Although the fan and media conversation about the NFL draft focuses on needs for the coming season, the draft is more about the long-term future than the short-term outlook. Between now and the draft we’re looking at how the Redskins are set up at each position on the field. Today, we look at wide receivers.
For the previous two offseasons, the Redskins have worked on revamping their wide receiver corps. In 2010, Mike Shanahan’s first year in Washington, Santana Moss was the leading receiver. Substantial playing time went to 39-year-old Joey Galloway, Roydell Williams, Terrence Austin and Anthony Armstrong.
The overhaul started in 2011 when the Redskins drafted Leonard Hankerson in the third round and Aldrick Robinson in the sixth, and signed Moss to a new three-year contract. That season the Redskins also brought in veterans Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth. Gaffney led the team in receiving but both he and Stallworth proved to be one year and done.
A year ago, they signed Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan as free agents. During training camp they claimed Dezmon Briscoe off of waivers and he ended up supplanting Armstrong on the roster.
As a result, with the exception of Moss, the Redskins have totally refurbished the wide receiver position. And every player who caught a pass for the Redskins in 2012 is under contract in 2013. With the exception of Moss, all of them are under 30 years old. Moss will be 34 when the season starts, Morgan will be 28, Garçon 27, and Hankerson, Briscoe, and Robinson will all be 24.
The Redskins, however, are far from being set at the position going forward. Moss is in the last year of his contract and you have to think that this could well be his last year. Morgan’s deal voids after this season and he will be a free agent. If Morgan has a solid season it seems likely that there would be mutual interest in a return but that remains to be seen.
Besides the contract issues, a couple of players’ spots on the roster are somewhat shaky. The organization saw enough promise in Briscoe to devote a spot on the 53-man roster but he was either inactive or on the bench for much of the season. When he got on the field he had some issues with dropped passes. While the Redskins see some promise there, he needs to produce if he is going to get another year. Briscoe also is a free agent in 2014.
Robinson also is under some pressure to produce. He caught long touchdown bombs against the Eagles and Cowboys to help spark the season ending winning streak. However, in the last five games of that streak he played a total of 30 snaps and according to Pro Football Focus he was not targeted for a single pass.
There doesn’t appear to be any danger that Robinson won’t make the team this year. He possesses great speed and that will almost always prompt a team to give a player more time to develop. But it is safe to say that this, his third NFL season, will be critical for him.
So between the contract situations of Moss and Morgan and the fact that Robinson and Briscoe have tenuous holds on roster spots, the Redskins have just two wide receivers that they can count on beyond this season. Garçon is signed through 2016 and Hankerson through 2014.
In addition to the contracts, the Redskins have to consider that wide receivers face a steep learning curve when entering the NFL. It usually takes a few years for wide receivers to develop into effective NFL pass catchers. For every Randy Moss who has a major impact as a rookie there are a dozen or so like the 49ers Michael Crabtree, they 10th overall pick in 2009, who just posted his first 1000-yard season in his fourth year in the league.
Also, wide receivers tend to be expensive to acquire as free agents. Garçon was a talented but not highly productive receiver with the Colts and he warranted a five-year, $42.5 million contract from the Redskins. Mike Wallace, who is closer to the upper echelon but not there, got a five-year free agent deal from the Dolphins worth an average of $12 million per year. Your salary cap will have a whole lot more breathing room if you can draft and develop your receivers.
Given those considerations, it would not be surprising to see the Redskins draft a wide receiver later this month, perhaps as early as the third round. If they do take one that high, it could be an indication that they have decided to move on from Moss in 2014 and/or that they are skeptical of Robinson’s ability to master the finer points of the game. It could also mean that they are unsure
They could also take a receiver later in the draft and let him compete for Briscoe’s roster spot or work for a year on the practice squad.