But as big a Washington fan as I am, I have to admit that I was surprised to see that Mike Lombardi's free agent rankings. According to Lombardi, Washington is the second-best free agent receiver available, topped only by Antonio Bryant. To Lombardi, T.J. Houshmandzadeh rates below Washington.
As Lombardi says:
"This is a diamond in the rough. I know he drops too many balls, but he has great vertical speed and has significantly improved as a player. He would be perfect for the Titans."Admittedly it's not a great free agent class of wide receivers, but if many people in the game think like Lombardi, then Washington is long gone from Pittsburgh--the Steelers can't pay him starter receiver money to be their No. 3 receiver.
But NFL teams need to know what they are getting. If a team is looking for a solid No. 2 receiver who can get deep on most anyone, then Washington would be a great acquisition. But Washington's hands are not consistent enough to be a No. 1 receiver, and he's not nearly as comfortable moving the chains on slant routes as he is at running a fly route.
Washington's catch percentage (percentage of catches on passes thrown his way) according to Football Outsiders was 51 percent this year. It was 52 percent last year and 51 percent in 2006, so it's safe to say that Washington usually catches about half the passes thrown his way, which is one of the worst percentages in the league. Partly that's because Washington runs a lot of deep routes, but it's also because of his questionable hands.
Think of him as an Alvin Harper. When Harper was with Michael Irvin, he was a very productive player as a deep threat that took some attention away from Irvin, but when the Buccaneers tried to make him into a No. 1 receiver, he was a big-time bust. I'd be shocked if any team out there thinks that Washington can be a No. 1, so maybe he will fit for a team like Tennessee where he could give a big-play spark that was lacking.
But if you're looking for a reliable option, it's hard to see him being more valuable than Houshmandzadeh. While Houshmandzadeh is older than Washington and may be starting to head into the downside of his career, he can serve as the man who can make the tough catch on third down. And he's had over 900 yards in each of the past five seasons--Washington has never had more than 630 yards in a season.
Both will be good pickups for somebody, but the team that gets Washington has to know his strengths.