Wide receiver Pierre Garcon usually disappears whenever reporters enter the locker room. He’s often invisible on the football field, too.
In his first season as the Redskins’ No. 1 wideout, Garcon has mostly been a nonfactor while missing three of the team’s first six games because of a right foot problem. He dropped three passes in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons, has failed to demonstrate the level of professionalism (dealing with the media is part of his job) expected of someone guaranteed $21.5 million and now needs an undetermined amount of time off because of his injury. Clearly, a snail’s start isn’t what the Redskins envisioned from Garcon when they made his signing their top priority in free agency.
Still, Garcon’s boss has no doubts he’ll get his money’s worth. Garcon did enough in his season debut (an 88-yard touchdown reception is a sign of potential) to convince Coach Mike Shanahan that he picked the right guy to lead the team’s revamped receiving corps. Assuming Garcon’s foot heals well, “you will see that he’s a definite No. 1 receiver,” Shanahan told me the other day. “No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Until that happens, it’s natural to wonder if the Redskins’ bad history in free agency is working against them again with Garcon, who was a productive No. 2 receiver in his first four seasons for the Indianapolis Colts.
In a departure from the mismanagement that preceded him, Shanahan has made sound decisions on free agents, such as defensive linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen. No one could fairly label Garcon as a bust after only six games, and he signed a five-year contract, so there’s plenty of time to make the type of comeback Shanahan is predicting.
But Garcon, 26, must prove he can handle the pressure of leading the Redskins’ receivers each week, which was something he didn’t have to do while playing a sidekick role with Indianapolis. He’d also be wise to avoid creating problems where none exist. That was Shanahan’s message when he pulled aside Garcon this week to try to help him repair his fast-declining relationship with reporters who cover the team.
In my former life as a beat writer, it never bothered me if a player refused to grant interviews; just one less guy to worry about corralling. But that was just me.
Under the NFL media policy, players must be available for interviews during the week and after games or risk being fined, and Garcon was ignoring the rules. Not smart. As one of the Redskins’ new top-of-the-roster players, he has a responsibility to speak to the team’s supporters. Even in today’s social media world, the old-fashioned Fourth Estate plays a big part in informing fans about the Redskins.
After Shanahan strongly encouraged Garcon to end his unofficial media boycott, Garcon took questions in a group setting Wednesday after practice.
Although the session wasn’t especially illuminating, Garcon came across much less standoffish than he has seemed for weeks. You also got the feeling Garcon knows he has to get back and deliver. “I know what I can do,” he said. “Coaches know what I can do.”
But judging by his reluctance to fulfill the league’s basic media requirements, Garcon is only beginning to understand the Redskins’ importance in the Washington market. The leading players on the team are media superstars — whether they like it or not.
“Coming from Indianapolis . . . he was never that guy over there,” veteran wide receiver Santana Moss said. “He always played great football, but he never has been the guy who got called on and counted on to say stuff. And he’s also not a guy who says a lot. But it’s different here. Guys can deal with it however they want, but you gotta understand that.”
Being stuck on the sidelines only made Garcon even more reluctant to embrace his new environment.
Garcon was injured on the long, spectacular touchdown catch during the opening day victory over New Orleans. In the game, he had 109 yards receiving and a touchdown while participating in only eight plays. Since then, Garcon has four catches for 44 yards.
The injury was initially diagnosed as similar to a turf toe, which isn’t considered serious. Shanahan said the injury was a “pain tolerance” issue, which is usually coach-speak for“the guy needs to toughen up.”
Not the case this time, Shanahan said. He told me that Garcon is one of the toughest guys on the team (“one of the best blocking receivers I’ve ever had”), but the Redskins have no choice but to shut Garcon down. “He just can’t push off on it,” Shanahan said. “We have to wait.”
About the only good news for Garcon is that rookie superstar Robert Griffin III is his teammate. Fans are so locked in on Griffin’s every move that they’re not as focused as usual on the team’s problems.
Today’s NFL is a passing league. The elite teams have big-play, deep-threat wideouts. That’s what Garcon is. He has the speed. He has the hands. He just has to get himself right physically and rap with the scribes and TV and radio folks a little. It’s not that difficult.
If Garcon puts it all together, Griffin would sure be appreciative. Because as great is Griffin is, he could be even better if the Redskins’ most talented receiver is back on the field and his head is totally in the game.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/