ASHBURN — Playing on a Super Bowl winner taught Vernon Davis a lot about humility.
When the Redskins tight end was a member of the Denver Broncos in 2015, Davis was supposed to be the midseason trade deadline acquisition that would put the Broncos over the top. That year, the Broncos swapped two late draft picks and sent another to the San Francisco 49ers for Davis — an all-in move for what would be Peyton Manning’s last season.
But while the Broncos won the Super Bowl that season, Davis watched mostly from the sidelines. He played just eight snaps in Super Bowl 50 — capping off a disappointing stretch in which Davis had just 20 catches for 201 yards with the Broncos.
As the Redskins prepare to face the Broncos at FedEx Field on Friday, Davis’ short tenure in Denver is a reminder of how the tight end has reinvented his career entering his third year with Washington.
After all, in Denver, Davis looked done.
“I thought I figured I would have more playing time and I’d be able to contribute much more,” Davis said last December. “It didn’t go that way. But I’m still thankful for the opportunity because it gave me another level of humility. … If it wasn’t for that opportunity, I don’t think I’d be here with this mindset.”
With Washington, Davis has embraced being a role player. He is no longer the focal point of an offense like he was for most of his nine years San Francisco. Now, the 34-year-old is mostly a compliment to star tight end Jordan Reed, though he’s still capable of taking on more responsibility when Reed is injured.
Production-wise, Davis has been solid, bouncing back from a subpar 2014 and 2015. Last season, he finished with 648 yards for three touchdowns and 583 yards in 2016.
But with Davis blending in more often, it can be surprising to some fans to learn he’s still in the league.
After quarterback Alex Smith hit Davis for a 16-yard gain last week against the Jets, a user on Twitter wrote, “turned on the Redskins game and I see Alex Smith throwing the ball to Vernon Davis” and included a GIF of bearded Robin Williams asking “what year is it” from the film Jumanji. Another joked, “and why are the 49ers wearing Redskins jerseys?!?”
The punchlines may write themselves, though the Redskins expect the Smith-Davis connection to pay dividends this season — years after the two had formed one of the league’s best quarterback-tight end threats.
Smith, too, has had success in throwing to tight ends — even after he no longer played with Davis following his trade to the Kansas City in 2013. Smith had a natural chemistry with tight end Travis Kelce, who led the Chiefs in targets in each of the last two seasons.
Coach Jay Gruden said there are “plenty of options” for Reed and Davis in his offense, which should benefit Smith.
So why wasn’t Davis successful in Denver? The tight end said Manning’s “verbiage” was hard to learn midway through a season. “I couldn’t catch on to it,” he said. Davis didn’t play as a result.
Davis, though, hasn’t had that problem with Gruden. If anything, he’ll be even more comfortable having already played with Smith.
And the reunion is something both Davis and Smith are happy to discuss. As he was asked about Davis, Smith couldn’t contain his smile.
“I don’t really feel like we’ve skipped a beat,” Smith said. “In fact, I only think he’s gotten a lot better. … It’s been fun to reunite there, a little bit. He can still go.”