Reporting David Elfin
Jabar Gaffney and Santana Moss weren’t a bad pair of starting receivers in 2011. Between them, Washington’s regular wideouts hauled in 114 balls for 1,531 yards and nine touchdowns. Twelve other teams, including division champions Denver, Houston and San Francisco, enjoyed less production from their two leading receivers.
However, that still leaves 19 teams whose starting tandem outdid Washington’s and that prompted the Redskins to spend large on receivers Pierre Garcon of Indianapolis and Josh Morgan of San Francisco in the first hours of free agency in March, giving them five-year contracts that included a guaranteed $28 million.
The last two times that Washington doubled up on wideouts, the upgrade never materialized. Antwaan Randle El was solid, but fellow 2006 newcomer Brandon Lloyd was a total bust. Two years later, the Redskins drafted Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly in the second round and received just 49 catches, 473 yards and three touchdowns in 55 games before jettisoning them.
So much is expected of Garcon, 25, and Morgan, 26.
“Every time you play in the league there’s pressure whether you’re a sixth-round pick or a first-day free agent,” Garcon, a product of Division III Mount Union (Ohio), said when asked about trying to live up to his five-year, $42.5 million contract.
“Garcon is a big-time receiver,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “You can see his power, his strength, his quickness, his speed. And Josh is very talented. He hasn’t practiced full speed all the time, but he’ll be ready to go by the time we get to camp, once that ankle (which he broke in the fifth game last year) heals up and he has practiced enough to tell everybody on this football team that he’s one heck of a receiver.”
Garcon and Morgan each said the decision to sign with the Redskins was easy even though the former’s team was in the Super Bowl just three seasons ago and was going to have a top rookie quarterback just like Washington would and the latter’s team reached the NFC Championship Game last year.
“The first person to call you (once free agency opens) really kind of gets it, but there’s also an eliminating factor of what team you really don’t want to go to … what city you don’t want to be in,” said Garcon, whose 360 yards after the catch last year nearly matched the 373 combined by Moss and the since-released Gaffney. “(The Redskins) wanted me to be a part of this organization, wanted me to help them get a Super Bowl victory.”
Like every Redskins fan who’s too young to really remember the team’s last championship 20 years ago, Morgan, a product of H.D. Woodson High and Virginia Tech, has been waiting too long to celebrate a title.
“It’s home and it was my favorite team so it’s hard to turn down an opportunity like that, especially when you (can) come in and contribute right away,” said Morgan, adding that he believes that he will join Garcon as a starter. “It was the whole situation, playing with a quarterback like (Griffin), the same West Coast system I’m used to in San Francisco. It’s a win-win all-around. Even the coaches in San Francisco told me to do what was best for me and my family so I figured why not come home and play (in front) of my family?”
While Morgan has yet to have a true breakout season, never producing more than 52 catches, 698 yards or three touchdowns, Garcon set career-highs with 70 catches, 947 yards and six touchdowns last season.
“Every time I get the ball in my hands, I want to make the best play or the biggest play that I can,” said Garcon, who made the play of the day during Tuesday’s minicamp practice with a one-handed, lefthanded stab of a Griffin pass into the end zone.
Morgan, who was chosen 31 picks before Garcon in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, is no less confident.
“Give me the ball, that’s my favorite pattern,” he said. “I love running slants (and) anything in the end zone.”
It has been nine years since Washington’s starting receivers combined to reach the end zone more than 10 times. If Garcon and Morgan (if he beats out Moss and Hankerson) can do that, the Redskins might well be thinking their money was well spent.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin