The Washington Redskins made an aggressive push to improve their wide receiving corps Tuesday, adding two veteran pass catchers in the first hours of free agency to bolster last year’s ineffective offense, which is now expected to feature rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Redskins agreed to terms with wide receivers Pierre Garcon, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, and former Virginia Tech standoutJosh Morgan, who last played with the San Francisco 49ers. The team was also pursuing another former Hokie, former Denver Bronco Eddie Royal.
The Redskins’ free spending came despite a penalty imposed by the NFL, which stripped $36 million over two years in salary cap space from the team Monday night for improperly structuring player contracts in 2010, when the league had no salary cap. It was unclear how that sanction would affect Tuesday’s deals, but the Redskins must take at least half the cap hit — $18 million — this year.
The moves came just four days after the Redskins pulled off a blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Rams, swapping three first-round draft choices and a second-round pick for the Rams’ first-round selection and the chance to grab Griffin, the Heisman Trophy-winning passer from Baylor, in next month’s NFL draft.
The wide receiver deals should help shore up a part of the offense that Redskins coaches and officials freely identified as a weakness. None of last year’s wideouts produced a 1,000-yard season, and Washington’s offense ranked 26th in the league in scoring last season, averaging just 18 points a game. The passing game produced only two plays in which a pass-catcher scored by running for yards after the catch.
“The one thing that hurt us the most was every touchdown pass we made was caught in the end zone,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said in January. “There wasn’t one that was caught outside the end zone and ran in until Week 16 when [Roy] Helu caught that screen versus Philly. The other one was [Brandon] Banks’s throw to [Santana Moss], who caught it and ran in. Our guys need to do a better job of getting up the field and making some plays after the catch so we get some points on the board.”
The team now has a crowded receiving unit, with Moss, Jabar Gaffney, Leonard Hankerson, Anthony Armstrong, Niles Paul, Brandon Banks, Aldrick Robinson and Terrence Austin also under contract.
The Redskins paid the most for Garcon, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Colts, with whom he had 188 catches for 2,519 yards and 16 touchdowns, including 70 catches for 947 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Before free agency began, Garcon rejected a five-year contract offer from the Colts that reportedly was worth about $35 million. He accepted a five-year deal from the Redskins worth $42 million — $21.5 million of it guaranteed — according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Garcon, listed at 6 feet and 210 pounds, is a speedy wide receiver who will give the Redskins a deep threat. A product of Division III Mount Union College in Ohio, he has not recorded a 1,000-yard season, but the Redskins believe that he can develop into a legitimate No. 1 threat.
There had been some speculation that Garcon and Reggie Wayne, another free agent wide receiver formerly with the Colts, would rejoin their former quarterback, Peyton Manning, once Manning chooses a new team. But the Redskins landed Garcon even after they were rebuffed in their efforts to get into the Manning sweepstakes.
Morgan, a D.C. native who played at H.D. Woodson High and Virginia Tech, played his first four seasons for the 49ers. He had only 15 catches in five games last season, but totaled 96 catches over two seasons in 2009 and 2010. Morgan’s deal is worth $12 million over two years, a source said.
The team believed it had a deal in place to land Royal, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, but talks fell apart as other teams showed late interest. It is still believed the Redskins still have a good shot at signing Royal.
The Redskins had great familiarity with Royal, an Alexandria native, whom Shanahan drafted 42nd overall out of Virginia Tech in 2008. That season, Royal had a career-high 91 catches for 980 yards and five touchdowns with Denver.
His best year since came in 2010, when he recorded 59 catches for 627 yards. Royal also is a talented punt returner who averaged 16.2 yards per runback last season.
Also, the team re-signed starting defensive end Adam Carriker to a four-year, $20 million contract with $7 million guaranteed, according to one source.
Acquired from the Rams for a fifth- and seventh-round pick in 2010, Carriker had a solid first season with the team, then flourished in his second year in Washington’s 3-4 system.
With Carriker back in the fold, and 2011 second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins expected to be fully recovered from ACL surgery, Washington has a deep rotation on the left side of the defensive line.
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