The key veteran free agent signing of 2018
Paul Richardson was an early signing for the Redskins when free agency frenzy broke out on the 14th of March. There were a number of very large contracts handed out to Wide Receivers that weekend, and, while the 5-year, $40m deal that Richardson got from the Redskins might have sounded incredibly high at $8m per season, it paled in comparison to Sammy Watkins ($15.8m) and Allen Robinson ($13.9m), who were signed the same day.
After the Richardson signing, the Redskins free agency news stopped coming — or at least slowed to a dribble. The team eventually made a few more moves, bringing in Pernell McPhee and Orlando Scandrick, and trading for Kevin Hogan, but the clear #1 headline free agent signing for the team in 2018 was Richardson. The other huge move was trading for Alex Smith — a transaction that had been tacitly acknowledged since before the super bowl, but which became official on the same day that Richardson was signed. The Redskins, in fact, introduced the two players together at the March press conference.
Alex Smith and Paul Richardson were obviously the keys to the Redskins offseason plans as far as veteran acquisitions are concerned. We’ve talked a ton about Alex Smith since the news of the trade became public the week before the super bowl, but Richardson seems to have slipped through the cracks a bit — especially given that Jay Gruden seems to be be counting on Richardson to help re-shape the Redskin offense in 2018.
Understanding the Redskins’ pursuit of Richardson this offseason starts by understanding that Gruden loved the deep threat that Desean Jackson brought to the Redskins; Jay used Jackson to affect safety play and open up the field for the other receiving targets in his multi-pronged passing attack. When Jackson was gone in 2017, and Josh Doctson & Terrelle Pryor were unable to fill the void, it became a priority to find a new speedster to line up wide and stress opposing defenses. The Redskins believe they have found that guy in Richardson, and the $8m per season and $20m in total guarantees written into his contract indicate that the commitment by the team is a very serious one.
The Redskins are counting on Paul Richardson to help transform the offense; in short, they expect Richardson to scare opposing defenses, forcing them to game-plan against him.
An unlikely choice
But Paul Richardson, in many ways, seems an unlikely candidate as the linchpin signing for the franchise. While it’s easy to see what the Redskins were chasing in Alex Smith, Paul Richardson’s injury history and career production don’t immediately point to a player that will be integral in helping the franchise achieve lofty goals.
In fact, for all the commitment indicated by the $40m contract, the Redskins hedged their bets. First, they hedged against performance by putting in roster guarantees that ‘vest’ in 2019 and 2020, and secondly, they hedged against injury by including per-game roster bonuses of $500,000 per season.
If Richardson isn’t healthy, he won’t maximize his contract, and if he doesn’t produce as expected, the team can cut him after the ‘19 season for a total 2-year cost of $17.5m (or $8.75m per season), saving $22.5m.
Paul Richardson seems like a nice guy, and he’s certainly got speed, but did the Redskins make a good bet when they made him their key veteran free agent signing of 2018?
Let’s take a look at Richardson’s measurables at the time he was drafted, his numbers from his time in Seattle, and some evaluation of his game to see what those things tell us.
Size and combine speed
First of all, Richardson ran a 4.4 sec 40-yard dash at his combine. This is no kind of record; in fact, he was only the 8th fastest player at the 2014 combine. Desean Jackson was faster at 4.35. But 4.4 is pretty damned fast. The average time for NFL WRs and CBs in general is 4.55, so Richardson will have an advantage in straight line speed against most of the defensive backs he will play against.
Richardson is currently 26 years old; he is 6’0” and 175 pounds.
2014 draft profile
NFL.com had Richardson rated as a 3rd to 4th round prospect in 2014, and seemed to have serious concerns about his durability:
Stretches the field vertically and can run under deep throws. Can drive off corners, break off and work back to the quarterback. Shows he’s capable of making the spectacular grab. Productive despite a poor supporting cast. Team captain. Has been injured and durability could be an issue. Vulnerable to the jam. Does not separate consistently -- needs to become a more refined, deceptive route runner. Gets out-muscled at the catch point for 50-50 balls. Very lean, narrow-framed, finesse “X” receiver who made an immediate impact at Colorado before knee injuries derailed his progress. Measurables will go a long way in determining his ultimate draft value, and his success at the next level is dependent upon his ability to make plays in the vertical passing game. Has a boom-or-bust element. Size and durability are question marks.
Seattle was apparently a lot more impressed with Richardson than was Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com; the Seahawks used the 45th overall pick (Round 2) of the ‘14 draft to select him.
How did that work out for the Seahawks?
The injury bug did, indeed, bite Richardson at the end of his rookie season, and affected his second season, when he appeared in only one game and caught only a single ball.
Richardson tore his left ACL in the playoff win over the Panthers at the end of the 2014 season and missed the final 2 playoff games, the 2015 preseason and the 1st 8 games of the 2015 season. He had previously suffered a Grade 3 MCL tear in the same knee as a college player in October of 2011, followed by a Grade 3 ACL tear in April of 2012.
In his 1st game back from ACL surgery in 2015, Richardson suffered a hamstring injury. He landed on IR a few weeks later, without returning to the field.
So, Paul Richardson has had three serious injuries to his left knee. However, outside of the ACL tear that cost him the 2015 season, he has stayed mostly healthy for the rest of his NFL career, missing only 2 regular season games in his 3 other seasons (‘14, ‘16, ‘17) combined.
The Sports Injury Predictor has Richardson graded at “medium risk” and gave him a durability numerical score of 1 out of 5 (the worst score) prior to the 2017 season — a season in which he appeared in 16 regular season games. The 2018 durability score has not yet been released.
NFL Career statistics
Richardson has not had a spectacular career.
Some might say his career has not even risen to the level of mediocre. In 47 games, he has less than 100 cumulative receptions for just over 1,300 yards.
For comparison, Desean Jackson had 82 receptions for 1,332 yards in 2013 alone. In fact, Jackson has amassed 4 seasons of 1,000 yards or more, and has two more seasons of at least 900 yards.
Even Paul Richardson acknowledges that his production has been limited in his career so far:
There’s guys that have more targets in one season than I have had my whole career, but I make the most of my opportunities and I really take a lot of pride in somebody being able to look my way and just trust that wherever the ball is going to be that I’m going to make the play. So whether it’s a ton of balls, whether it’s a few, I’m going to make the most of whatever it is and turn it into whatever I can.
What does Richardson bring to the Redskins?
Why would the Redskins give a guy like Richardson — an expected mid-round draft pick with a bad injury history who has underperformed his 2nd round draft status — $8m per year, and expect him to be the missing piece for the offense?
Well, J.P. Finlay said that Richardson makes sense for the team because he is a young player with lots of upside potential and speed to stretch the field.
The Redskins Wire suggested that Richardson “showed flashes of big upside in Seattle despite an attack that might not lean on the pass as much as the Redskins will.”
John Keim rated Paul Richardson as the most significant Redskin signing of the veteran free agency period. Here’s what he had to say about the Redskins’ plans and hopes for the former Seahawk:
The Redskins wanted more speed on the outside, opposite Josh Doctson, and targeted Richardson to help. They agreed to a deal with him before free agency. Richardson provides big-play potential from the Z receiver position, whether on deep balls or crossers. They’re hoping his presence can help create opportunities for others -- similar to what DeSean Jackson provided during his three seasons in Washington. Richardson has not been as dynamic as Jackson, but he is capable of hurting teams and making athletic, contested catches as well.
So, Richardson represents a sort of Desean Jackson-Lite for the Redskin offense. He’s not quite as fast as Jackson, and perhaps not quite the playmaker that Jackson was, but he offers speed and the ability to catch the ball.
The Redskins have placed value on Richardson, seemingly, for three reasons:
- They believe that with his NFL experience, he can quickly learn his responsibilities in the Redskin offense and perform capably. In other words, he can play right now.
- They believe that, at just 26 years old, Richardson is in the prime of his career, with lots of upside potential, and that he can be a productive player for the next 4 to 5 seasons.
- They believe that Jay Gruden’s offensive scheme will get a lot more value out of Paul Richardson than the Seahawks ever did. Richardson, himself, addressed this when talking to reporters about the Redskin offense: “ I just see where guys are getting open, seeing windows that I’ve never seen before. I just could picture myself in those windows....”
In short, the Redskins look at Richardson’s 2017 campaign in which he caught 44 balls (on 80 targets) for 703 yards, at 16.0 yards per reception average, and see the platform from which he will springboard to greater production.
In Desean Jackson’s two 15-game seasons under Jay Gruden, he had exactly 56 receptions both times, and he accumulated over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons. In 2015, when he played 9 games, he had 30 receptions for 528 yards. I believe that Jay Gruden thinks that Paul Richardson can do (or nearly do) what DJax did in the Redskin offense. I think Jay sees 50+ catches for 900+ yards and 4 or 5 TDs as the expected output for Richardson.
I think Jay believes he can get more out of Richardson than the coaching staff at Seattle was able to get.
What has Richardson said about becoming a Redskin?
Richardson talked about the appeal of playing in Washington in his introductory press conference:
I’m friends with DeSean [Jackson]. I’m friends with Pierre [Garçon]. They’re both great guys, great receivers. Especially Pierre, when Pierre told me this would be a great fit for me, I trusted him.
For a decade, DeSean, he sets people up so great with his double moves downfield. He has great ball tracking ability over his shoulder. All parts of my game that I’ve been working on that I can’t wait to be able to show and, you know, I really took that from DeSean and what I took from Pierre even, just how aggressive he is, how much attitude he plays with, how much confidence he plays with.
I talked to Pierre; you know, we have the same agent. We’ve developed a friendship. I look up to him a lot and I talked to him, he said, ‘Man, it doesn’t even matter. They need a receiver. I think you will be a great fit there.’ So it wasn’t a lot of a thought process. I trust Pierre, I look up to him and I respect him a lot, and for him to say that after leaving here, you know, that meant a lot to me. So that was easy.
He described the staff to me. He described the offense, and then, you know, I look. I pay attention to teams. I look up Alex, I look up the offense, I just see where guys are getting open, seeing windows that I’ve never seen before. I just could picture myself in those windows, so I’m looking forward to different concepts, how they get guys open and I think I will be able to contribute.
To be able to have a guy [like Alex Smith] with such good timing and then him to be able to be mobile as well, those are two great combinations, man. So I think that as long as he’s moving and I’m still able to move, I’m going to run past people, whether it’s across the field or down the field and I think that he will find me
I’m not big on trash talk and all that stuff, but you’ve got to catch me. I like going up against defenders and turning 50/50 balls into 100 percent mine.
Rate your excitement level about having Paul Richardson on the team in 2018 (5 = highest)
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Which of the following is the closest to what you expect out of Richardson this season?
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Injured early and never really a factor
15 rec, 225 yards, 1 TD
30 rec, 450 yards, 2 TDs
45 rec, 675 yards, 3 TDs
60 rec, 950 yards, 4 TDs