In professional sports, free agents can make a world of difference for a team. Building through the draft is important, but being able to bring in an established player who can immediately bolster the roster can turn a playoff team into a championship contender. In other cases, teams just need a less expensive veteran to add some depth.
Washington is not considered a major spot for free agents, as it doesn’t boast the same type of weather and nightlife as Los Angeles and Miami, nor does it have the same market opportunities as New York or Chicago, but that has not stopped the team from bringing in major additions over the years.
Some have worked out great, like London Fletcher, who signed a five-year deal with the Redskins in 2007 and immediately became a major presence for the defense. Others have been disastrous, like Albert Haynesworth, who signed a seven-year/$100 million deal in 2009 but barely lasted two seasons.
Looking from 2010 to 2019, I will be breaking down the best and worst free agency signings from each of the four major Washington teams, continuing with the Redskins. These signings do NOT include contract extensions for players already on the team or players who came in from a trade. These are only for players who came to DC from another team through free agency.
Best: Pierre Garçon (2012)
Initial deal: Five years, $42.5 million
Subsequent deal(s): N/A
Garçon emerged in Indianapolis as a sixth-round steal. After catching passes from Peyton Manning in his final seasons with the Colts, Garçon proved he was more than just a product of elite quarterbacking talent, totaling a then-career-high of 947 yards and six touchdowns in 2011 with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins splitting time at quarterback for the 2-14 Colts.
The Redskins signed Garçon for 2012 to give new quarterback Robert Griffin III a solid receiving target. Garçon missed six games in that first season due to a foot injury, but he still led the team with 633 yards. Solidifying himself as RG3’s top target, a healthy Garçon topped the league with 113 receptions in 2013 and totaled 1,346 yards (eighth-most in the league) to blow his previous career-high out of the water.
Garçon didn’t eclipse 1,000 yards again until 2016, his final year in Washington (1,041 yards), but he finished no lower than second on the team in receiving yards all five years. He was on both division title teams in 2012 and 2015, and his 4,549 yards across all five seasons are 10th-most in franchise history, and the most among players who played five years or fewer in Washington.
Despite posting his second 1,000-yard season in the final year of his contract, the team let him walk in free agency, where he reunited with former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan on the San Francisco 49ers with a five-year/$47.5 million deal with a team-option after two years. Injuries in both years held him to just eight games each season, and the team declined his option prior to the 2019 season.
Worst: Josh Norman (2016)
Initial deal: Five years, $75 million
Subsequent deal(s): N/A
Norman, like Garçon, was a late-rounder who bloomed into a major contributor. Going in the fifth round to the Carolina Panthers in 2012, Norman developed into a cornerstone on the vaunted Panthers defense of 2015. Shutting down practically every receiver he faced, Norman helped the Panthers go 15-1 en route to Super Bowl 50, where they lost to the Denver Broncos.
Norman was named First Team All-Pro for his efforts, which included four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 18 passes defended. Opposing quarterbacks had a 54.0 passer rating against Norman, the lowest in the league that year. 2015 was the final year of his contract, and after initially being franchise tagged by Carolina, Norman was eventually allowed to walk.
The Redskins subsequently handed him a five-year/$75 million deal to make him the highest-paid cornerback in league history (he has since been passed). Adding a shutdown All-Pro corner to the secondary was seen as a huge step for the Redskins defense, which had just won the NFC East championship in 2015.
Norman started all 16 games in 2016, pulling in three interceptions and defending 19 passes. His 67 combined tackles were also the most since his rookie season. It was impossible to replicate what he did in 2015, so some fans felt he was not living up to his contract, but in a vacuum it was a strong season.
Norman missed a couple games in 2017, but he started the other 14 games. He did not record any interceptions that season, and he received more criticism regarding his play relative to his contract. 2018 was a slight improvement for interceptions (3), but his passes defended remained down (9), and it became clear as he reached his early 30s that he was no better than an average starter at corner.
Things took a turn in 2019, when his play deteriorated to the point that interim coach Bill Callahan took him off the starting secondary unit. Making just eight starts in 2019, Norman completely dropped off as the team sunk to 3-13. With one more year left on his contract entering 2020, the team released him this offseason. He has since signed a one-year/$6 million contract with the Buffalo Bills.
While he was not a total disaster until his final year with the team, the size of Norman’s contract and the lack of All-Pro or even Pro Bowl production made it a disappointing outcome. His release opened $12.5 million in cap space, and with more space expected for 2021, the Skins may be able to move past the Norman deal if they invest in the right people.