Only two rookies and two never-weres ranked below Rex Grossman in the NFL passer ratings this season, but the 5-11 Redskins actually finished a respectable 14th in passing despite the veteran’s 20 interceptions and the even worse play of John Beck during his three starts at quarterback.
But the 2011 season of Grossman and Beck will likely be considered a transition year for Washington’s passing game.
Start with the worst season for two-time Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley, who caught just eight passes for 65 yards in five games before going on injured reserve with knee and finger injuries. Cooley’s longtime fellow top threat Santana Moss caught just 46 balls for 584 yards while missing four games with a broken hand.
Cooley will be 30 this year. Moss, a Pro Bowl receiver during his 2005 Redskins debut, will be 33. Their days as Washington’s 1-2 punch are history even if both remain with the team.
After a surprising breakout year in 2010 when he ranked third in the NFL in yards per catch, Anthony Armstrong was a non-factor with just seven catches. Third round draft pick Leonard Hankerson topped that just in Week 10 at Miami before suffering a season-ending hip injury.
However, receiver Jabar Gaffney proved to be a steal, setting career highs with 68 catches and 947 yards after being acquired from Denver for spare part defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. Fellow veteran Donte Stallworth had his moments with 22 catches for 309 yards, most of them during his second chance stint that followed the loss of Hankerson.
And then there was tight end Fred Davis, who was blossoming into a star in his fourth season with 59 catches for 796 yards before being suspended for the final four games after a third failed drug test.
Moss, Cooley, Gaffney, Armstrong (who’s cheap) and Hankerson are all under contract for 2012 as are Miles Austin (12 catches), rookie Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen (who zoomed from third tight end to starter after the loss of Cooley and Davis).
With Cooley having missed most of two of the past three seasons and perhaps never able to regain the form that made him – along with the late Jerry Smith – one of the two best tight ends in franchise history, the Redskins should try to re-sign Davis before he hits the market in March if they believe that the suspension was a true wakeup call. Davis’ price has to have come down and the fact that he’ll be suspended for a year with his next failed drug test has to be written into the contract.
Hankerson flashed his potential against the Dolphins, but that was one game against a bad team. Washington needs a big-time receiver to be part of its top three along with the reliable 31-year-old Gaffney and Moss.
While quarterback is the major offseason priority and a right tackle who can play both sides in case Trent Williams, Davis’ pot-puffing pal, is suspended for a year, is a clear second on the wish list, if the Redskins sign Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn as a free agent, then they could use the sixth overall selection in the draft on a bonafide receiver like Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon.
A passing attack with Flynn at quarterback, Blackmon, Hankerson, Gaffney, Moss, Davis and Cooley running patterns and Williams and a second-rounder manning the edges sounds pretty sweet doesn’t it, Redskins fans?
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March