Redskins pass-catching corps reunited with re-signing of Fred Davis

Redskins' tight end Fred Davis

Fred Davis signed with the Redskins Friday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

By re-signing tight end Fred Davis Friday, as well as retaining fellow tight end Logan Paulsen and restructuring receiver Santana Moss’s contract earlier this month, the Redskins have managed to keep intact the corps of skill players who helped quarterback Robert Griffin III achieve his record-setting rookie campaign.

That didn’t appear too likely just a short time ago because of the spending restrictions the Redskins are living with after losing $18 million in salary cap space for a second straight season. The NFL penalized the team for the way it structured some contracts in 2010, when there was no salary cap.

But Washington worked out a cap-friendly deal with Paulsen, who had been a restricted free agent. And the team avoided releasing Moss (who led the team with seven touchdown catches last season) by reducing his base salary by $2 million while giving him the opportunity to earn that money back through incentives.

This week, the Redskins retained Davis on a deal that suits their current cap situation but gives the USC product the chance to prove he can make a full recovery from surgery that repaired a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon. If he’s successful, Davis will set himself up for a big pay day next offseason.

When the 2013 campaign kicks off, No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon is expected to be fully healthy for the first time since Week 1 of the 2012 season. Garcon battled torn ligaments in the second toe of his right foot all season, an injury that made it difficult for him to run or even walk without pain. And No. 2 wideout Josh Morgan is expecting to make a greater impact after having surgery during the offseason to remove a plate and seven screws  from the right ankle that he broke in 2011. Morgan also had surgery to repair torn ligaments in each hand.

Barring a setback to Davis’s Achilles’ tendon, which is expected to be fully healed by June, the Redskins’ pass catchers should be in their best shape since the eighth play of the 2012 season opener, when Garcon suffered his injury. Garcon’s health didn’t improve until after the bye, four weeks after Davis was lost for the season.

The Redskins managed to adjust to their limitations, reeling off seven consecutive victories and reaching the playoffs. But in the final game of the regular season, and the playoff loss to Seattle, Morgan, whose ankle prevented him from making some cuts and running some routes all season, was badly hobbled. He didn’t record a reception in either outing.

Despite the injury-plagued season, Washington led the NFL in yards per play (6.18), ranked fourth in the league in scoring (27.3 ppg) and was fifth in yards per game (383.2).
The Redskins believe that the return of a healthy Davis, the improved health of other skill players, and the further development of third-year back-up receivers Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson, will make the offense even more effective.

“I just think his explosive play-making abilities will enable us to be a much more dynamic offense,” left tackle Trent Williams said Friday. “With Fred back, it will allow us to take another step forward as a team.”

Davis was on pace for a Pro Bowl season in 2011, recording 59 catches for 796 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games before he was suspended for the final four games after he failed multiple drug tests. He returned last season, playing on the one-year franchise tag and determined to display new-found maturity and sustained productivity. He had begun to accomplish both goals at the time of his injury.

Davis has said publicly he is confident he can return to form. If so, he will enable the Redskins to be more effective in the mid-range passing game, where he can use his size and speed against slower linebackers. His availability also means Griffin has an athletic safety valve when he’s under pressure. Davis’ presence also could help the Redskins on third-downs; they ranked just 27th in the league last season.

“He has been our outlet for many years and a big threat in the passing game, as well as the running game,” said said fullback Darrel Young, who also re-signed with Washington this spring. “It’s great to have him back, and I hope this is his healthiest season that he will put together because he has tremendous talent and a great work ethic.”

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