Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson will battle in camp for starting Z receiver spot

This is a good ‘get’ by Rich Campbell of the Washington Times:

Garcon averaged 5.2 yards after the catch last season, 22nd among the the 85 receivers with at least 30 receptions. He’s expected to start at ‘X’ receiver (split end), while Morgan will compete with Hankerson for the starting ‘Z’ (flanker) spot.

“Josh Morgan is a complete football player,” Shanahan continued. “He can block. He can run. He can catch. He’s one of the most underrated guys that I thought was out there when I talk about a complete football player.”

That’s a piece of rarely useful information from Mike Shanahan this time of year.  It suggests a couple of things.  First off, we already know that the typical Redskins receivers rotation is four guys.  It seems like Garcon is going to be handed the starting ‘X’ receiver position (played mostly by Gaffney, but by Santana Moss primarily when the team was in base personnel).  Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson will “compete” for the Z receiver spot.  There’s two reasons I put the dreaded quotation marks on the word compete: 1) you don’t pay that kind of money to give competition for the role to a third round draft pick, and 2) whoever “wins” the competition isn’t going to get significantly more playing time than the other unless they get “hot.”

We know simply by circumstance that if healthy, Pierre Garcon will lead the Redskins in snaps because the only formation which the Redskins don’t use a split ‘x’ is their goal line package (although it’s reasonable that if the Redskins are using 22 personnel, they might sub out Garcon for Hankerson or Gaffney or Morgan).  But it’s also useful because the Redskins are going to go into the season with one additional receiver in the rotation, who (when Garcon is healthy) will be a package receiver.

And because Niles Paul figures to remain the fifth receiver because of his special teams’ contribution, and the Redskins love to put him onto the field on offense to go block a safety or a linebacker, you can see the fact that Moss and Gaffney won’t both be back with the Redskins pretty clearly.

And the longer the Redskins wait to make that decision, the greater the likelihood that Gaffney will return, and Moss will not.  Releasing Gaffney frees up cap room right now, and would be an easy way to get enough cap room to lock up London Fletcher.  But by the time the draft rolls around, cap room becomes less significant.  And once the June 1 date passes, then all of a sudden the Redskins can gain cap room from releasing Santana Moss as well.

In Moss’ favor is that the Redskins attempted to replace not just Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong via free agency with Garcon and Morgan, but they tried to replace Moss with Eddie Royal as well.  NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi reported on the air that his expectation if Royal signed was that both Moss and Gaffney would have to find work elsewhere, which makes sense.

My sense is that the Redskins will shop Jabar Gaffney, and try to get more for him than they paid a year ago before he set a career high in receiving yards.  But if the Redskins can’t trade Gaffney on or before draft day, the Redskins might turn back to him for one season of work off the bench.  If the Redskins can get value on Gaffney, then Moss might find himself safe, even after June 1.

I think if he remains healhty, the Redskins are going to find it impossible to keep Leonard Hankerson off the field.  I think, eventually, he will cut into Pierre Garcon’s playing time.  And then what I predicted about a competition for a roster spot next year between Josh Morgan and Garcon might actually occur as the calendar turns from November to December.  But that “sub-package” receiver role played last year by Donte Stallworth is still very much up in the air between Gaffney, Moss, and Niles Paul (and maybe Aldrick Robinson).  If the Redskins really aren’t satisfied with Moss, they might trade Gaffney and then draft a receiver in the third or fourth round.

But I would expect the Redskins to choose between Moss and Gaffney.  It appears they’ve already chosen their top three receivers for the 2012 season.  And neither of the two leading Redskins receivers from last season were selected to be part of that group.  That’s the kind of move that’s newsworthy, even before we reach the NFL Draft. 

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