The Pittsburgh Steelers are very familiar with James Washington. Could the team could consider bringing him back following his release from the Cowboys?
After seeing limited opportunities with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020 and 2021, James Washington pressed his luck with the Dallas Cowboys in free agency this past offseason. Unfortunately, an injury forced him to spend most of the season on injured reserve.
Recently, Dallas signed former Colts wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton. His sudden emergence has apparently made Washington expendable. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network recently reported that the Cowboys intend to release Washington. He finished his brief tenure in Dallas with just 1 target and 0 receptions.
James Washington was a former second-round pick out of Oklahoma State that many analysts were high on entering the 2018 NFL Draft. Despite being the most productive wide receiver in Big 12 history, Washington’s skill set didn’t translate particularly well to the NFL.
At 5’11” and 213 pounds, Washington has a compact frame for a wide receiver to pair with average athletic traits. At the 2018 NFL Combine, he ran a 4.54 40-yard dash to go with a 7.11 3-cone and a 34.5” vertical jump.
During his time with the Steelers, Washington wasn’t much of a route-runner or separator, but he was very physical with tough hands at the catch point. Now that he’s back on the market, would the Pittsburgh Steelers have any interest in bringing him back on a veteran minimum deal?
Steelers unlikely to sign James Washington
At this point, I would be surprised if James Washington was claimed off waivers. He hasn’t recorded more than 30 receptions or 400 yards in a season since his second year in 2019. During that season, he led all Pittsburgh receivers with 735 yards when Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges were forced to fill in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger.
Washington is a high-character player and a hard worker, but despite his brief success in Pittsburgh, I doubt the Steelers have much interest in bringing him back.
Prior to his departure, Washington was barely used on offense as he took a backseat in favor of Ray-Ray McCloud, who assumed duties as the team’s WR3 when JuJu Smith-Schuster was on IR. Washington could be a competent backup ‘Z’ receiver in the event of an injury to George Pickens, but Miles Boykin can play special teams and has been excellent as a run blocker when called upon.
With already having five receivers who are used on offense, the team would likely have to view Washington as a better option than either Boykin, Gunner Olszewski, or Steven Sims to earn a spot on a team. However, each of these players offers a niche that Washington does not. Boykin plays special teams, Olszewski is used as a runner on jet sweeps, and Sims is the return man and slot receiver.
Sadly, the ship has sailed on James Washington, and it’s highly unlikely that he comes close to living up to his second-round billing at this point. Let’s hope he lands back on his feet somewhere after his recent release from the Dallas Cowboys.