The Redskins successfully sorted out the troublesome wide receiver position last year. It's a position that had given observers fits over the last decade and a half. The last true competent receiving corps the team had enjoyed happened during the Norv Turner/Terry Robiskie era. The Redskins thought they had the position figured out in 2006 when they paid handsomely to sign Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd, which didn't solve very much long term. The team then drafted Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas in 2008 to shore up the need they weren't able to fix in 2006.
The moves made in 2012 were no more certain to work than those 2006 acquisitions or the 2008 acquisitions, but bolstered by the strong depth that the team added in the 2011 draft, the Redskins got a strong season* out of Joshua Morgan and a fantastic half season out of Pierre Garcon. Combined with Aldrick Robinson's emergence as a fourth receiver, Leonard Hankerson's development, and Santana Moss' consistency, the Redskins receivers were finally a team strength in 2012.
And changing the quarterback didn't hurt things either.
The challenge going forward is purely contractual. The Redskins are going to have to tinker with the current group over the next four years or so, but Garcon (who has yet to turn 27) is going to be the group's leader for the forseeable future.
And speaking of those contracts…
Position Priority Level: Low
Analyzing the free agents: Brandon Banks (restricted free agent) lost his return duties around the time the Redskins began playing really well, and is unlikely to be offered a contract to return to the team in 2013. Either Richard Crawford will remain the punt returner, or the Redskins can address this position in the draft. Tyrann Mathieu may not be a Redskins target for his defensive ability, but his punt return skills could be a match.
Analyzing the potential targets for release: Santana Moss is probably the most obvious candidate based on his age and cap number ($6.3 million), but there are clearly football-related reasons for having Moss return in 2013. The question is whether the $4 million the Redskins could save against the cap by releasing Moss could be invested better elsewhere. If it comes down to having Moss on the roster in 2013 or having Fred Davis on the roster for the next five years, then Moss might have played his last snap here. In reality though, Moss was such a safety blanket for Robert Griffin on third downs last year, that he's probably safe on the roster for one more season. But that would mean that…
Joshua Morgan ($5.1 million cap number) could be designated a June 1 cap release, which would save the same four million on the cap that the Redskins could be saving with Moss.
What's worth pointing out is that neither Moss or Morgan is under contract for 2014 right now, so it makes cap sense to pick between the two of them for this upcoming season
It would not be difficult to restructure Morgan's contract to achieve almost exactly the same effect as releasing him, given that he's scheduled to have his contract voided after the season, but the difference comes down to the same money situation as it does for Moss: the Redskins are saving $4 million one way or another, but in Morgan's case, the Redskins can either save the 4 million by releasing him, or they can pay it to him upfront and take it all on the cap next year (along with the dead money they'll already take on the cap from his contract signed in 2012).
One of three ways, the Redskins are going to lower their cap obligation at the receiver position from an estimated $22 million to an estimated $18 million before lowering it even further as we'll see below with a Garcon restructure.
Analyzing the players who will be retained: Pierre Garcon is set to make $6 million in guaranteed base salary. In effect, this deal is already restructured, as there's no payment decision to make. They just need Garcon's signature on a piece of paper and he can get a cash advance on $5ish million of that. This roughly means another $4 million saved by the Redskins under the 2013 cap, bringing the estimated cap number for the receivers to a more managable $14 million.
Garcon is as likely as any non-drafted (along with Chris Chester) Redskin to play out his full contract at this point. You figure Barry Cofield is a good bet to get through at least five out of the six years on his deal, as he's a core player at this point, but Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker, and London Fletcher are all likely to reach a day where they cannot provide performance to the team in line with their salary. Garcon can be a maddeningly inconsistent football player at times, but he's young enough and critical enough to the overall engine of the offense to play out a contract that will be up shortly after his 30th birthday.
Leonard Hankerson is primed to take a major step forward in 2013. The relative unlikelyhood of the Redskins to return both Santana Moss and Joshua Morgan means that there will not be anyone to eat into Hankerson's reps this year: he projects as a true no. 2 receiver for the first time in his career. Hankerson has to clean up a couple drops from last year and the occasional careless mistake, but the tape shows that in critical downs and distances late last season, it was Hankerson — not Morgan or Garcon — who would often get the ball.
Aldrick Robinson is going to benefit from a trimming of the roster to get more regular playing time, as he had a breakout season as a deep receiver. Robinson is to the Redskins what Devery Henderson has long been to the Saints: fourth receiver in the rotation, but a top-rated target on any given Sunday for the defense to worry about. He didn't accrue the 2011 season in terms of his NFL service time, so Robinson is under team control for three more years. Money-wise, there is little urgency to get him into the starting lineup.
Dezmon Briscoe was a waiver pickup from the Tampa Bay Bucs last summer who didn't really make an impact with the team at all in 2012. He still has two years to do so. His roster spot will likely be up for grabs as the Redskins enter free agency (where they are unlikely to address the position), and the draft (where they are unlikely to address the position early). He's the early favorite to be the Redskins fifth receiver next year, but a strong, unexpected camp performance from anyone probably knocks him off the roster.
Darius Hanks was an undrafted free agent last year who was placed on injured reserve last season to avoid the axe. Hanks will be back in camp this year to compete for a spot he is unlikely to win.
Analyzing the ways to improve the position in the NFL Draft: it's not inconceivable that the Redskins could address the receiver position in the second round given all the value that's likely to be available there. They'd have to really LOVE a player to take him at 51 overall…and even then would likely trade down a couple spots before pulling the trigger. But if top targets Tavon Austin (West Virginia) or Keenan Allen (Cal) are there (and neither will be), the Redskins might not have a choice.
The darkhorse is a player who could replace Moss on the field from day one: West Virginia's Stedman Bailey, who led all NCAA receivers last year with 25 (!) receiving touchdowns last season. I know WVU threw the ball every play, but how crazy is it that the draft's best offensive skill player wasn't even the top receiver on his own college team.
If the Redskins went this route, they would likely release Moss and use his cap savings to address the defense though free agency, likely through someone like Arizona's Greg Toler at cornerback.
Analyzing the ways to improve the position through NFL Free Agency: It's pretty inconcievable that the Redskins will spend any meaningful percentage of their available cap dollars on a free agent receiver — especially after last year — so we're exclusively looking at bargain-basement signings here. Players who didn't play last season, such as Lee Evans or Mike Sims-Walker, would be at the top of that list, and a veteran slot receiver such as Patrick Crayton (also did not play in 2012) could make sense.
The Redskins could go after Titus Young at any point this offseason (if they are so inclined), given that he just cleared waivers on a very managable salary.
There are at least ten other receivers that can be signed in June with no financial committment, but in the interest of space, the Redskins will be looking bargain-basement only here.
In summary, the idea is to get the same production the Redskins got from the receiver position last year, without having to spend more than 20% of their cap room to do so. Such is the conundrum of success: people who are successful want to be paid. The key in any business — and twice over in the NFL — is to always stay ahead of the player salary curve. That is how the Redskins will be tested at the receiver position in 2013.