From one perspective, Jamison Crowder had exactly the opposite kind of a season a contract-year player would want to have. He suffered a high ankle sprain, missed seven games and finished with career lows in receptions and yards.
Despite having his least productive year, the Redskins pass-catcher and pending free agent is likely to enjoy a particularly rewarding offseason in an NFL market that, for slot receivers like Crowder, is suddenly booming.
Looking at the NFL playoffs, it’s easy to see how offenses are using slot receivers to control the middle of the field.
The Kansas City Chiefs exploit opponents with speedster Tyreek Hill occasionally lined up in the slot. Tom Brady’s favorite target with the New England Patriots is Julian Edelman, a conventional slot receiver. The Colts’ T.Y. Hilton, the Chargers’ Keenan Allen and the Saints’ Michael Thomas can all slide inside.
Crowder has noticed the shift.
“The slot is a position where you can create mismatches obviously,” Crowder said. “It’s also a tough position (to defend) because you have to deal with certain body types. Guys from the outside tend to just go against defensive backs. … Inside, we got to attend with linebackers, safeties, nickel slots, whatever it may be.
“It’s a great time to be a slot receiver,” he added with a laugh.
Traditionally, slot receivers’ salaries have paled in comparison to those who line up on the outside. But the league appears to be rethinking that conventional wisdom.
Last year, the Cleveland Browns made Jarvis Landry the fifth-highest paid (at the time) wideout with a five-year, $75 million extension, and Landry was coming off a season in which he led the league in slot receptions, according to Pro Football Focus.
In 2016, the Seattle Seahawks signed Doug Baldwin to a four-year, $46 million contract, making him their highest-paid wideout. Baldwin can play various spots, but he’s most effective inside.
Other deals like Edelman’s two-year, $11 million from 2017, Danny Amendola’s two-year, $12 million from 2018 and Adam Thielen’s four-year, $19 million from 2017 are less costly, but some see those deals as massive discounts (especially for Thielen.)
If Crowder leaves, the Redskins could replace him with Trey Quinn, though the 2018 seventh-rounder only appeared in three games because of an ankle injury. Quinn returned for two games in November before he re-aggravated the injury and was shut down for the season. Can he stay healthy in the future?
Redskins coach Jay Gruden wants Crowder back.
“He is a very young player, developing and his best years are in front of him without a doubt,” Gruden said. “… He’s got great quickness in intermediate routes, can separate, has good hands, he’s tough, he’s physical in the running game. There is really not anything that Jamison can’t do.
“You look at his size (5-foot-9) and say he’s little, but he plays big, so we have to try and get him back for sure.”
When Crowder was on the field, he caught just 29 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns. Crowder has yet to match or surpass his second season in the NFL, when he had 67 catches for 847 yards and seven touchdowns.
But Crowder was derailed by his ankle injury this season. In November, he told reporters he “messed it up pretty bad” and had torn ligaments. The 25-year-old told The Washington Times he saw multiple specialists, and even traveled to see a doctor in the midwest. He considered surgery, but was told he didn’t need it.
After the season ended, Crowder said he feels “back to normal.”
“It was tough just not being able to go out there and play,” Crowder said. “That’s the toughest thing. Because you don’t get a lot of opportunities. You only get 16 opportunities and I had to miss seven due to an injury. And those are the opportunities that I really didn’t get to showcase my talents. That was the toughest thing seeing my teammates go out battling without me.”
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