ASHBURN — The rituals will be the same as always this Sunday afternoon when Redskins wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson get ready for a game against the New York Giants, but they will be tinged with doubt, too.
Both men know that this could be their final game with Washington. The season ends with a loss and they are free agents at the end of the year. They hope not. But it is a reality.
“You really try not to get caught up in that. It’s been a great three years,” Jackson said. “I’ve had a great time here in Washington. I love the city. A lot of great times, a lot of great memories. So as far as me thinking about my time being here, if it can be my last (game), I don’t really look at it like that. We’ll see how it plays out.”
The Redskins, of course, can extend their season with a win. They almost certainly will earn the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs and play a road playoff game in the wild card round. The only thing that could derail that is a tie in the NFC North showdown between Green Bay and Detroit. That is their fervent hope. It would mean consecutive playoff berths for the first time since 1990-92. Jackson and Garcon have been major keys to that success. And, yet, it could be over for them here in just a few days.
“You can’t really worry about it. We still have a job to do here this season so that’s all,” Garcon said. “We’re trying to keep putting our best foot forward to give the team everything we’ve got as we work toward the playoffs and play better in the playoffs. But you can’t really think about what’s going to happen because what is it? December now? March things could be completely different and you can’t really try to predict what’s going to happen.”
The one thing that is a given is Jackson and Garcon will draw plenty of suitors on the open market. The concern is both turned 30 this season. This is likely their final big payday.
Garcon signed a five-year, $42.5 million deal with Washington before the 2012 season. His base salary this year was $7.6 million with bonuses that push his salary-cap hit to $10.2 million. Jackson signed before the 2014 season after being unceremoniously cut by Philadelphia. His deal was four years, $24 million, but the final season was a “dummy” year structured for cap purposes. His salary-cap number is $9.250 million in 2016.
Jackson has lived up to his contract despite some injury issues over his three seasons. He has 54 catches this year – fourth on the team – but is averaging 18 yards per catch. Twenty of his receptions have been for 20 yards or more and he has four touchdowns.
Even last season when Jackson missed six games with a hamstring injury, he still caught 30 passes for 528 yards and four touchdowns. Overall he has 140 receptions for 2,668 yards and 14 touchdowns with 44 of those catches over 20 yards.
It’s no surprise then that Jackson’s return to Philadelphia has become a hot topic this month. Former Eagles teammates LeSean McCoy and Brandon Graham have insisted that Jackson told them he wants to return to Philadelphia. Jackson has said he has no bad blood left with the Eagles since former coach Chip Kelly – the man who engineered his departure – is now coaching the San Francisco 49ers. But it’s a long way from expressing interest in a former team and actually returning to Philadelphia, where Jackson spent the first six years of his career.
“It’s really nothing to really say,” Jackson said. “People say what they want to say or make comments and just carry on conversations. I guess on that end they’re excited and happy, but I’m focused on being a Redskin and finishing strong and once free agency comes we’ll see how it plays out.”
That’s the lesson Garcon learned when he was a free agent in 2012 after four years with the Indianapolis Colts. He was just 25 at the time and his head spun with options before choosing Washington’s offer. It didn’t affect his play on the field his final season with the Colts. Garcon caught 70 passes and had six touchdowns, after all. But there were times he looked to the future more than he should have.
“You handle it different because you’ve been through it. It’s football and from Week 1 of the season to Week 16 of the season it’s a difference,” Garcon said. “The offseason is just as crazy and you never know what’s going to happen because other teams do things, too, that might affect us. But you can’t predict or worry about it because you have no control.”
Garcon, too, has given Washington what it expected. After a rocky first year where a foot injury limited him to 10 games, Garcon responded with a career-high 113 receptions in 2013. That was an outlier given he played for a bad team that season. The Redskins went 3-13 and fired coach Mike Shanahan. But Garcon has settled in the past three seasons as a consistent presence with 68, 72 and now 75 catches heading into his contract year.
Garcon has 945 receiving yards, which is his most since 2013 (1,346 yards). He has three touchdowns, almost never drops a pass and is quarterback Kirk Cousins’ most trusted receiver with a team-high 109 targets. His career numbers here: 372 catches for 4,453 yards and 21 touchdowns over five seasons with at least one more game to go.
The Redskins will have a salary cap around $166 million next season, though they have to pay Cousins and almost certainly will invest more money on the defensive side of the ball. Is it a choice between Jackson and Garcon? Can they even afford to keep both?
That’s where you start to wonder about who will age better. Jackson’s game is built on speed and he remains at 30 one of the NFL’s preeminent deep threats. Even when he isn’t making plays down field, Jackson stresses the defense so much he can draw pass interference calls as he did last Saturday in Chicago for a gain of 28 yards.
“I guess I’m blessed to still be able to play this game and play at a high level,” Jackson said. “I still feel like I have all the attributes to be a dual threat in this league and to continue to go out there and make big plays and help spark up the scoreboard for my team.”
But Jackson’s next contract will almost certainly be for three years or more. Can a team expect that production to continue at age 32 or 33? Whoever signs Jackson will be paying a premium for it. He also draws heat for skipping offseason workouts year after year. Jackson was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and spends most of his time there.
Garcon is less of a concern there because of his build at 6-foot, 211 pounds. He is still a physical marvel who can beat defensive backs to a spot, use his body to shield defenders and run through them if needed. Garcon is also able to set up opponents with precise route running. The two skill sets are completely different, but both will have options when their contracts expire. Time is growing short.
“First time in my career I’m going to be able to hit the free agent market, so I’m definitely intrigued about seeing what’s going to happen, test the market and see what’s going on,” Jackson said. “Who knows what happens? Hopefully I’m still here, but you never know how it plays out. I don’t really get too caught up in that stuff. I’m focused on winning the game and making the stride into the playoffs.”
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