- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2015

ASHBURN — In March, well before the concept of the Washington Redskins winning the NFC East was tangible, wide receiver Pierre Garcon invited roughly a dozen teammates to his home in West Palm Beach, Florida, for several days of on-field workouts and drills.

Players would commence their lifting at 9 a.m. each day, and after roughly an hour, they’d head to a nearby field, where they’d break down a series of scenarios and hold their own de facto passing camp. It was then that running back Chris Thompson had a chance to watch Garcon work — how he’d do push-ups between his lifts, how he’d run an agility ladder along the sideline as others took breaks.

“I actually was laughing at him one day because it kind of looks funny when he’s going through his stuff, but then it shows up in the game,” Thompson said. “His work ethic is phenomenal.”

For the second time in four seasons with the Redskins, Garcon has five touchdown receptions, the most recent on a 13-yard fade pass with 8:55 remaining in a 38-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end Jordan Reed have garnered the spotlight this season on the Redskins‘ offense, which enters Sunday’s finale against the Dallas Cowboys ranked 12th in the league with 253.6 passing yards per game.

Garcon, though, has once again been the reliable presence in the middle of it all. Second on the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions, he has 69 catches — one more than last year — with one game to play.

On Saturday, Garcon tied one season high with seven catches and set another with 80 receiving yards. He runs crossing routes without hesitation, picks up first downs and churns out yards after contact.

“He’s always been very detailed in his work, a total professional,” Cousins said. “He’s the kind of guy you can rely on. He pretty much is fearless with his body in terms of catching the ball in traffic. That’s the kind of guy that you love to play with and love to throw to because of the way he plays and how he helps make me right as a quarterback.”

Garcon signed a five-year, $42.4 million contract shortly after free agency opened in March 2012 to be the Redskins‘ top wide receiver and their offensive playmaker. Limited by a torn plantar plate in one of the toes on his right foot, he missed six games and still finished with 633 receiving yards — a pace that would have put him over 1,000 receiving yards on the season.

He cracked that mark the following year, setting team records with 113 catches for 1,346 yards. In the process, he became only the third player to have at least five receptions in every game since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978.

Things changed last season, when the Redskins added Jackson and further incorporated Reed, their versatile tight end, into the offense under Gruden, their first-year coach. Garcon wasn’t particularly forgotten, but he wasn’t featured as he was in previous years. Washington’s instability at quarterback — all three players started at least four games — certainly was a large factor as well.

Once the Redskins recognized their expected strength, their running game, wasn’t going to carry the offense, Cousins was tasked with shouldering an additional load. That meant more balls for Garcon, especially in key situations. His 28 receptions on third down are the third-most in the NFL; he has caught at least three passes in all but one game this season.

“I enjoy playing,” Garcon said. “I enjoy getting the ball, I enjoy making plays and catching the ball and doing what I can whenever I get the ball. Whenever they call me, I do my best to make a play. I’m not trying to worry about if they are [on third down] or not.”

Whether Garcon will continue to catch passes for the Redskins is in question. He has already received the $20.5 million guaranteed to him as part of his contract, and next year, Washington faces a $10.2 million hit to the salary cap to keep him on the roster — a threshold surpassed by few wide receivers, including the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson, the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones and the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald.

If the Redskins were to cut Garcon after the season, they’d assume just a $2.2 million cap hit — the prorated portion of his $11 million signing bonus. They could rework that deal, signing him to a contract extension that would alleviate the constraints, but there has been no indication the team has even begun contemplating that process.

For Garcon, though, the end of this season will surely be business as usual. If he had any worries about his future, he’d be one of the last people to express them.

“He never says anything about himself,” Thompson said. “He never walks around here boastful, saying, ‘I’m this guy who’s not going to practice today.’ That’s not him. He’s here to work every day, and that’s something I really respect about him.”

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