When a guy e-mails you a nighttime photo that he says is of Fred Davis “getting high,” showing the Redskins tight end with a lit cigarette of some kind outside a party last May in Falls Church, the first thought that comes to mind is: “No way. It’s got to be photoshopped. How dumb do you have to be?”

To be sure, you verify the picture is of Davis, who of course tested positive numerous times for marijuana last year and was suspended the final four games of his 2011 breakout season. Then you ask him what needs to be asked.

Yes, he was at a party at a Falls Church mansion around late May.

“Yeah I think somebody created a picture and somebody said it was weed or something like that,” Davis said.

You show him the picture.

Point to the lit ember amid the black background.

He pauses.

Looks hard at it.

“It’s not even weed or anything. It’s a Black & Mild,” he finally explained, referring to the thin pipe-tobacco cigar brand.

You tell him it’s tough to ascertain what it is. Ask him if he’s sure.

“I get tested two to three times a week,” Davis said, shaking his head. “That’s not even an issue for me. If I do [use marijuana], then it’s instantly going to be known that I’m suspended, so. . . . ”

So Davis said he isn’t going to do that to himself, because he knows next time it will cost him an entire season, cost him any credibility earned these past few months. And he knows he’s gotten in his own way too many times before to risk it again.

Fred Davis is at a fork in the road. If he goes right, stays healthy and keeps his lungs clean, he continues on the path to becoming one of the NFL’s true playmakers at his position.

If he goes the other way, either falls out of favor with Coach Mike Shanahan as a player or detonates his career with another positive drug test, then he becomes the last bust of the 2008 second-round receiving class to flameout in Washington, following Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly out the door.

Designated as the team’s franchise player in March, he signed a one-year deal that will pay him commensurate with the league’s top five tight ends – about $5.4 million. But “franchise player” is a bit of a misnomer. Although he’s paid well, Davis is essentially playing for a long-term contract with the Redskins this season.

At 26 years old, in the physical prime of his career and fresh off taking the starting job for good from the recently released Chris Cooley, the most prolific pass-catching tight end in team history, Davis has nothing but opportunity for NFL job security in front of him.

But just one slip and he knows: back to being the guy labeled as “Five Alarm Fred” for oversleeping the last day of his first training camp. Back to being “Deadhead Fred,” the guy who, along with offensive lineman Trent Williams, lost games, pay and respect because he couldn’t leave an illegal substance alone.

“I understand why people make a big deal of it,” Davis said. “They love the team and they don’t want to see the wrong guy in the program and I understand that. But the people that know me, that’s why I’ve been here for so long, Coach [Mike] Shanahan came in and knew that I work hard and play hard and have enough talent to be good in this league. So they gave me a chance.”

He added, “Definitely coming off of last year the situation with the suspension, just to get an opportunity to come off that and get a franchise tag and work towards a long-term contract is a good thing.”

Davis said he understands the one-year deal was basically the Redskins “protecting themselves.”

“So they can see if the player is ready for that, give him some money and see if he has the same work ethic, comes in here every day and wants to work,” Davis said.

On the surface, his suspension hasn’t exactly amounted to the doghouse. After the deal he signed in March, he was actually named the team’s 2011 offensive player of the year for just 12 games in which he caught 59 passes for 796 yards and was No. 3 statistically among NFC tight ends before his season ended.

But on and off the field is constantly a proving ground now. Davis understands his biggest detractors “want me to be a robot,” but he refuses to give up the healthy parts of his social life.

He says he’s recommitted himself spiritually, naming Pastor Chad Carlton at the Temple of Healing Waters Church of God in Christ in Dulles as someone who’s “helped me get my mind right,” he said. “I needed that guidance.”

Especially after those humbling moments before the Redskins-Jets game last year — when an opposing player, he said, informed him that would be his last game after the positive test.

“That sucked, finding out before the game, knowing that was it,” he said.

Worse was standing up in front of his teammates with Williams afterward, admitting his error in judgment. “We basically apologized for leading them astray like that and not really giving them an opportunity to have a chance to win with us on the team for four games. We just let them know we respect them and apologized to them. If they accept it or don’t accept it, I understand. Most of them did.”

You asked him if he went cold turkey after that, stopped using altogether.

“Yeah,” Fred said. “You kinda just say you messed up. Now learn from this mistake. You know this feeling and never want to know this feeling again. At least if you don’t play, let it be because of some other reason, if you’re injured or something like that. Not because you disobeyed the rules.”

A perfect season, Davis said when asked, would end with a playoff berth, 800 to 1,000 yards receiving for himself and “I would score the winning touchdown so we go to the Super Bowl or something like that.”

Your hope for Davis is a modest goal to start with. For example, giving no one any reason to play “gotcha” at an offseason party and e-mailing that photo to the media. After that, the hope is Fred Davis understands how good he can be with Robert Griffin III at quarterback and his body and mind immersed in the game.

“The first two years I came in and didn’t get a lot of playing time and then [Cooley] got hurt and I got the opportunity,” he said. “I put up some good numbers and people said ‘Oh, he can play at least.’ I had the opportunity to almost play a full season except for the last few games. Now I get the opportunity to start from the beginning.”

For Mike Wise’s previous columns,
go to