Nate Washington: The Latest Victim of the Doomed Titans Wide Receiver Carousel

Henry NicholsCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2009

Say goodbye to Nate Washington.

No, not just you, Pittsburgh. The NFL. Tennessee’s Super Bowl-winning free-agent signing has no clue that he has just voluntarily marooned his NFL career.

For the last decade-plus, the Oilers/Titans franchise, for all their success, has been the place promising wide receivers go to die. Apart from scrap heap signings that panned out from almost no expectations (Bobby Wade, Justin Gage), virtually every other Titans FA at wide receiver thereafter belonged on the side of milk cartons.

Case in point: the last Steelers receiver to seek the spotlight in Tennessee was Yancey Thigpen, who was coming off his second Pro Bowl season in Pittsburgh, when he racked up a career-high 1,398 yards.

After signing with the Titans in 1998, Thigpen barely topped his ’97 yardage over the next three seasons combined, with a high of 648 yards in ‘99. Despite making several highlight-reel catches and being an integral cog of the Titans’ Super Bowl squad, his tenure in Tennessee was marred by injuries and he never led the team in either receptions or yardage. His career was kaput by the turn of the millennium at the age of 31.

The next receiver to travel to Tennessee’s own “Bermuda Triangle” was disgruntled Bengals star Carl Pickens. The erstwhile Tennessee Vol decided to make a homecoming for his career in 2000 and, like Thigpen, he already had two Pro Bowls under his belt.

Instead, the injury bug bit Pickens too, quite viciously, with a torn hamstring. After only playing nine games for the Titans and tallying a career-low 242 yards, Pickens, at age 30, was also never to be heard from again after 2000.

David Givens’ tale is even worse as he was even more so in the prime of his career. The Patriots’ leading receiver during their ’04 Super Bowl title run, Givens was 26 when he signed a five-year, $24 million contract with the Titans, and 26 when his career was effectively over. He was injured throughout his first training camp in Tennessee, caught a measly eight passes in five games, and then capped it off with a torn ACL.

Guess what he’s doing these days?

The Titans also have a bad history with high draft picks on wide receivers. When the Titans snagged MTSU star Tyrone Calico in the second round of the ’03 draft, head coach Jeff Fisher walked around after preseason games talking as if he had stolen some kid’s candy. One of the early theorems was that Calico could be a “Nice Guy” version of Terrell Owens based on his impressive attributes and skill set for a wideout.

But, like Givens, Calico tore his ACL against the Cowboys during one of safety Roy Williams’ patented “horse collar” tackles. His career-highs of 297 yards and four touchdowns from his rookie year were all that remained of a promising career, and he was out of football after 27 games.

The Titans’ highest pick at WR before that was Kevin Dyson in 1998. You know, the guy who ran in “The Music City Miracle.” While never officially a “bust” like so many others, Dyson tore two ACLs during his career and never became the No. 1-type receiver that Randy Moss, who the Titans passed over in the draft, immediately became.

The average retirement age for the aforementioned wideouts: 28.

There’s a reason the Titans don’t draft or sign heralded wide receivers. They’re more snakebit than that one dude in Apocalypto.

With such a lurid history, it’s hard to blame someone in the know, like promising ex-Titans receiver Brandon Jones (who recently signed a FA deal with the 49ers), for getting the hell out of Dodge.

And even more puzzling for those like Washington who apparently never learned the axiom, “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.”

Good luck, Nate. You’re going to need it.