Even if the price tag for free-agent-to-be wide receiver Pierre Garcon hits $9 million per season, the Washington Redskins might have no choice but to pay. That's assuming they also keep quarterback Kirk Cousins -- and another team chases down wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
Let's play out the offseason. For the moment, hold off on what happens with Cousins, who most think at the least will receive the franchise tag from Washington for a second consecutive year and with it a one-year contract in the $23-25 million range for 2017.
One report surfaced this month that the Eagles would pursue Jackson, who spent his first six seasons with Philadelphia, in free agency. The playmaking receiver didn't shoot down such talk when the NFC East rivals met in Week 14. If Jackson goes, Cousins loses a major weapon; at his current pace, Jackson would average at least 17.5 yards per catch for a third season in a row. That would only provide more leverage for Garcon.
Breaking Burgundy spoke with over 10 league sources in regards to Garcon and Jackson's pending free agency including those with front office and scouting experience. Most from that group see Garcon as the more likely wide receiver to return for a variety of reasons. Interest from Philadelphia is among them and a consideration when thinking about Garcon's future contract.
Jackson's fallout with then-coach Chip Kelly in 2014 led to an abrupt end in Philadelphia. The Eagles fired Kelly following the 2015 season.
"[Eagles executive VP of football operations] Howie Roseman was enamored with DeSean back in the day when he was the personnel director," one league source explained to Breaking Burgundy. "Once Chip Kelly got there, he hated DeSean and got him out of there. Now that Chip Kelly is gone, Howie Roseman is basically in the driver's seat. He's basically going to bring back DeSean as a big [way to show up] Chip Kelly. Will they pay him a little more than what he's worth to bring him back? Yeah, probably, because DeSean is a very good player though he'll be 31 [next season]. That's why I'm fairly confident Pierre will be the one to stay."
Spite likely isn't a main motivator, but Philadelphia's apparent interest in Jackson, a 3-time Pro Bowl selection with the Eagles, is logical. Kelly dumped their main playmakers and the offense needs help around young quarterback Carson Wentz.
So, if Jackson goes and the Redskins don't retain Garcon, where does that leave Washington?
Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed has missed three of 14 games this season and his next concussion would be his seventh. Wide receiver Josh Doctson's health is also a concern after a perplexing Achilles injury essentially wiped out his rookie season.
Even if Doctson is all in for Week 1 next season, he's still a player with just two career receptions as one of the two outside receivers with Jamison Crowder inside. The Redskins could handle this scenario if Garcon returns. If not, a new top target becomes necessary.
Reminder: Garcon and Jackson are likely two of the top five free agent receivers in 2017, meaning there won't be many viable replacement options available.
This all comes back to Cousins.
The debate over whether Cousins is a legitimate NFL starter is long over. The discussion over whether he's a "franchise" QB, the kind who can carry a team despite limited options and tough obstacles around him, isn't going away barring a major uptick in growth over the final two regular season games and perhaps a playoff appearance.
Which brings this back to Garcon. Should Jackson exit, would the Redskins risk losing their other proven veteran wide receiver especially if they plan on giving Cousins, another huge payday? This passer is a true creature of habit who benefits from a comfort level that would come from having those familiar pieces around him.
General Manager Scot McCloughan will have ample available cap space this offseason when deciding whether to keep Garcon or Jackson, one or neither. One league source doesn’t think it is necessary to bring back both high-end receivers.
"I don't believe DeSean wants to stay," the source said. "Even if he does, [he] will cost more (than Garcon)."
Without them, McCloughan has another evaluation to make. He will need to decide Cousins’ worth and how not having either receiver will influence the quarterback. The man who drafted Cousins is sure of the outcome.
"There is no question: He is a franchise guy,” is something former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Wednesday on FS1. “You give him a good system and Kirk Cousins will win you a Super Bowl.”
If Shanahan is right, then the key is the system. But any system is only as good as its pieces. Which means the Redskins might have an incomplete puzzle on their hands if Jackson walks.