Washington Takes Big Risk Hoping to get NFC East's best offense
Owning the most prolific offense in their division would justify the risk of giving a three-year deal to ex-Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jackson:
Not easy to process the new look for WR DeSean Jackson.... pic.twitter.com/YvaT8PFJoI— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 2, 2014
The risks are considerable. Jackson has been kicked to the kerb after the best season of his NFL career. He had 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013, but that wasn't enough to convince the Eagles to keep him in Philly.
The questions surrounding Jackson make him a risk for most teams, but particularly Washington. The franchise has a recent torturous history of paying big money to ego-driven, overpriced free agents.
Remember, this is the team that gave a $100 million contract to malcontent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in 2009.
There is also the issue of how Jackson's potentially disruptive demeanour will mesh with headstrong quarterback Griffin. The young passer showed the potential to be a prima donna during a rough second season.
But with any significant risk, there is always the potential for equally great reward. In this case, the reward is giving a quarterback with awesome arm strength one of the NFL's most feared deep threats:
Jackson completes a revamped supporting cast of targets for Griffin to aim for. It is a group that could make the Washington offense unstoppable in 2014.
Jackson's vertical speed will force defenses to leave at least one safety deep. That should commit a linebacker to match up with Reed, one of the most dynamic roving "Joker" tight ends in football.
Griffin should be able to exploit that mismatch every time.
But the real dilemma for defensive coordinators will be deciding how to split coverage between Jackson and fellow wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
The latter set a single-season franchise record with 113 receptions last season. Garcon is a terror underneath, particularly after the catch.
Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay will give opponents fits moving Garcon, Jackson and Reed around to exploit coverage.
Add in another new signing, shrewd slot receiver Andre Roberts, and Washington now has an embarrassment of riches in the passing game.
But most of their favourable matchups will depend on Jackson's ability to take away multiple defenders on vertical routes.
That will also make an already productive running game even more dangerous. Any time Garcon, Jackson and Reed or Roberts are on the field together, both safeties will be occupied.
So two-time 1,000-yard runner Alfred Morris won't see many eight-man fronts. The result will be more room for Washington's dominant zone-based rushing scheme to create big gains on the ground.
It could also mean more running from Griffin. His ability to make plays as a runner is the defining feature of his game:
Sadly, Griffin couldn't torment defenses as a runner last season the way he did as a rookie. One year after rushing for 815 yards and seven touchdowns, Griffin's numbers slipped to 489 yards and zero touchdowns.
Major offseason knee surgery contributed to his fall in production on the ground. But now defenses won't be able to assign players to shadow Griffin if he scampers from the pocket.
When Griffin offers a threat as both a runner and passer, the Redskins pose too many problems for defenses. It creates extra lanes for Morris and makes the play-action pass a lethal weapon.
Of course, for this offense to dominate the NFC East, Griffin must progress as a passer and Jackson must avoid becoming the distraction the Eagles clearly thought he was.
That's the risk Washington has taken. It's a serious gamble, but the potential rewards are huge.