Fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington isn’t normally one to draw undue attention to himself. But on Friday afternoon, senior ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that Washington has approached the Steelers and requested a trade, owing to the limited playing time he has been receiving.
Washington’s Opportunities and Production Have Fallen
It’s not hard to see how James Washington might be unhappy, as the former second-round pick (Oklahoma State) is now clearly No. 4 in the wide receiver pecking order, behind fifth-year vet JuJu Smith-Schuster, third-year player Diontae Johnson and second-year man Chase Claypool.
The fact that Claypool was immediately impactful as a rookie certainly had an effect on Washington’s playing time/production last year.
Brooke Pryor, who covers the Steelers for ESPN, notes that Washington’s snaps and receiving yards both declined precipitously in 2020.
Moreover, his opportunities figure to become even fewer this season, especially since the Steelers plan to run the ball more frequently, thanks to the addition of 2021 first-round pick Najee Harris. Never mind the fact that the Steelers now have two pass-catching tight ends in Eric Ebron and rookie second-round pick Pat Freiermuth.
A Trade Could Make Sense for Both Parties
While the Steelers would probably prefer to keep Washington as insurance against injury to the likes of Smith-Schuster, Johnson and Claypool, the organization might be best-served by getting something for him in a trade. Keep in mind that he’s entering the last year of the rookie contract he signed in 2018, so this would figure to be his last year with the club anyway.
In terms of his trade value, Washington is still only 25 years old and would come at a reasonable financial cost to his acquirer. (According to overthecap.com he is scheduled to earn a relatively modest $1,093,821 in salary this year.) Moreover, the Steelers could afford to move him in a trade because the resulting dead money cap charge for 2021 would be just $338,426—again per overthecap.com.
But his relatively uninspiring receiving numbers probably limit what that Steelers could get back in a deal, with a mid-round draft pick probably a reasonable expectation.
Keep in the mind that in 45 career games (with 23 starts), Washington has 90 career receptions for 1,344 yards and nine touchdown catches. In last night’s preseason victory over the Dallas Cowboys, he was targeted twice but did not have a reception.
Yet on a team with less receiving talent than the Steelers, he’s probably a very solid No. 3 option.
It should be interesting to see if the Steelers are willing to part with Washington, as they have no proven NFL talent behind him, unless you count Ray-Ray McCloud, who is more of a kick returner/runner than a receiver.
A few newcomers have flashed potential, though, including Rico Bussey, an undrafted free agent who has been a standout at training camp. Other receivers hoping to earn a place on the team include Cody White, Isaiah McKoy, Anthony Johnson, Tyler Simmons and Mathew Sexton.
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