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Redskins miss what Pierre Garcon gave them

Pierre Garcon was a reliable target for the Redskins, who will see him Sunday on the opposite sideline. Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

ASHBURN, Va. -- The problem isn’t that the Washington Redskins didn’t try to keep Pierre Garcon. The problem is they haven’t been able to replace him.

The same can be said of DeSean Jackson, but it’s Garcon who they will see on the opposite sideline when San Francisco visits Sunday.

Garcon is playing well with 28 catches for 379 yards. The 49ers are giving Garcon every chance to make plays, and he has responded by averaging 13.5 yards per catch, which is his best since 2012. They switched him from the X receiver to the Z, allowing them to move him around and get him the ball in different ways.

“He is still one of the top possession-type receivers there is in football,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He is really good after the catch. That’s the one thing we really have to make sure, [that] we tackle well when he gets the ball in his hands out in space because he can really run after the catch. He runs very good, precise, crisp routes and has got strong hands. He does all the underneath stuff. He can hit you down the sidelines from time to time, so he is definitely their best playmaker.”

The Redskins clearly didn’t feel he was the right guy to keep once his contract ended. They never made Garcon an offer and didn’t call him until the day before free agency. But Garcon knew once last season ended, he’d likely sign elsewhere. The Redskins were done with him; he was done with them. Yes, a good offer can change minds -- and might have. But it never came.

Garcon requested a trade early last season. Suffice it to say, he and the Redskins disagreed on how big a role he still could play -- and if he was “just” a possession receiver. The issues on both sides ran deeper than usage. But the organization told him they wouldn’t try to trade him. Both sides moved forward, but I’m not sure either ever moved on. It happens.

If the Redskins felt Garcon would be too expensive at age 30 to re-sign, that’s their prerogative. They weren’t alone. Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay wanted him, but not at Garcon's price. Garcon ultimately received $9.5 million per year. The annual breakdown ranks 18th among receivers.

Garcon’s beauty in Washington was his reliability. He was going to run his routes the same way each time, giving Kirk Cousins a reason to trust him. He was going to make tough catches in crucial situations. Who do you trust now to make a catch on, say, fourth-and-1 with a defensive back all over them? That’s what Garcon did against Philadelphia last year. If a quarterback needs to throw with anticipation, then he must trust the receiver.

Garcon would block; he played with an attitude and toughness that few receivers possess. (You'll see a lot of that Sunday, and it would've been fun to see him battle corner Josh Norman, who is likely out with a rib injury.)

The Redskins now have two receivers in Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson who can’t match Garcon’s consistency or, so far, his production. Given the current duo's size and athleticism, the belief was they would help Washington in the red zone. But, through four games, Cousins has completed a combined 1-of-6 passes with no touchdowns to those two inside the 20-yard line. Some of this stems from inexperience together and as NFL receivers.

They do get open down the field; the Redskins have touchdowns of 52 and 44 yards, respectively, the last two games. They should have had two more long touchdowns vs. the Eagles, but Pryor failed to track the ball well (one would have been wiped out by a penalty). Maybe Doctson develops into that player; Cousins appears to be trusting him more and more -- not just on the attempted touchdown pass vs. Kansas City, but on other routes in which the ball was thrown before Doctson breaks. Of the two, he’s the more natural receiver with the ability to provide what the Redskins need. In the next 12 games, he must prove he can. Pryor remains capable of big games vs. the right coverages.

But it’s not just Pryor and Doctson. Jamison Crowder has been quiet with 14 catches for 106 yards. In the past, the Redskins had two receivers to take pressure off others or open other areas. That’s not the case anymore -- not until there’s a consistent threat. For the season, Washington’s wideouts have combined for 41 catches for 501 yards and four touchdowns. At this point last season, receivers had 53 catches for 684 yards and three touchdowns.

As has been stated often: The Redskins have enough talent for a solid passing game, and the evolution of Chris Thompson helps.

They don’t believe letting Garcon walk was a mistake. That’s fine. Time reveals truths. By season’s end, this conversation might be different. But the Redskins need others to prove them right.