WASHINGTON — The Redskins have a dilemma at wide receiver.
Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are both free agents at season’s end. Both are 30 years old. And Sunday, both scored touchdowns in the third quarter of the Redskins’ season-saving, 27-22 win in Philadelphia.
The scores were typical of what each player brings to the table. Jackson hauled in an incredible, over-the-shoulder catch and then strutted his way into the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown, the type of play that few players in league history have been able to replicate with regularity.
After that, Garcon delivered a 15-yard TD catch on a well run fade route (made more notable because such calls in the red zone typically end badly for the Redskins). Garcon is the quintessential possession receiver whose route running has been widely lauded since signing here in 2012.
With two very different players each bringing valuable contributions to the Redskins’ second-ranked pass offense, which player do you keep beyond 2016?
While Twitter was exploding over the DJax catch, I was more impressed with Garcon delivering the key play of the game-winning drive. On 4th-and-1 with 2:39 remaining, Pierre made a tough 6-yard catch with a man on him to keep the drive alive (Chris Thompson’s 25-yard TD scamper would come two plays later).
That’s the kind of clutch catch Garcon has made throughout his Redskins tenure and it’s the type of play that’s not as easily replaced as you’d think. To use a baseball analogy, Jackson is the Chris Davis-esque home run hitter and Garcon is the Daniel Murphy-type that always seems to get on base but possesses more big play ability than he’s credited with. Entering Sunday, the Redskins’ longest TD catch of the season was Garcon’s 70-yarder.
For me, the Garcon-over-Jackson choice stems from four important factors:
Since missing six games his first season in Washington, Garcon has played every game for the Redskins. In fact, his return to the lineup helped spur the Skins’ seven-game win streak to clinch the 2012 NFC East title. Garcon’s toughness is the stuff of legend (remember his game-winning TD catch against the Eagles last season?) and he’s easily one of the best blocking receivers in the league.
Meanwhile, Jackson will likely leave Washington having never played a full season. He seems to have chronic issues with his hamstrings and his slight frame (I seriously doubt he weighs as much as his listed 178 pounds) precludes him from going over the middle for the tough catches that Garcon makes so routinely.
Value of contribution
Garcon has proved to be a durable, productive player on a team that hasn’t been blessed with targets capable of being both simultaneously. His 2013 campaign featured a league-leading 113 catches in his first 1,000-yard season and he hasn’t caught fewer than 68 balls in a full season since. As I mentioned, Garcon is a great blocker and a precise route runner, thus making him a better fit for this offense.
That’s not a slight against DeSean. He’s a once-in-a-generation X-factor, and his value can’t be understated. His 36 catches of 50-plus yards is by far the most in the NFL since he came into the league as a second-round pick in 2008. His four career 80-yard TDs is one shy of the NFL record for such catches and his speed remains elite. Jackson’s rare deep ball skills open things up for underneath routes, thus making the other receivers more productive. Replacing that level of impact is nearly impossible. However …
The Redskins have a dynamic tight end in Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder has demonstrated the ability to pick up some of the big play slack at wide receiver. Crowder’s 11 catches of 20-plus yards is only two fewer than Jackson’s and Crowder leads the team with seven touchdowns. He and first-round pick Josh Doctson possess more than enough speed to offset the need for Jackson.
But with Doctson’s unusual injury situation, it’s hard to definitively say he can replace Jackson or Garcon. That only builds my case for Garcon, since Doctson is his closest comp on the roster. If Garcon goes, so does your possession receiver and best edge blocker.
Since home run plays sell tickets, teams are willing to spend more on the players that provide them. That means Jackson’s asking price will be high, especially when you take into account this is his last, best chance at a big payday. Nobody with at least 30 catches can match his 17.8 yards per reception, and his four catches for 40-plus yards ties him for the third-most in the NFL. Those numbers likely price him out of the Redskins’ plans — and perhaps, right into his former team’s.
Garcon will likely be the cheaper option, plus his game is more sustainable for a player over 30. The success of older receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith makes it totally plausible that Garcon could put together three or four more solid seasons. Conversely, Jackson’s game-breaking ability probably has a shelf life of about one or two more years.
Bottom line: Jackson is a luxury the Redskins literally can’t afford, while Garcon is the type of player Joe Gibbs would call a “core Redskin” and General Manager Scot McCloughan calls “a football player.” Teams with legitimate playoff aspirations need guys like Garcon, even if Jackson is the more naturally talented player.
I don’t know which player the team will choose (I doubt the front office is totally sure either), but the results in Philadelphia certainly factored in.