A Deep Breath After DeSean Jackson
After weeks of back and forth, the Eagles released DeSean Jackson on Friday. Now, he’s a Washington Redskin.
The debate over Jackson’s departure has hinged on the simple and seemingly unanswerable question: Was this the right move?
In order to give a fair assessment of this decision you can’t look at the move as an isolated instance. Yes, the Eagles just released a 27-year-old Pro Bowl receiver coming off of a career season. Yes, they’ll need to add some depth. However, I don’t think the answer can be found by asking ‘how does this affect the team?’ It should be ‘what does this say about the organization?’
For starters, whether it’s a good or bad move the front office balls–big balls–which is a good thing. It’s encouraging to see that Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly are willing to make bold moves in order to put together what they believe is the ideal football team.
Remember that this is a very young and inexperienced brain trust. Roseman is entering his third season as a GM at age 38 and Chip Kelly’s entering into his second NFL season ever. In fact, DeSean Jackson has more NFL experience than the two combined with six complete seasons.
However, in a single year together the Kelly/Roseman duo has established a strong sense of identity. Innovative nutrition and conditioning, upbeat tempo in practice, fucking scoring points. There’s a clear message being sent out to the players for how to succeed.
Getting back to Jackson’s release, this move makes sense because it establishes respect for the chain of command. I’d take a guess and say that only a hand-full of teams would actually consider releasing a player of DeSean’s caliber and age on a reasonable contract. The Eagles, however, seem more interested in preserving the culture.
Not surprisingly, differently thinking teams started a bidding war.
Before settling on the Redskins Jackson was the crip-affiliated belle of the ball. He was courted by the 49ers, Raiders, Jets, Browns and more. Given current reports, the bidding war for Jackson’s services culminated in a three-year $24 million dollar contract for the former second round pick. Not bad for a player who was released late in free agency.
That brings me to true secret in all of this: The Eagles believe that the eye-popping numbers are more of a product of the system rather than individual talent.
If the Eagles believed that losing DeSean would have been damning to their offensive success they would have held on to him for another year or tried to trade him on draft day. Instead, they were willing to part ways for nothing. This isn’t necessarily case specific to DeSean. Rather, it exemplifies how important the Eagles view the position to be.
The Eagles are a run-first system. As a result, the front office locked up Jason Peters and Evan Mathis despite being in their 30’s, drafted Zach Ertz despite the presence of Brent Celek and James Casey and they’ll be shelling out a long-term deal to LeSean McCoy in the coming months. These are the important positions on offense. These are the bigger guys beating up little guys. DeSean is no such player.
For that same reason I don’t expect to see the Eagles select a wide receiver in the first round. Much like your senior year grades, the value of the receiver position has plummeted in Philadelphia. They will be a unit run by committee with no clear star. One of those players being Darren Sproles.
Sproles, who was obviously brought in to help the transition from DeSean, is a great example of why the position isn’t highly valued. He’s more of an offensive weapon at this point than a running back; a player without a true position who can be deadly with the ball in his hands. His value comes from the fact that he’s cheap and–wait for it–versatile! Brad Smith is another versatile player who has provided looks as a quarterback, receiver and running back.
Brace yourself, people. The front office loves gadget guys.
So to really answer the question of whether or not releasing DeSean is the right move, pulling back the lens suggests that it is. By cutting their star receiver, the Eagles have reinforced the established culture and saved money which can be given to positions that they value more highly.
Is it bold to believe that 82 catches for 1332 yards and nine touchdowns can be easily replaced? Totally. But like I said, they’ve got balls.