Nate Washington commands a 2014 salary of $4.8 million, the final year of his contract. That is a big number for any player, but Nate's contract has come under increased scrutiny here at MCM. So is he worth his weight in gold? Here are his numbers from last season:
Not mind-blowing stuff, but certainly above the league average. Spin it any way you want, but Nate Washington has been the best Tennessee Wide Receiver since Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett were in town, and that is a hell of a long time ago in NFL years. Washington had three one hundred + yard games this past year, and played well for both Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Beyond this, Washington is the team's only real veteran at WR. With only Wright and Hunter, both young talent, on the roster along with him, the Titans would be making a mistake in releasing him. Should Wright or Hunter go down, the Titans would be playing with a compromised corps or pass catchers, and that isn't something the team should be willing to risk going into an all-important season for QB, Jake Locker. If you are going to pass final judgment on him, you have to give him the tools to work with. Beyond this, it is unlikely that the team will be able to go out and get a WR better than Washington for under $4.8 million at this point. I am all for bringing D. Williams back, but who else would the team target if they did part ways with the Tiffin product?
A few plays below highlight Washington's importance in the Titans offense.
On the play directly below, you can give credit to both Nate and the Texans corner, who gets his hips turned inside instead of outside. Washington makes him pay by running a good route arcing outside. Locker puts the ball in the basket between him and the safety, and the Titans record a big play to get them out from under the shadow of their own goalposts.
On this second play, Washington makes a great play to drive back to the ball and make the catch in bounds. This is an NFL caliber play all around. Nate has the correct timing and keeps the off corner inside by threatening the post route, then breaking off towards the sidelines right after the ball is released.
Finally, again from the Steelers game, Nate shows his veteran savvy to keep the play alive when his route is technically over. Locker is blitzed and steps up into a hole in the pocket. Washington does an excellent job to keep pursuing open space for his QB to hit him. It's these kinds of plays that can make all the difference in a game; when the play design has broken down and the players are left to ad lib the rest.
While Washington's price tag may cause some to balk, I am positive that he is worth that money. He's been a consistent producer in this offense, and I would hate to see the team run the fine line of relying on players to remain healthy. That is just not a solid strategy in the NFL, or in football in general.
Washington is a leader on this team, and has been for years. For an offensive skill group coming into it's own, that element plays a big factor. He has much to offer in ways of aiding in the growth of Wright and Hunter. Not only that, but he consistently backs up that role with his play on the field. Don't forget, this is a guy who had an 85 game streak with at least one catch. That is no small feat in today's NFL.
I see Washington returning this year, with or without a pay cut, and I don't think he's on the roster bubble as much as some folks have been led to believe. Obviously we'll wait and see what happens, lots of things change with a new regime after all. But starting out by cutting arguably the biggest leader on the offense and a guy who's been a consistent producer would be a poor way to begin.