NFL News & Analysis

Ideal landing spots and trade value for Steelers wide receiver James Washington

Dec 8, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington (13) against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver James Washington has reportedly requested a trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The 2018 second-round draft pick has dropped down the depth chart and been overshadowed as a receiving option by Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in recent seasons.

Given his relative lack of playing time last season, and how things went in Thursday’s Hall of Fame game, Washington sees the writing on the wall in a contract year and wants a better opportunity.

He saw 27 snaps in the game but didn’t start despite the Steelers opening the contest with three wideouts on the field. Just two targets came his way overall, one of which he dropped.

Last season, he played 514 total snaps and was by most measures the clear No. 4 wide receiver on the team.

An acquiring team would be taking on a little over $1 million in salary for Washington and would get an early glimpse at a player set to test free agency after the 2021 season.

The market has more or less been set by another recent trade of a 2018 second-round wide receiver, with the Chicago Bears sending Anthony Miller and a seventh-round pick in 2022 to the Houston Texans for a fifth-round pick in 2022. Miller is a slot receiver, whereas Washington is more of a deep-ball threat on the outside, so they bring different skill sets to the table. Even still, the Miller trade provides a solid benchmark.

Here’s how Washington — drafted nine picks after Miller — has stacked up since they both entered the league:

Player Receiving Grade Explosive plays YAC per reception Avg. depth of target
Miller 63.6 36 4.0 10.5
Washington 60.4 29 4.4 15.3

Add in the fact the Bears were not thrilled with Miller’s ejection from their 2020 playoff contest against the New Orleans Saints and had been shopping him since around draft time, and Washington’s compensation projects to be just slightly superior. The Steelers should look to recoup a fifth-round pick without including a seventh-round pick on their end, or perhaps they swap a sixth-round pick and Washington for a fourth-round pick. 

LANDING SPOTS

New Orleans Saints

With Michael Thomas out recovering from offseason surgery, the Saints are desperate at receiver and can no longer rely on Drew Brees’ magic getting it done regardless of the weaponry around him. Whether Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston starts, that player will need some viable targets. Washington is a cheap option with talent and good athleticism who could be worth adding to the mix and hoping they stumble into an upgrade. The Saints have a bye in Week 6 this season, and it’s possible that Thomas returns as early as right after that break, leaving them with at least five weeks to find a viable group of playmakers.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have multiple stars catching passes from Patrick Mahomes, but they are increasingly top-heavy. After Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the options become far less effective — especially following Sammy Watkins’ departure in free agency and Mecole Hardman’s failure thus far to step into a bigger role. Demarcus Robinson was brought back but has never earned an overall PFF grade above 61.0 in a season, and while there is some excitement about rookie Cornell Powell, the team could look to Robinson to step in and challenge for a spot on that depth chart. Not only could Washington contribute, but Kansas City represents a rare opportunity for him to actually start if he impressed early.

Detroit Lions

The Lions are only part of the way through their rebuilding project that has seen them prioritize the trenches. The team added linemen over the offseason and shored up the secondary, but it’s done little to provide quarterback Jared Goff with any kind of weapons to prove he is more than just a makeweight in the trade for Matthew Stafford. Detroit’s top receiver, Breshad Perriman, has never seen more than 65 targets over a single season, and the entire depth chart is wide open for anybody with a strong showing in training camp or preseason to win a major role. Few teams would present a weaker collection of challengers for Washington to overtake on the depth chart than the Lions.

Minnesota Vikings

Obviously, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are Minnesota’s top two receivers, and this is a team that doesn’t make much use of a No. 3, but one injury would have the Vikings in a bad hole this season. They lost Olabisi Johnson to injury, making a weak spot even weaker, and Washington would have a chance to supersede newly signed DeDe Westbrook or rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette for that third role. Minnesota doesn’t use its third receiver much, with Johnson collecting just 21 targets in that role last season, but if either of their top two receivers get hurt, there would be a heavy workload as a starter.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are always intrigued by athletic receivers who can bring something to the table, and Washington ticks that box, however underwhelming his NFL career has been thus far. The Seahawks have entrenched starters in D.K Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but rookie D’Wayne Eskridge is currently their No. 3 receiver, and there is little behind him to inspire any kind of confidence. This would be a spot where Washington would have to be patient, but there is a path to big plays and highlight-reel success that will attract attention from the No. 3 role, as David Moore showed last year.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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