Jay Gruden says Redskins 'must try' to re-sign Jamison Crowder

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins would like to keep Jamison Crowder. But the question they’ll have to answer in the next month is whether or not they can afford him.

The Redskins’ slot receiver, who becomes a free agent in March, plays a position that has become an important -- and expensive -- one in the NFL in the past several seasons.

“It’s a great time to be a slot receiver,” Crowder said.

In August, Minnesota signed Stefon Diggs to a five-year deal worth up to $72 million with $40 million guaranteed. Last offseason, Jarvis Landry received a five-year deal worth up to $75 million with $47 million guaranteed. But both players do damage from other receiver spots as well.

Crowder has not played to their level, in terms of overall production or big plays. But he has been a solid performer for Washington. In his first three seasons, Crowder caught a combined 192 passes and missed only one game. The coaches have long liked his ability to win out of the slot; quarterback Alex Smith said he appreciates how well Crowder handles option routes, adding that he trusts Crowder's decision-making.

The problem for Crowder this season was overcoming a sprained ankle that sidelined him for seven games. But when he returned, Crowder again showed an ability to create separation out of the slot. He’s not a burner, but his footwork enables him to gain extra space to run after the catch.

“He's got great quickness in intermediate routes, can separate, has good hands, he's tough, he's physical in the running game,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “There is really not anything that Jamison can't do. You look at his size and say he's little, but he plays big, so we have to try and get him back for sure."

The Redskins are still making decisions on their coaching staff, and they will be looking for a new special-teams coach as Ben Kotwica joined Atlanta’s staff on Tuesday. When it comes to players, Crowder and linebacker Preston Smith are their two biggest pending free agents.

“Jamison is a lot like Preston,” Gruden said. “He is a very young player, developing, and his best years are in front of him without a doubt. I feel the same way about Preston. I think they're going to explode on the scene here very shortly.”

From 2015-17, Crowder ranked seventh in the NFL with 131 receptions out of the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Among slot receivers who had at least 75 catches during this time, Crowder ranked fourth at 12.33 yards per catch. Crowder ranked 21st overall during this period with 192 total catches. But he ranked 69th among players with at least 50 catches with 9.8 yards per catch when aligned wide. That ranking will limit his next contract, but he still could command a deal worth at least $8 million per year.

The Redskins will have to decide if they can pay that much. They only have about $20 million in cap space – and have other pressing needs -- so they must be judicious. They also have Trey Quinn as a possible replacement for Crowder, though the Mr. Irrelevant rookie -- the final pick of the 2018 draft -- played in only three games last season because of ankle injuries. Both Quinn and Crowder can run routes from other positions, so they could use both.

Regardless, Gruden has said the Redskins need to find playmakers on offense. So if Crowder exits – and probably even if he stays -- they’d look for more help at receiver. They do have Paul Richardson returning in 2019; his season ended after seven games because of a shoulder injury that required surgery. Josh Doctson is under contract as well. Crowder would like to remain part of this group, but he is open to anything.

“I’m comfortable here,” Crowder said a day after the season ended. “Obviously I have a high interest level in coming back, but this is going to be a discussion with my agent. There hasn’t been much discussion.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have to wait and see what’s going on.”