at the top of their depth chart (Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington) have 92 career receptions combined. The Rams have badly needed an upgrade at wide receiver for literally an entire decade now. Before 2016, they had gone nine straight season without having a wide receiver go for more than 800 yards receiving all year long; compare that to the Redskins, who actually had three different wide receivers — including Garcon — break 800 yards receiving this past season.
Both Shanahan and McVay clearly have a strong level of familiarity with Garcon, given their respective stints as offensive coordinator of the Redskins. Garcon’s most productive season — when he had 113 catches for 1,346 yards — came in 2013, when Shanahan was calling plays in Washington. McVay worked under Shanahan and Jay Gruden, both of whom are considered offensive minds who are highly creative with designing plays to get wide receivers open, and McVay himself is considered one of the brightest young offensive minds in the game. Garcon could sign with either team and contribute right away, having a strong familiarity with the schemes both of those offenses would run.
Of course, both Shanahan’s and McVay’s teams have major issues with their respective quarterback positions, so you’d think the Redskins would (theoretically) have the leg up in trying to bring back Garcon. But, given the fact that the likelihood that Kirk Cousins won’t be the Redskins quarterback after the 2017 season — if he’s even the quarterback this year — grows by the day, it’s not exactly like this team is a bastion of stability, either. On top of that, there has been whispers that Garcon was insulted by the Redskins taking their sweet time in beginning discussions to bring him back, to the point where the bridge between both parties may have been burned already. Of course, if we’re to give credence to the statement made by Chad Dukes of 106.7 the fan yesterday, that Garcon reportedly requested a trade at some point last season, then it doesn’t exactly change the narrative that he wants out of here, too.
At the Combine, Gruden basically tipped his hand a bit, saying that life would go on for the Redskins in the 2017 season, with Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, and the rest of the motley crew the Redskins have at receiver — ie, without Jackson and Garcon. He did say he’d love to have them back, but if you read between the lines, even he was admitting that it was far from a guarantee either — let alone both — would be back.
Yes, Gruden can’t exactly go out and say that “our season is going to shit if we don’t have either Garcon or Jackson back with us,” especially considering every coach believes in the “next man up” mentality anyway. But that theoretical group of receivers, without Jackson and Garcon, is a colossal step down from where we started the 2016 season. It places a lot of pressure on Josh Doctson to contribute right from the get go, even though he’s essentially coming into the 2017 season as a redshirt freshman. The Redskins have thought about moving Jamison Crowder outside, as the #2 receiver, but assuming he’ll replicate his production from 2016 at that position is a faulty assumption at best. Crowder was a force as a slot receiver last year, and the nature of the routes he’ll run, and the cornerbacks he’ll face, would be much different playing outside, especially considering his undersized build — 5’8 and 182lbs — makes him best fit for the slot. In other words: playing him outside is jamming a square peg in a round hole. And then, what do we have after Doctson and Crowder? There’s no way we can trust Ryan Grant or Maurice Harris to consistently and meaningfully contribute (or at least “not yet” for Harris, anyway, though he does have some upside). As far as free agency, the Redskins aren’t going to throw gobs of money at “tier 1” wide receivers like Alshon Jeffrey or Brandon Marshall, and how much can we realistically expect from guys like Kenny Britt or Kenny Stills, even at the (absurd) price of $10 million per year it’ll likely cost to sign those “second tier” guys?
And before anyone brings up the argument about “we have the best group of tight ends in the NFL, so that’ll help things!,” my counter-argument(s) would be: 1) do you really want to go into a season placing so much reliance on Jordan Reed — who’d basically be the #1 receiving option on the team — staying healthy for 16 games? and 2) there’s a reason that Vernon Davis was a free agent last season; are we sure that 2016 wasn’t more of an aberration — ie, a pleasant uptick/last gasp for his career — versus the norm to expect from him?
The Cousins situation is already an unmitigated disaster — there’s just no other way to put it — so we literally have no long-term answer at quarterback right now. We definitely don’t have a running game that’s dominant enough to really set up a passing game, and make life easier for whoever plays quarterback or receiver. And, we just lost the services of one one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL.
To sum it all up: if you’re a Redskins fan, cling tightly to your memories of last season’s #2-ranked passing offense, because it could be a long, long time before we see that again.