When Mike McDaniel was promoted from offensive assistant to receivers coach by Mike Shanahan last winter, he inherited a group of wideouts with similar numbers. Free agent pickups Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, long-time Redskin Santana Moss and 2011 third-round draft choice Leonard Hankerson had all caught at least 38 passes and no more than 48 for at least 510 yards and no more than 633.
Newly-appointed receivers coach Ike Hilliard, who knows almost all of the current receivers from having worked with them in 2012 under Shanahan, faces a very different dynamic as the Redskins begin implementing Jay Gruden’s offense.
After an injury-hampered Washington debut in 2012, Garcon had a monster 2013 season, setting a franchise record with an NFL-most 113 catches for 1,346 yards. Garcon’s 32 catches on third down were one shy of the league lead while his 672 yards after the catch topped the NFC.
However, no other Redskins receiver had more than the 42 catches and 452 yards that Moss posted in what might have been his final season since his contract is expiring and he’ll be 35 in June.
Other than Garcon, the receivers were so ineffective that rookie tight end Jordan Reed had more catches and yards than any of them even though he missed the final six games after suffering a concussion in Week 11.
Hankerson tore his left ACL and LCL that same afternoon in Philadelphia, ending season after just 30 catches and 375 yards. He’ll spend the offseason rehabbing and might not be ready when training camp opens, a fact that will likely slow his progress, especially in a new offense.
Morgan pouted after being supplanted by Hankerson in Week 2, caught just five passes for 34 yards in a seven-game stretch and was scratched for the finale after apparently not giving his all during practice. Even with the coaching change it would be a shock if the Redskins pick up the option on the D.C. native’s contract.
So if Moss and Morgan don’t return and with Hankerson coming off major knee surgery, Garcon is looking like even more of a one-man show as 2014 begins.
Sure, 2011 sixth-round selection Aldrick Robinson should be back after averaging 20.3 yards on his 18 catches, but the unsigned Dezmon Briscoe, who had six touchdowns for Tampa Bay in 2011, has done virtually nothing in two seasons for Washington, the latter of which he spent on injured reserve. Undrafted rookie Nick Williams didn’t impress in 2013. Josh Bellamy was signed off waivers in November but only played on special teams.
The secondary, which was horrible last season and has only free safety Brandon Meriweather under contract among its starters, is Washington’s biggest area of need. The offensive line, especially right tackle, could be another position group that Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen want to address. And if two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and backup Rob Jackson both depart in free agency, that will be another headache to solve.
However, Gruden’s plans to revitalize Robert Griffin III’s career also depend on providing the quarterback with enough dependable targets beyond Garcon and Reed, presuming the latter fully recovers from his concussion. Griffin, the Offensive Rookie of the Year of 2012, took a big step back in 2013 and he won’t return to his dual-threat, record-setting self if the opposing defense always knows where the ball is going.
The Redskins don’t have a first-round pick – thanks to the 2012 trade with St. Louis in which they obtained the No. 2 overall selection that became Griffin – but they will have plenty of money to spend on free agents. Such big-time receivers as Denver’s Eric Decker, San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin, Green Bay’s James Jones and New England’s Julian Edelman are all due to be free agents.
Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Hakeem Nicks of division rivals Philadelphia and the New York Giants could be intriguing as could Carolina’s Brandon LeFell, Pittsburgh’s Jerricho Cotchery and Seattle’s Doug Baldwin. So is Seattle’s Golden Tate, one of a trio of receivers/return men that includes Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster (whom the Redskins simply couldn’t tackle in Week 14) and Carolina’s Ted Ginn, Jr.
That’s 13 possibilities, many of whom will re-sign with their teams before hitting the market. Others won’t excite Gruden and Allen or won’t want to play for a team that’s on its third coach in six years and finished last in the NFC East during five of the last six seasons. But Washington needs to sign at least one possible starting receiver to complement Garcon, who can’t be expected to produce quite as amazing a season in 2014.
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 four Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.twi
Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.