Ten Points: Closing The Book On DeSean

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings

DeSean Jackson took questions from the Washington-area media yesterday after signing a three-year deal with the Redskins.

And so begins a new chapter in the wide receiver’s life.

The Eagles, meanwhile, remain silent. I know that doesn’t bother some of you, while others would like to hear from Chip Kelly about why the made the decision to release Jackson.

We’ve covered the whole saga extensively for the last month or so, and I understand there is some DeSean fatigue around these parts. But it’s become the story of the offseason for the Eagles. So before we start getting into full draft mode and moving on to other issues, here are 10 points I have to make to separate some myths from reality.

1. When you step back and take a look at the big picture, the Eagles got nothing in return for a 27-year-old wide receiver who was one of three players in the league (Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon the others) to catch 80+ balls, average at least 16.0 YPR and score nine TDs last season. You could certainly make the argument that selling high was an avenue worth exploring. But the team didn’t sell high; they didn’t sell at all.

The obstacles to a potential trade have been well-documented. Most notably, Jackson carried a $10.75 million cap hit in 2014. But given that the Redskins just gave him $16 million in guaranteed money, it’s fair to wonder whether the Eagles panicked in letting him go when they did. They explored trade options at the owners meetings, waited for the NJ.com story to come out and released him 35 minutes later. Why not see how things played out until the draft and try to get something back in return? Maybe there still would have been no takers, but at least they would have given themselves more of a shot. If the plan all offseason was to part ways with Jackson, it’s tough to label the execution of the plan as anything but a failure.

2. By all accounts, this wide receiver class is loaded. However, finding a rookie to come close to matching Jackson’s production in 2014 will be difficult. In the last 10 years, four wide receivers (Michael Clayton, A.J. Green, Keenan Allen and Marques Colston) have had 1,000-yard seasons as rookies. Only two (Clayton and Eddie Royal) have had 80+ catches. And only two (Mike Williams and Lee Evans) have had nine touchdowns or more. It’s a position where guys don’t often burst onto the scene and take the league by storm as rookies. I fully expect the Eagles to take a receiver (maybe two?) in the draft, and maybe they’ll contribute right away. But based on history, it’d be smart to temper some of those expectations.

3. It’s tough for me to buy some of the anti-Jackson arguments. Most notably, that he was an enormous locker room distraction or that he would be a bad influence on his younger teammates. If Jackson was late to all these meetings and clashed with the coaching staff, where was the discipline from Chip Kelly? As far as I can tell, he was never suspended for a game or even a quarter. He showed up and participated in the offseason program when others (Cary Williams) did not. He had a career year; the offense set records; and the team won the division at 10-6.

As for the influence on younger players, what I’ve learned over the years is that not all 53 guys have to get along. In fact, that’s never going to happen. Jackson didn’t seem to have a lot of close friends on the team. But these are grown men who have jobs to do. And football is their livelihood. Just because they’re not sitting around a camp-fire holding hands doesn’t mean the on-field product is doomed to fail.

4. Having said that, Jackson should not be made out to be a saint. The team was concerned with his maturity issues, some of his off-the-field associations and him not always buying in. Tim went into greater detail yesterday, pointing out that even those close to Jackson have their concerns about him. And clearly, he did not handle his contract situation the right way in 2011. Jackson is 27 and has $16 million guaranteed coming his way. He’s in a good spot to have a productive career going forward. If that doesn’t happen, it’ll be on him.

5. Moving to on-the-field stuff, the idea that Jackson is a one-trick pony is off-base. His best strength is as a vertical threat who takes the top off the defense. But that’s not his only strength:

Jackson made plays in a variety of ways last year. When cornerbacks played off, he took advantage on hitches, screens, comebacks, etc. Kelly did a great job of maximizing Jackson’s touches within the structure of the offense. That’s why he set a career-high with 82 catches.

6. Keeping with that point, though, the idea that Jackson was a nobody before Kelly is ludicrous. In 2009 and 2010, he averaged 77.1 and 75.4 yards, respectively. Last year, he averaged 83.3. Jackson was distracted by contract issues in 2011, and 2012 was a wash because of a decimated offensive line and poor quarterback play. Even then, people forget that Jackson was on pace for 1,018 yards before suffering an injury.

We wrote extensively about Kelly’s scheme during the season. It was fun to watch and exceeded pretty much everyone’s expectations in 2013. But the idea that the system can make up for a lack of talent is dangerous. The two go hand in hand. When what’s written on the chalkboard (or diagrammed on the iPad) doesn’t go according to plan, it’s up to the guys on the field to make plays and win one-on-one matchups. There’s no doubt that Kelly got the most out of his offensive players (Nick Foles, Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Riley Cooper) in 2013. Ultimately, he was the one who decided Jackson was replaceable and more trouble than he was worth. Now he will have to prove that he made the right call.

7. Interesting Tweet from Jason Kelce about the run game:

I agree with Kelce here. Granted, even when teams played with one high safety, that guy had to be deep because of Jackson’s speed. But most defenses prioritized stopping McCoy and the run game last year when facing the Eagles. With Jackson out of the picture, that’s not going to change in 2014. Kelly will have to continue to come up with creative ways to get McCoy going, but he did that effectively last season.

The more important question will be: When teams load up on the run, will the Eagles still be able to make them pay with big plays downfield in the passing game? We’ve repeated this stat several times, but the Eagles led the NFL in pass plays of 20+ yards last season.

8. Somewhere along the line, I heard the argument that Foles was better throwing to Cooper than Jackson.

Huh?

Thanks to friend of the blog Derek Sarley for digging up the numbers.

Foles completed 50 of 71 passes (70.4 percent) for 808 yards and seven TDs to Jackson.

He completed 34 of 57 (59.6 percent) for 673 yards and seven TDs to Cooper.

The truth is Foles was money to every receiver he targeted last year. But to suggest he and Jackson didn’t have great chemistry is silly.

9. I think we have to be careful when discussing money as the primary reason for cutting Jackson. If you want to make the argument that Kelly didn’t see the value in dealing with Jackson at his current cost, that’s fine. Although I would say that he seemed like he wanted Jackson gone regardless of the price.

But if you’re making the argument that the Eagles released Jackson so that they could make other moves, I don’t buy it. First of all, look at the timing. The Eagles aren’t in position to go out and sign other pieces now that they shed Jackson’s salary. Free agency is over. And they haven’t made a lot of moves to suggest they’re worried about their current payroll (trading for Darren Sproles, signing Mark Sanchez, keeping James Casey on the roster, not asking DeMeco Ryans to take a pay cut).

As for next offseason, there are plenty of guys they can release to create cap space if that’s an issue. Some possibilities, via Over the Cap, include: Trent Cole ($8.43M), Ryans ($6.9M), Williams ($6.5M), Brent Celek ($4.8M) and Casey ($4M). Those decisions will come down to who the Eagles have as replacements and how the current players perform in 2014. But there are options.

Which is a long way of saying I still think the primary reason for releasing Jackson was Kelly didn’t want him around. As the head coach and the guy with final say on the 53-man roster, that’s his prerogative.

[Let’s add a little bit of levity to the situation, shall we?]

10. As for the Eagles staying quiet, I understand the decision. They announced the move 35 minutes after the NJ.com gang affiliation story came out, knowing full well that it would provide some cover for an unpopular move.

Again, I know many of you don’t care, but that doesn’t seem like the best way to conduct business. You made a bold decision. Show confidence in it and explain it to the paying customers. It could be as simple as saying:

“We want players who fit what we’re trying to build here and are making moves that we think will move the organization closer to a Super Bowl.”

Some variation of that would suffice.

Instead, everyone is left to come up with their own theories and conclusions, and the organization looks like it might have something to hide. Maybe in due time, we’ll find out more about why they’re choosing to stay silent.

But for now, fans are left to either give Howie Roseman, Jeffrey Lurie and Kelly the benefit of the doubt or question the direction of the franchise after a promising 2013 campaign.

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