A year ago, Fred Davis was considered to be one of the up-and-coming tight ends in the NFL. Now, after missing most of the 2012 season due to an injury, Davis is a free agent and the Redskins have to decide whether he is part of their long-term plans.
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After posting career-highs in receptions and yards in 2011, the Redskins used the franchise tag to retain Davis last season. Many expected Davis to improve on his breakout 2011 season and join the top tier of tight ends. Instead, he got off to a slow start and ruptured his Achilles' tendon in Week 7. The injury complicates the situation as Davis is likely still searching for a long-term contract, while the Redskins may be apprehensive to make him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league coming off a major injury.
That doesn't, however, mean Davis won't land a long-term contract this offseason. According to a report from Mike Jones of the Washington Post, league sources say it's still possible Davis could land a multi-year contract, but it would be incentive-laden. Davis could still be paid like a top tight end, but only after he proves he has recovered from injury.
As Kevin Ewoldt of SB Nation's Redskins blog Hogs Haven wrote, Davis' free agency will be trickier than most. The Redskins likely want to retain him, but cost could be an issue. The injury could also drive down the market for Davis, making a return to Washington more likely.
Washington could also decide to use the franchise tag on Davis again this season in order to secure his rights and see if he is able to return to form. The franchise tag value for tight ends is projected to cost $5.962 million, but it would cost the Redskins more to retain Davis. Since Washington used the tag on Davis last year, doing so again this year would mean they have to pay Davis 125 percent of last season's salary. That would increase Davis' franchise tag value to roughly $6.5 million.
If the Redskins are unable to work out a new contract with Davis and deem $6.5 million to be too much to pay to a player coming off a serious injury, they could also look to the free agent market for alternatives. The free agent market includes several comparable tight ends, including Tennessee's Jared Cook, the Giants' Martellus Bennett and the Jets' Dustin Keller. All three should command contracts comparable to what it would take to sign Davis long-term.
The Redskins could also decide to not bring in anyone new and instead turn the starting job over to Logan Paulsen. Paulsen started 10 games in place of Davis last season, finishing the season with 25 receptions for 308 yards and one touchdown. In seven games, Davis caught 24 passes for 325 yards.
Washington has until March 4 to designate Davis as the franchise player. If they decide against the franchise tag and are unable to come to a long-term deal, Davis would become an unrestricted free agent on March 12.