There is no question that new Redskins WR is a playmaker and a dynamic threat that can help make the Redskins offense more dangerous. There is also little doubt that this addition gives RGIII all the weapons that he needs to put up big numbers. The question is though is it the right move for the Redskins that makes them a better football team.
Now most Redskins fans would say that obviously anything that is good for Robert Griffin is good for the football team as a whole. After all Griffin is the Franchise QB and the leader of the team. In most people’s eyes as Griffin goes, so go the Redskins. While there is some truth to that statement it is far too simplistic of an approach to looking at this team or any football team. Though it is true that you need a quality quarterback to have sustained success in the NFL, the range of what exactly a “quality quarterback” means is quite wide.
The Ravens’ Joe Flacco isn’t really considered a top 5, top 10 or even a top 15 QB (outside of his price tag), but in his first 5 seasons he helped his team get to the playoffs each year, make 3 AFC Championship games and win a Super Bowl. Flacco didn’t do it himself, but he gave the Ravens a baseline of play that allowed their defense, special teams and running game to lead the team. We see the same sort of thing with other quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith among others. There are of course notable exceptions, where elite QB’s like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers can put a team on their backs, but even in those cases those teams don’t do it alone and they don’t win just by having the best weapons in the league. As much as the Redskins might want him to be in the same category with these four guys, RGIII just isn’t going to be there heading into his 3rd year into the league. And that is an okay thing, since outside of Manning none of these quarterbacks were carrying their teams at that point in their career (Brady had a SB ring, but he wasn’t carrying the team). So adding weapons like his passing attack is what you are going to live and die with doesn’t make much sense.
The Redskins won Griffin’s first year mainly due to the mobility and creativity of their offensive scheme around Griffin. While it was nice to see it also proved unsustainable and the Redskins have made it clear they are not looking to go down that road again. While the offense may be more creative and take better advantage of Griffin’s knee being healthy, he’s still going to have to succeed throwing the football from the pocket if he wants to have good numbers. While Jackson can help when Griffin is throwing, it’s not like Griffin didn’t have weapons already to work with. Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed are three quality options, which is more than what we saw the 49ers have success with over the last couple of years or what the Chiefs, Panthers and Seahawks won with this past season (among some other teams). Those teams won primarily with defense and rushing attacks. Now the Redskins Defense isn’t on their level, but their rushing attack should be with Alfred Morris in the backfield. Morris is the Redskins best skill player (and yes that includes Griffin) and ideally would be the focal point you build your offense around. If the addition of Jackson signals a more pass first offensive mentality then that is probably hurting the Redskins ability to win football games.
Now that is not to suggest that Jackson’s explosive ability and mis-match problems can’t help the Redskins. Jackson’s presence should free up Garcon, Roberts and Reed to make more plays against single coverage. Griffin will have a legitimate deep threat to go to for the home run ball, and Alfred Morris and Roy Helu should face some more favorable fronts to run against. But is that worth the investment in resources for this position group? And can the Redskins trust Jackson to not be a distraction. Those are two big issues that people are for the most part ignoring.
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While many want to celebrate the Redskins 3 year $24 million contract with Jackson as a win for the Redskins, Jackson did land the largest WR APY of anyone in free agency and he did get 66% of his contract guaranteed which is pretty high. Some can see the short deal length as a positive for Washington, but it’s also a positive for Jackson as well. If Jackson has 3 good-to-great years, he hits free agency with the chance of one more good pay day. The Redskins will also have Pierre Garcon hitting free agency in 3 years making it unlikely that both would be retained at that point. With the break down of Jackson’s contract being reported at cap hits of $4, $10 and $10 million we can now see how much the Redskins will spend on their top 3 receivers over these next three seasons:
2014: Garcon: $9.7 million, Jackson: $4 million, Roberts: $2.25 million = $15.95 million
2015: Garcon: $9.7 million, Jackson: $10 million, Roberts: $3.75 million = $23.45 million
2016: Garcon: $10.2 million, Jackson: $10 million, Roberts: $5 million = $25.2 million
3 year total of cap hits: $64.6 million (*Note there are some conflicting reports on the cap numbers, now it looks like a 4 year deal with the 4th year voidable. it will likely change these a bit)
That is a significant investment into a position that has very little value to a win loss record. And with the way the Redskins are structured if they don’t throw enough to come close to justifying the investment it’s a huge waste of money, and if they do throw that much, it’s probably a bad sign since they are a better running football team. Some of that money clearly could have gone towards the defensive side of the football, and it’s hard to imagine that wouldn’t be a better use of those resources.
The other part of spending this money, is the risk that Jackson brings to the table. Now there are questions about his proximity to known gang members, and while they are valid they aren’t the biggest concern for the Redskins. Obviously if Jackson was tied to any serious criminal offense that would be horrible for the Redskins, but those are more secondary concerns given his track record with his work ethic and giving up on plays/and his team at times. Jackson has a real bad history of not being a team player and not putting in the work that is necessary to succeed in this league. He had those issues his first couple of years in the league when he was playing for his first big contract, and they continued even after he signed his big deal with Philly. So this deal that he has with the Redskins isn’t going to be some motivating factor for him to “ship up”, especially not with 66% of the deal guaranteed.
Jackson’s lack of work ethic wasn’t just under first year coach Chip Kelly, as he butted heads multiple times with Andy Reid as well. During Jackson’s tenure in Philly, the Eagles made the playoffs 4 out of 6 seasons. The Redskins will have to rein him in despite having a first year head coach and coming off a 3-13 season. Given those factors it seems unlikely that Jackson will become a model teammate and maintain an effort level that is expected of that contract.
In the end Jackson’s signing is a splashy one that will get the fans excited, but while he can bring some big plays to the Redskins offense he’s doing so at a price and with great risk. Good and great teams typically don’t build this way and it is a bit troubling to see the Redskins take this road as they look to get out of the mess Mike Shanahan left them in. Jackson may be a talented player, and one that can help Griffin develop, but is it the right direction for this franchise at this point? Time will tell, but right now it appears to be more of a risk than a benefit.