WASHINGTON — The Redskins’ chances of signing either one of wide receiver DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon continue to diminish with just one month left before either player can reach out to other teams in free agency.
Washington still has yet to hold talks with Garcon or Jackson since the season ended on Jan. 1, according to four sources with knowledge of the situations. There remains time for serious negotiations to begin with either player so the door isn’t closed on a return for one or both.
But Jackson made it publicly clear weeks ago that he intends to test the open market and go through the free-agent process. Garcon, while happy in Washington, appears prepared to take that same approach, if necessary, multiple sources said.
Both players will have options in free agency. Even in his age 30 season, Jackson was productive in 2016 with four touchdown receptions and 19 of his 56 catches going for over 20 yards. Garcon, also 30, finished with 79 receptions — his most since leading the NFL with 113 in 2013 — for 1,041 yards. He caught three touchdown passes and was again a reliable presence on the field. Garcon has not missed a game since 2012.
That leaves the Redskins in a precarious position. The offense was excellent last season, ranking third in total yards per game (403.4). Even with troubles scoring inside the red zone and a limited run game, Washington consistently moved the ball on opposing defenses. But it is questionable if the Redskins can continue at that level if they must replace their top two wide receivers.
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder (67 receptions, 847 yards, seven touchdowns) also had a fine season, but he has primarily been used in the slot. Top draft pick Josh Doctson appeared in just two games thanks to a left Achilles tendon injury, saw limited practice time throughout OTAs and training camp, and is only now increasing his activity to get ready for 2017.
One issue: There appears to be internal disagreement among the top decision makers in Washington’s front office about which wide receiver to prioritize, three sources said. Jackson still has his fans in the building even if his penchant for missing offseason workouts is maddening to some. His unique skillset can’t be replaced easily, if at all. To others, Garcon is simply a possession receiver with a naturally limited ceiling now — or to some his physicality and reliability are traits the organization needs to keep on the field at all costs.
Garcon has long bristled at the notion he is simply a possession receiver as he told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant and Danny program last month. Indeed, he had 15 catches over 20 yards this season and three over 40. Garcon still believes he can make plays down field, if asked to do so.
There is still time. The Redskins could make a push for Jackson or Garcon in the coming days. Changes to Jay Gruden’s coaching staff necessitated a pause in the season-ending personnel meetings. Those meetings have now resumed with the majority of Gruden’s staff in place and the Garcon/Jackson debate can begin with more certainty and clarity.
“That’s what we’ve been doing, we’ve been having meetings with it,” team president Bruce Allen told 106.7 The Fan and CSN Mid-Atlantic on Jan. 25. “Obviously, [head coach Jay Gruden] has a few more spots left to fill on the staff. Once we have a complete staff we’ll get together with the personnel department and make those decisions.”
But, according to multiple sources, if no deal is in place for either player by the NFL Combine in Indianapolis when it begins March 1, the chances of either returning are low. These deals get done soon or not at all.
Garcon had a base salary of $7.6 million in 2016, the final year of a five-year contract signed in 2012. His salary-cap hit was $10.2 million and that deal had an average annual salary of $8.5 million. Comparable receivers in age and ability have now surpassed that contract. Garson had good timing with his second career season above 1,000 receiving yards.
Jackson, meanwhile, had a $9.25 million cap hit in 2016. His contract averaged $8 million per season. He’s going to be looking for more than that next year. It won’t sit well that someone like former Philadelphia Eagles teammate Jeremy Maclin, just one year younger, averages $11 million per year and received $22.5 million guaranteed in signing from Kansas City in 2015.
How much the Redskins value Garcon remains to be seen. It’s possible they look at their options on the free agent market and decide paying above their threshold for a veteran they know and respect is the best bet. The concerns about Jackson are obvious: A player so reliant on speed just turned 30. How far can Washington go with that contract, especially if other teams are allowed to get involved, as expected.
But one NFL scout noted that at least in the short term, Jackson should be fine. He still tracks the football as well as any wide receiver in the game and if he lands anywhere that has a receiver considered a viable co-No. 1 he will continue to stress defenses — even if the back end of any contract becomes problematic later. Teams generally aren’t often worried about 2019, the scout said. It’s next season that matters.
For the Redskins, those discussions and evaluations about Garcon and Jackson are now underway, but the clock is ticking toward March.
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