Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017.
2016 starter: Jordan Reed
Backups: Vernon Davis, Niles Paul, Derek Carrier
Free agents: Davis
Rewind: Reed had a Pro Bowl year despite being bitten by the injury bug. A concussion sidelined him in Weeks 6-7 and a shoulder injury forced him to be inactive for two late-season games and severely diminished his effectiveness in two others. If he had played 16 games his stats project out to 88 receptions for 915 yards and 8 touchdowns. As is was, his line was 66/686/6.
We will hear the “if only he could stay healthy for 16 games” lament often as the offseason progresses. That may not be realistic. However, after the played and stood out in the second half of the Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas after suffering the AC joint sprain to his left shoulder he can no longer be called “soft”. If he’s not playing, he’s hurting.
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Davis had a career revival at the age of 32. He appeared to be fading away as his production went way down in San Francisco in 2014 and with the 49ers and Broncos in 2015. But Scot McCloughan signed him and he proved to be a huge asset both filling in for an injured Reed and lining up with Reed. Getting 44/583/2 from their second tight end helped the offense become one of the best in the NFL.
Carrier and Paul both missed extensive time with injuries. Carrier started the season on the PUP list as he continued his rehab from a knee injury he suffered in Chicago in December of 2015. He was activated after Paul suffered a torn labrum in the London game. Neither played much on offense; Paul was in for 112 snaps on offense, Carrier for 80.
Fast forward: Reed is locked up through 2021 after signing a five-year, $46.75 million last May. He is a salary cap bargain this year with a charge of only $5.7 million. That’s well worth it even if he misses few games along the way.
He skipped playing in the Pro Bowl due to the shoulder injury. The good news is that it won’t require surgery and he should be good to go when offseason workouts start in April.
Davis is a free agent and getting him back is a priority for the team. The team started talks with his agent soon after the season ended. After the season Davis said all the right things about playing another year in his home town but it will come down to money. His deal paid him $2.4 million last year. It might take two years and $6 million to get him locked up this time with maybe $2 million guaranteed. Odds are he will be back but it’s no sure thing.
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Paul is still under contract this year for $2 million in combined salary and roster bonuses. Money won’t be a factor in whether he’s back or not. The issue will be health and if he can stay on the field. He missed only one game due to injury in his first four seasons in the league but then he missed all the 2015 season with a dislocated ankle suffered in the preseason and half of last year. The coaches love his commitment, work ethic, and the way he plays with abandon. He can also play fullback; the team had to resort to using linebacker Houston Bates there after Paul was injured. Those factors should push them to keep Paul around and give him a chance to contribute what he can.
Carrier may not be as secure. After Paul and Logan Paulsen were injured in 2015 the Redskins traded a conditional 2017 fifth-round pick to the 49ers for Carrier. The fifth-rounder may have tilted the scales towards keeping him around. But the conditions for the fifth-round pick were not met and the pick is now a seventh-rounder. That won’t have much of an effect on a decision to keep him or not. Carrier is likely to stay around but he will have to earn a spot on the 53.
If Davis ends up leaving, the Redskins could look for a replacement in free agency. Perhaps Jermaine Gresham, who was with Jay Gruden in Cincinnati, could be a target if he’s healthy. And you can’t rule out Scot McCloughan grabbing a tight end in the draft if one is the best available player on the board.