With questions surrounding the futures of its wide receivers, Washington could look to free agency to reinforce the position. Both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are under contract for 2016, but carry heavy cap hits; the team could save significant cap room by cutting one of them. Andre Roberts is also a potential cut candidate, having lost his slot-receiver snaps to rookie Jamison Crowder. Here are a few names that Washington could potentially look to add in free agency:
Big name: Alshon Jeffery, Bears, age 25
It would be a surprise if Chicago let Jeffery test the market, but he is without doubt the biggest potential free agent of this class. At 6 feet 3, 213 pounds, Jeffery is bigger than all of Washington’s wide receivers. His size is his best trait. He’s at his best when given the opportunity to go up and get the ball over the top of his defender.
Here, the Bears isolate Jeffery to the right. The Chargers ask their cornerback to play in press coverage against a much bigger receiver.
The corner doesn’t do a particularly bad job with his jam at the line. He’s in a relatively solid position. But quarterback Jay Cutler almost instantly decides he’s going straight to Jeffery. Because of his size, Jeffery has a terrific catching radius. That gives quarterbacks confidence to simply throw it up to him, almost regardless of the coverage, and trust him to go get it. Cutler has already begun his throwing motion at this point, despite Jeffery not being open.
But Cutler places the throw on Jeffery’s back shoulder. Jeffery turns his head to locate the football and spots Cutler’s intention. He stops his momentum and jumps back towards the ball. He does a good job adjusting his body position in the air to turn himself around completely to make an easier catch.
Well-executed back-shoulder throws are almost impossible to cover. Big wide receivers with body control in the air like Jeffery give quarterbacks the confidence to throw those passes, which otherwise can be risky. Jeffery’s size can also help a quarterback under pressure.
Here, Jeffery lines up tight to the right of the formation. The Chargers send a blitz from the left side.
The blitz arrives quickly, forcing Cutler to get rid of the ball earlier than he would have liked. A split second before the rush arrives, Cutler makes the decision to throw it up to Jeffery, trusting him to make the catch. At the time the ball is released, Jeffery hasn’t even made his cut back to the quarterback.
Jeffery uses his size extremely well here. He uses his height and length to get to the ball above the defender, but also uses his body to shield the ball from the defender. Jeffery pulls in the catch and picks up the first down.
That type of receiver would be a valuable asset to any offense in the NFL, especially a Washington offense that lacks size. However, it would appear that the Bears would use the franchise tag on Jeffery if they can’t agree to a long-term contract with him first. Jeffery should be the highest-paid wide receiver this offseason, either by the Bears or by someone else if he hits the open market.
Good value: Marvin Jones, Bengals, 25
Jones is another tall receiver at 6-2, but doesn’t have the same frame that Jeffery has, weighing in at just 198 pounds. He’s a quicker, shiftier wide receiver than Jeffery, but would still offer more size than any of Washington’s current wide receivers. Coming off a 2014 season missed because of an ankle injury, Jones put up solid numbers as the second wide receiver behind A.J. Green in Cincinnati. He made 65 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns for the Bengals in 2015. He also has the added benefit of familiarity with Washington coach Jay Gruden, who was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator when they drafted Jones in 2012. With the similarities in systems between Washington and Cincinnati, it’s easy to see Jones fitting in well.
On this play, the Bengals have Jones run a deep over route on a play-action pass. This is a route Washington has Jackson and Garcon run almost every game.
Jones has no troubles finding the spot between underneath and deep zones as he crosses over the middle.
The pass from Andy Dalton is slightly underthrown, but Jones makes a nice adjustment to dive back towards the ball and make the catch for a first down.
It’s a route that pops up regularly for Washington. Cousins did make a few errant throws on that type of route a couple of times this season, so having a wide receiver that is familiar with the route and play concept, as well as one that can make adjustments to errant throws would prove useful.
Jones has also proven to be effective as a deep threat. Washington has one deep threat in Jackson, but not necessarily one to complement him on the other side. Jones would benefit from the added attention paid to Jackson, as he did with the attention Green saw in Cincinnati.
Here, Jones lines up to the left, while Green and Mohamed Sanu align to the right. The safety naturally shades to Green’s side of the field, leaving Jones with extra room to work with on his side. The Bengals look to hit him on a double move.
Jones runs a nifty route, taking his initial stem to the outside before cutting hard inside. Dalton adds in a pump fake and the corner bites on the inside cut. Jones then cuts back outside and sprints down the sideline.
Like before, the ball from Dalton is slightly underthrown. Jones does a terrific job fighting back to the ball and making the contested catch over the defender for a big gain.
Here’s a clip of that play:
Poor coverage, but nice route and adjustment to throw by Marvin Jones here pic.twitter.com/9rXLeYAbVt
— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) February 10, 2016
The Bengals would like to keep Jones, but he has already said publicly he won’t be taking a hometown discount to return to Cincinnati. That makes his chances of testing the market likely, but also means he could be asking for a significant contract. If it proves to be cheaper than Garcon or Jackson, adding size and youth to the position could prove valuable to Washington.
Under the radar: Jermaine Kearse, Seahawks, 26
Kearse isn’t necessarily a wide receiver who will stand out when you watch him. He isn’t particularly big or fast, although he’s big enough at 6-1, 209. But he’s a wide receiver who doesn’t do many things wrong. He brings a toughness, a trait Washington general manager Scot McCloughan values highly at any position. That toughness helps him fight for every possible extra yard and makes it hard to bring him down.
The Seahawks have Kearse run a simple stop route on this play, something run often by Washington.
As Kearse makes his catch, the corner begins to charge towards him to close the gap. Many wide receivers would simpl step out of bounds, happy with a five- or six-yard gain and avoid a hit. But instead, Kearse embraces the physicality and forces the corner to make the tackle.
Kearse lowers his shoulder and nearly runs straight through the tackle attempt from the corner. It takes a second defender to come over and help stop Kearse from advancing. Kearse ended the play with a nine-yard gain instead of settling for less.
While he isn’t as tall as Jeffery or Jones, Kearse still displays a good ability to go up and make a catch over a defender. He did that for Seattle’s first touchdown against Carolina in the playoffs.
The Seahawks have Kearse run a fade route, a red-zone favorite of Gruden.
Kearse sells a fake to the inside to buy him a step and then fights through contact from the defender.
Kearse shows off his jumping ability, reaching at full stretch to high-point the ball over the top of the defender. He makes sure to get both feet down to complete the catch for a touchdown.
His toughness and physicality is a type of mind-set that McCloughan would be a big fan of. It’s a large part of the reason Washington drafted guard Brandon Scherff with the fifth overall pick last year. McCloughan was also in Seattle when the Seahawks signed Kearse as an undrafted free agent, which gives Washington an obvious link and familiarity with Kearse.
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