COMMENTARY | Numerous players on the Washington Redskins head into the 2013 season with a lot to prove.
Robert Griffin III wants to prove he is not injury prone, Alfred Morris wants to show his rookie season was not a fluke, every rookie wants to prove he belongs in the NFL, and every veteran wants to justify his contract.
No one on the Redskins, however, has more to prove than tight end Fred Davis.
Sure, there are a lot of questions surrounding Griffin and his durability but in his rookie season, he showed that, when healthy, he can be one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL. Davis has the ability to be one of the league's premier tight ends, but two shortened seasons have derailed his ascension. In a contract year, he must prove he is the tight end he believes himself to be.
Davis established himself as a legitimate threat in 2009 in what was only his second year in the league. Davis had 48 catches for 509 yards and was tied for eighth among tight ends with six touchdowns.
In 2011, Chris Cooley was placed on injured reserve after struggling with finger and knee issues, making Davis the team's top tight end. In just 12 games, Davis amassed 796 yards on 59 receptions. His breakout season was brought to an abrupt end, however, when he was suspended for failing multiple drug tests. Both he and Trent Williams tested positive for marijuana and were suspended for the four remaining games of the season.
Davis returned in 2012 and developed instant chemistry with Griffin. Through six games, Davis was the team's leading receiver with 23 catches for 312 yards, but his season was again cut short when he tore his Achilles tendon in Week 7.
To really see how much Davis still has to prove, one needs to look no further than at his contract for 2013. In 2012, the Redskins elected to use their franchise tag on Davis, giving him a salary of $5.4 million. As a free agent this offseason, Davis explored his option and eventually elected to return to the Redskins, signing a one-year contract worth up to $3.75 million.
Compare that to the contracts of some of the other top tight ends: The New England Patriots gave Rob Gronkowski a six-year, $53 million extension in 2012; Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys has a seven-year contract worth over $50 million; and Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers is playing with a six-year, $42.7 million contract.
Davis may be one of the top tight ends in the league, but no one was willing to pay him like one or give him a long-term deal. If he is ever going to get that big contract, he likely will need to prove himself this year when he is still 27 years old.
In order to have a good season, however, Davis will have to stay on the field and stay productive.
On the injury front, things appear encouraging. Davis did not participate in OTAs, but he did run routes and catch passes from Griffin. He is expected to receive a reduced workload at camp, but the fact that he will be able to take part shows continuing progress.
Davis also needs to stay smart. His first suspension was the result of multiple failed drug tests. Another positive test will result in a year-long suspension and will likely discourage most NFL teams from giving him the type of contract he feels he deserves.
It may be difficult, however, to reproduce the type of numbers he has had in the past. The Redskins were 30th last season in pass attempts per game. They also added tight end Jordan Reed in the draft -- who I believe will see significant playing time this season. That could mean fewer targets for Davis.
Contract seasons are always critical for NFL players, but this year is even more so for Davis. At 27, the clock is ticking. There were simply too many questions marks surrounding him to justify a long-term deal this offseason. Sixteen solid games can change that."Any team signing tight ends [this offseason], I'm going to make them regret that deal," Davis told NFL AM. "This is the big one for me. This is the year."
JJ Regan lives in the DC area and is a current freelancer for Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic.
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