A report by Master Tesfatsion for the Washington Post.
Pierre Garcon will play his 42nd career regular season game at FedEx Field on Sunday. All but one came as a member of the Washington Redskins, and the respect for first-year San Francisco 49er has not abated since the wide receiver traded his burgundy and gold for scarlet and gold in the offseason.
Garcon will be on the visiting sideline in his first game against the Redskins since Washington opted not to re-sign him. Garcon, 31, spent the previous five seasons in Washington. Although he is in a different uniform, the impact the 10-year veteran left in the Redskins locker room can still be measured by his former teammates.
“Pierre is my O.G., one of them,” wide receiver Ryan Grant said. “He ain’t say much. He led by example. If you want to be successful in this league, watch Pierre Garcon work.”
Garcon’s work ethic stood out to Grant and other Redskins players that played with him. The effort he gave at practice and behind the scenes was consistently on display during the game, an aspect Grant said rubbed off on him “tremendously” during his first three years in the NFL.
Garcon was a dependable wide receiver that ran crisp routes, and he was often on the receiving end of crucial catches for the Redskins. In 74 games, Garcon stands ninth in franchise history in receptions (376), 10th in receiving yards (4,549) and 12th in touchdowns (21).
“Everything about Pierre Garcon, I admire,” Grant said.
While there was interest to bring Garcon back before free agency, the 49ers offered him a five-year deal worth $47.5 million with $23 million during the first two seasons. That salary made Garcon the 17th-highest-paid wide receiver in the league and reunited him with 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Garcon’s offensive coordinator in Washington in 2012 and 2013.
“When you give guys money to come places, I want to make sure that you give money to the people who are going to do things the right way and are going to play the way you demand,” Shanahan said on a conference call Wednesday. “Pierre is a perfect example of that.”
Garcon had the best season of his career under Shanahan in 2013, recording a franchise-record 113 receptions for a career-high 1,346 receiving yards. It was one of two seasons, along with last year, where Garcon has recorded 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.
“Everything that you see is everything that you get from [Garcon],” cornerback Bashaud Breeland said. “He’s always been the guy that he is. Never too high, never too low. That’s just who he is. He’s a good guy. He was an exceptional teammate, but now he’s on the opposite side of the turf. We’re competing against each other, and it’s going to be exciting.”
It’s not surprising to Breeland that Garcon quickly established himself as a reliable target for the 49ers. Through five games, he leads the team in receptions (28) and receiving yards (379) in a passing game that ranks 20th in yards per game (221.8).
“He is still one of the top possession-type receivers there is in football,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said. “He is really good after the catch. That’s the one thing we really have to make sure [that] we tackle well when he gets the ball in his hands out in space, because he can really run after the catch.”
Even for some that never played with Garcon, like rookie cornerback Fabian Moreau, there has been a great deal of appreciation from afar. Moreau said he always looked up to Garcon because of how much he represented Haiti and brought awareness when the country has dealt with natural disasters. Moreau — who is of Haitian descent, like Garcon — recalled Garcon carrying Haiti’s flag on the field as a member of the Indianapolis Colts following a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010.
Garcon’s efforts to bring awareness and aid to Haiti continued in Washington. Last year following Hurricane Matthew, Garcon went to Haiti on Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s private jet with Ricky Jean Francois to provide medical supplies to a hospital.
“He was one of the first to really step out on a limb and bring the flag out there on the field,” Moreau said. “That’s huge. He put on and opened the door for the Haitian culture. Now there’s a lot of Haitians in the league and a lot of people know about Haiti. It may not always be for the best reasons, but they know that’s a country that has people that are full of pride. It was huge for the Haitians here and even bigger for the Haitians back home.”