One of the Redskins many offseason needs this season is to upgrade their receiving corps, and give Robert Griffin III more weapons to work with. The question isn’t should the Redskins upgrade their receivers, but rather how much should they invest in the position.
Receiver is one of the more overhyped, and low impact positions in the NFL. While everyone of course wants to have elite receivers, there is little to show that elite receivers equal success in the NFL. When you look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers all made the postseason this year and we see them there every year. Top running backs maybe don’t have the same success rate, but of the top 10 RB’s in terms of rushing yards, 6 of them made the postseason. While you can look at other categories like TD’s, yards per carry or yards per game and you will similarly find 5-6 guys from playoff rosters. Receivers though are a completely different ball game. Of the top 10 receivers in catches, you have just three guys who made the playoffs: Julian Edleman, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas. Total yards saw four guys (Thomas, Green, DeSean Jackson and Jordy Nelson). Now touchdowns saw 5 of the top 10 receivers in the playoffs, but they come solely from the Broncos (Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker) and Bengals (Green and Marvin Jones), so 10 of the playoff teams didn’t have a guy with 10 or more receiving TD’s. Despite the great years that they had Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Antonio Brown, Pierre Garcon, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson and Dez Bryant were shutout of the playoffs. And really it’s not anything new. Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald have represented sort of the elite tier of receivers, yet they have very few playoff appearances between them.
This is not to say that a top receiver can’t have an impact, particularly in the postseason, but rather that without them being on a quality team they aren’t going to matter much for a team’s win-loss record. This is even more true for the Redskins given that with a young quarterback going through growing pains and a star running back, they should clearly be a run first team. They only have to look at teams like the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks with young mobile quarterbacks of their own (and they aren’t struggling as much) who win by establishing a strong running game and tough defense, as the example they should try to follow. Those three teams were the bottom three teams in the league for passing attempts yet they won at least 12 games apiece. The 49ers were without their top receiver, Michael Crabtree, for most of the season and the Seahawks were missing their top two receivers, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice, yet in neither case did it really phase this team. Had they been without either their quarterback or running back for that long, it would have cost them more games.
The Redskins already have a good start with Pierre Garcon at one receiver spot. Garcon isn’t what you’d call an elite receiver, but he’s a very good receiver and capable of tearing up defenses when given the opportunity. Garcon gives the Redskins one weapon to build around, and they potentially have another in tight end Jordan Reed‘s promising rookie season was cut short due to injury.If Reed is healthy for 2014 there is no reason why he can’t be a top 10 receiving tight end. The problem is after Garcon and Reed things thin out fairly quickly. Leonard Hankerson was having a productive third season and looked poised to take over the starting role opposite Garcon fulltime. Unfortunately a late season ACL injury leaves his status for next season in doubt. He wasn’t playing great, but he was solid and at the very least would have given the Redskins someone capable opposite Garcon. With Santana Moss a free agent and Josh Morgan’s contract being voided the Redskins don’t have much else for next season. Aldrick Robinson should be back, but he’s been inconsistent and is more of a one-trick pony.
The Redskins are going to need to bring in 3 or 4 receivers this offseason, and at least one needs to be capable of starting or playing a significant role. Now that makes it sound like the Redskins should spend quite a bit of resources on the position, but I don’t think that is the case. The Redskins need to follow the 49ers/Seahawks/Panthers approach and build up the defense and boost the rushing attack by upgrading the offensive line (this also helps the passing attack). Instead of spending big free agent dollars on a receiver or using a 2nd or 3rd round pick on the position, the Redskins should focus those resources elsewhere. Instead the Redskins should sign one or two cheaper stopgap free agents and draft receivers in say the 4th and 7th rounds.
In terms of free agents the Redskins need to pass on any big name guys who are looking for big pay days. Instead they need to focus on those 2nd tier guys who are looking for modest or minimal salaries to prove themselves. The last couple of years we’ve seen guys like Julian Edelman and Donnie Avery have big seasons after signing contracts like this (plenty of other solid examples as well). Preferably one of the receivers the Redskins sign also has return abilities as well.
Some guys to be on the look out for:
-The Chiefs haven’t known what to do with McCluster throughout his career and they’ve utilized him at running back and receiver during his time in KC. He could be a solid slot receiver option (and help out in the back-field at times) as well as being an impressive return man. McCluster has some added benefits as being a guy who the Redskins could use in a variety of roles, particularly with any option concepts involving RGIII. He really shouldn’t be too expensive maybe $14 million over 4 years.
-Jones is a big play return man with some of the most impressive returns over the past two years. He’s an okay receiver with some nice deep speed, but he’s not consistent enough to be a full-time guy. Still his special team ability would be nice and he shouldn’t be too expensive either, maybe a 3 year $10 million deal.
-Maclin is a former first round pick from the Eagles. He’s coming off an ACL injury that knocked him out for the entire year. He’s shown good potential in his career, but he’s yet to have posted a 1,000 yard year. He’s going to be looking for a 1-year deal to boost his value, and may decide the the Eagles aren’t the place for him, given the presence of Jackson and Riley Cooper (assuming the Eagles re-sign Cooper). You are probably looking at a 1 year incentive laden deal. The downside is if he has a big year the Redskins need to re-sign him for quite a bit more in 2015.
-Ginn is a big time return man, but he also had a nice year as a receiver this season. He offers deep speed and some big play ability. He’s not going to break the bank and could be signed for something reasonable like a 2 year $4 million deal.
-Roberts is a solid 2nd tier slot receiver, which could be a good fit for the Redskins since they aren’t likely to throw the ball 600+ times next year. He could help boost the Redskins presence inside and give them an underneath option for Griffin. While he’s put up solid numbers in his career, Roberts is probably looking at a 3 years $9 million type of deal, which is reasonable for the 26 year old receiver.
Manningham had a promising career as the Giants 3rd receiver and came up with a big catch to help them in their win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl two years ago. He signed with the 49ers in 2012, and started 10 games but battled some injuries. An ACL injury wiped out most of this past season, but he should be healthy for 2014. He’s still just 28 years old and could be worth a 1 year $1 million type of contract.
-Alexander is an immensely talented receiver, who unfortunately just can’t stay healthy. After a big 2nd half of the season for the Chargers in 2012, Alexander was expected to do big things in 2013, but an ACL injury wiped out his season. Alexander has now had major knee injuries to both knees and isn’t worth much more than the league minimum given the risk, but the potential is there as well. The Skins likely probably won’t be near the top of his list to have a bounce back season, but if they guarantee some additional money or offer a bit more (within reason) they could maybe bring him in.
-It’s been years since Cotchery has had a top 3 receiver role with a team, but he stepped up for the Steelers this year catching 40+ passes for over 600 yards and 10 TD’s. He’s never been a star, but has shown to be a solid receiver, and having a nice veteran presence could be a good thing for RGIII. He should be able to be signed on the cheap for less than $2 million for next season, since he’ll be 32 next year.
-LaFell has never taken his game to the next level for the Panthers, as he’s been in the 40 catch, 600 yard range for the past three seasons. He’s got solid size and could maybe be signed on a cheap 2 year deal as he looks to prove himself. Anything more than $3 million a year should be considered too much at this point.
Part 2 i’ll look at some mid-round draft prospects that could make sense for the Redskins.