Cutting Desean Jackson Opens Chip Kelly Up To Criticism

Photo Courtesy of Philly.com

Over the past few weeks it became clear that the Philadelphia Eagles were moving on from Desean Jackson as trade rumours surrounding the wide receiver swirled. Yet it was still a surprise when the Eagles, who failed to find a willing trade partner, released the pro bowler last Friday despite Jackson coming off his best NFL season and seemingly in his prime at 27 years-old.

While Jackson’s on field production has been consistently excellent throughout his NFL career it’s rumoured to be his off field activities that prompted Philadelphia to cut ties with the diminutive speedster. A report on NJ.com speculated that Jackson has ties with several gang members, a report Jackson and police representatives have been quick to dismiss, while another rumour speculates that Eagles coach Chip Kelly is less than thrilled with Jackson’s personality and its impact on other members of the roster.

Another potential reason for Jackson’s release is his relatively high cap number for both the coming season and beyond. The Eagles owed Jackson $10.5 million for the 2014 season, a large amount for any wide receiver although with over $20 million in cap room remaining Philly had no need to shed Jackson’s contract from their books. While Jackson had a few years left on his deal if it truly was his salary that motivated the Eagles to release him then surely a more prudent move would have been to keep him for the coming campaign before releasing him ahead of the 2015 season, when cap space is likely to be more of an issue.

One thing that can’t be disputed is Jackson’s undoubted talent and his ability to alter the game plans of opposing defenses. His speed is unmatched within the NFL and the deep threat he poses is a very real one, as demonstrated in this clip from a Monday Night Football game against the Washington Redskins in 2010. Opponents are forced to respect his ability to go deep by almost always posting safety help over the top, taking a defender out of the box and consequently opening things up in the run game. In addition to his speed Jackson also has great hands and Pro Football Focus had him down as the culprit of just three drops in 2013, while he posted career highs in receptions and receiving yards. His lack of size is concerning and he may be prone to picking up the occasional injury, but those two issues aside there is no logical reason for getting rid of such a talented and productive player.

The ins and outs of Jackson’s off field actions remain a mystery to all of those outside the sanctuary of the Eagles locker room. But until a significant reason is divulged for his release Chip Kelly will face a lot of questions over his ruthless decision to get rid of the best receiver on the Philadelphia roster, and rightly so. Elite talents like Jackson don’t grow on trees unfortunately, and it’ll take some doing to replace not just his threat with the ball in his hands but the impact his mere presence has on his teammates when he’s on the field. Perhaps the most telling fact is that at least six teams have already been in touch with Jackson’s representatives about signing the former California wide-out. Chip Kelly may not want him, but there’s plenty of other coaches around the NFL that do.

Race for the Title: How the Contenders Shape Up

Can Jose Mourinho lead Chelsea to another Premier League title?

Can Jose Mourinho lead Chelsea to another Premier League title?

With the Premier League season entering its business end an almost unprecedented four horse race for the title has unfolded, with each of the contenders having a realistic shot at league glory. Fred Stanley Sport takes a look at how each of the teams stack up, comparing their managers, key men and their remaining fixtures as we approach ‘squeaky bum’ time..

Chelsea

Position: 1st

Games played: 30

Points: 66

The Blues currently have a four point lead at the top of the table in the first season of manager Jose Mourinho’s second spell at the club, although they’ve played more games than any of the other title challengers. A lack of top quality strike options has been offset by an abundance of talented midfield players, from the mercurial Eden Hazard to the ever-reliable Frank Lampard and Ramires, while the back four has been led by captain John Terry and the rapidly improving Gary Cahill. Petr Cech remains one of the finest goalkeepers in Europe and as a result the team is incredibly strong though its spine, as it was during Mourinho’s first spell at Stamford Bridge.

Manager

Mourinho, the self-acclaimed ‘Special One’ has once more inspired an immediate turn around in his first season at the Bridge, installing a defence that has conceded fewer goals than anyone else in the league (23). His explosive personality makes him a media favourite and often sees him land on the back page of newspapers, but in addition to self-promotion his stunts often effectively take the heat off of his players. Tactically he’s spot on and knows when to go for the throat and when to shut up shop, while Mourinho also has the experience of winning titles in England, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Of any of the current managers in the Premier League Mourinho is undoubtedly the most decorated.

Key Player

John Terry often comes in for stick from opposition fans, perhaps rightly so after some of his on and off-field antics, yet he remains one of the finer defenders in the country. England’s loss following Terry’s international retirement has been Chelsea’s gain, and a series of stellar performances at the heart of the Blues defence has inspired his team to rise to the top of the table. If Terry can remain fit it’s difficult to see anyone finding the net on more than one occasion against Chelsea, something that’ll make them difficult to beat in their remaining fixtures.

Remaining Fixtures

A home game against Arsenal this Saturday will be a big test for the Blues but at Stamford Bridge Chelsea will be favourites to pick up three points in that one. Apart from a visit to Anfield in April the rest of their remaining fixtures are definitely winnable, with games against the likes of Cardiff, Norwich, Sunderland, Stoke, Swansea and Crystal Palace still to come.

Prediction: 1st

Liverpool

Position: 2nd

Games Played: 29

Points: 62

Manager Brendan Rodgers has described his Liverpool side as the ‘chihuahuas’ of the title race, an observation largely based on the relatively small amount of money they have spent in comparison to Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet despite being the underdogs in many peoples minds Liverpool have a more than realistic shot at title glory, with the ‘SAS’ combination of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge leading the line brilliantly as the Reds have amassed a league leading 76 goals. If the back four can continue its gradual improvement then they’ll really be a team to fear, giving them every chance of ending a two decade long title drought.

Manager

Rodgers has seen his side improve beyond measure from their seventh placed finish last year, with captain Steven Gerrard leading the way in applauding the Irishman’s man management skills. Tactically Rodgers has also been spot on, gradually moving away from the possession based system he employed while at Swansea to a fast paced, counter attacking model that utilises the pace of Sturridge and England hopeful Raheem Sterling. Rodgers may lack experience at the top end of the Premier League but he’s yet to show any signs of cracking up, and his good relationship with Mourinho has helped him avoid being a target of the Special One’s barbs.

Key Player

Who else but Luis Suarez. The Premier League’s leading scorer has cooled off in front of goal recently but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t contributed to the overall team effort, as he has constantly supplied his partner Sturridge with exquisite service. Suarez has the rare ability to get past players despite below average pace, and his selflessness with the ball at his feet has only heightened his influence on those around him. How different things could have been if Arsenal had raised their bid for him in the summer by £10 million (and a pound) or more.

Remaining Fixtures

Although Liverpool still have to play Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea they get to play all three at Anfield, which has developed into a fortress this season. Away games against West Ham, Cardiff and Norwich won’t be easy but they’re all certainly winnable with the form the Reds are currently in.

Prediction: 3rd

Arsenal

Position: 3rd

Games Played: 29

Points: 62

Having waited since 2005 Arsenal fans could be forgiven for thinking this could be the year that they end their prolonged trophy drought, with the club progressing to the last four of the F.A. Cup and positioning itself for a title run in the season’s final two months. However having sat top of the pile for a large part of the year the Gunners have struggled in recent weeks to live up to their early hype, with the club also being eliminated from the Champions League by holders Bayern Munich. Midfield talisman Aaron Ramsey’s injury hasn’t helped matters, nor has record signing Mesut Ozil’s loss of form, yet manager Arsene Wenger will be confident of winning the title if his side can replicate their form from this point last season, when they went on to win seven and draw two of their final nine contests.

Manager

Arsenal’s match against Chelsea on Saturday will be his 1000th game in charge of the North London club, a magnificent achievement of longevity from the Frenchman. However many more cynical fans will point out that his past 500 games have failed to bring a trophy after his initial 500 matches in charge were so successful. Wenger can often rightfully be accused of failing to spend money on areas where it has needed to be spent, yet his overall portfolio remains magnificent and his experience winning league titles and cup doubles will help his side during this season’s Premier League run in.

Key Player

Olivier Giroud remains Arsenal’s only Premier League worthy striker, a deficiency that lies directly at Wenger’s feet. However when Giroud is on form he’s a fearsome proposition for even the best back four, as his physical stature allows him to pose a threat both with his feet and aerially. If Arsenal are to win the league then Giroud must fire – something he is more than capable of doing if not for a prolonged period.

Remaining Fixtures

The Gunners still have to visit Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park this season, while they must also host Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium. While those three games will be difficult easier away trips against the likes of Hull City and home ties against Swansea, West Ham and West Brom should help Arsenal keep pace with those around them.

Prediction: 4th

Manchester City

Position: 4th

Games Played: 27

Points: 60

Although Manchester City currently lie fourth in the table they have two games in hand on Liverpool and Arsenal and have three games to make up on Chelsea. This suggests that their current position is slightly false, and having exited the Champions League last week they no longer have the added distraction of any European games on the horizon. When firing on all cylinders the City attack is quite simply frightening, with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo finding the net with ease. However with Aguero likely to miss a few more games with a recurrence of his hamstring injury it’ll be left to his two deputies to carry City’s goal-scoring burden, though they’ll be ably assisted by Yaya Toure, David Silva and Samir Nasri.

Manager

Manuel Pellegrini has come under attack from Jose Mourinho on more than one occasion in the press this season, although the Chilean has dealt calmly with the bullets fired in his direction. A lack of a league title while in charge of Real Madrid got him the boot from the Bernabeau a few years ago; a similar failure at the Etihad could see him come under fire on these shores as well. A shock F.A Cup exit to Wigan won’t have helped Pellegrini as he looks to build on his side’s Capital One Cup victory last month, a victory that may not be enough to keep him in a job if he falters in the league.

Key Player

Yaya Toure has often been the driving force behind City’s success in recent season’s, something that has continued during this campaign. His fantastic goal against Sunderland at Wembley last month helped turn the tide in a game City looked destined to lose, and his powerful runs and excellent technical prowess will be needed more than ever as City look to regain the title they won back in 2011/12.

Remaining Fixtures

The Citizens still have to play all of Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool away from home and 12 points from those contests will be more than just a tough ask. However City have a much easier slate of home games yet to come, including ties against West Ham, Aston Villa, West Brom, Sunderland and Southampton at the Etihad Stadium.

Prediction: 2nd

Have your say on the Premier League title race by leaving your predictions in the comments, or tweet @fredjstanley.

Three Winners, Losers From the First Day of NFL Free Agency

Former Patriots corner Aqib Talib will be strutting his stuff for Denver after the Broncos signed him to a six-year deal

Yesterday signaled the start of the new NFL year, which meant that it was also the date when players who were in the final year of their current contract’s hit the open market. The 22nd edition of the annual free agency bonanza didn’t disappoint in its opening act and according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King over $1 billion was spent by the 32 NFL franchises on new talent for the upcoming season and beyond. While it’s far too early to predict which teams will make the most noise on the pitch later on in 2014 yesterday’s transactions certainly helped benefited some teams and players more than others, and here’s my pick of the winners and losers from day one of the NFL’s annual ‘musical chairs’ free agency shuffle.

Three Winners

DeMarcus Ware

Ware had a disappointing season in 2013, struggling to overcome various injuries as he failed to consistently rush the passer as he had in previous seasons. Yet with his ailments healed Ware remains one of the better outside linebackers in the NFL and should he rediscover his burst then whoever picks him up will have landed a bargain. It’s surprising that the Cowboys have opted to cut ties with the seven time pro bowler, who they selected 11th overall in the 2005 draft, yet with the team up against the salary cap ceiling Dallas clearly felt they couldn’t afford to keep the former Troy standout around any longer. Ware now has his choice of top tier teams, up to seven play-off teams from 2013 are rumoured to have got in touch with Ware since his release, including the Superbowl runner-up Denver Broncos. Whether Ware lands in the Rocky mountains or elsewhere he’s sure to find himself in a good position to compete for a Lombardi trophy, something he has been unable to do in big D during the first nine years of his stellar career. (Update: Ware has in fact signed for Denver)

Denver Broncos

Broncos general manager John Elway was one of the more aggressive executives around the league on the opening day of free agency, adding former New England cornerback Aqib Talib and Cleveland safety T.J Ward to bolster a secondary that needed upgrading. With Champ Bailey nearing the end of a likely hall of fame career and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie testing free agency Denver needed to patch up their back four, something which they’ve achieved and then some with the addition of two of the top players available. The hard hitting Ward will add steel to the safety position while Talib is coming off a couple of impressive seasons for the Patriots, and although he comes with character concerns Elway is right to gamble that Talib will behave himself with the window of opportunity to win a Superbowl slowly closing as Peyton Manning nears retirement. Sometimes you have to be bold in an effort to push a good team over the top, something that Philadelphia were nearly able to do in 2004 when they added Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens to an already talented roster.

New Orleans Saints

While the Saints lost safety Mike Jenkins to Philly they replaced him with arguably the best available player at his position, former Buffalo man Jairus Byrd. Byrd is excellent in coverage and plays centre field better than almost anyone in the league, something which will help a New Orleans secondary that was at times vulnerable to the big play last season. Rob Ryan began to turn the Saints D around from a historically bad showing in 2012 last year and with Byrd on board he should be able to continue that improvement, although the six year deal given to the player will limit the team’s ability to spend elsewhere with both Jimmy Graham and Drew Brees’ contracts counting heavily against the salary cap.

Three Losers

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick’s team lost out in a big way when Talib jumped ship and signed for the rival Broncos, robbing the Patriots of perhaps their second best player after Tom Brady. The New England secondary now looks frighteningly light on talent, which is a major worry after Peyton Manning was able to torch them in the AFC championship game back in January. With most of the top players off the market Belichick will have to do some wheeling and dealing in the coming months if he’s to retool New England in a bid to make another play-off run, something that could begin with the signing of the about to be released Tampa Bay corner Darrell Revis.

Oakland Raiders

Defensive end Lamarr Houston has bolted for Chicago on a five-year deal, while offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is now an Arizona Cardinal. Last years leading rusher Rashad Jennings has also gone and he’ll be wearing New York Giant blue come September, which all in all has made it a fairly miserable start to free agency for the men in black. With over $60 million available in cap space it’s surprising that Oakland haven’t opted to spend in order to keep some of their better players, of which they don’t have many, although they did manage to secure the services of running back Darren McFadden for another year at a team friendly price of $4 million.

Eric Decker

It looks extremely unlikely that Decker will be back with Denver next year, meaning that unless he arrives in Seattle (which is even more of a long shot) he’ll have a poorer chance of making it back to the big game than his former team mates. Receivers and running backs appear to be of less value than ever this year with offensive lineman and cornerbacks picking up the big bucks, meaning Decker probably won’t receive a large sum of compensation in addition to reducing his chances of winning a ring in 2015. That’s not to say there isn’t interest in the wide out, just that the dollar amount he’ll receive won’t match the deals that similarly skilled players at his position have gotten in previous years.

Let me know who you think has had a good or bad start to free agency in the comments, or you can tweet me @fredjstanley.

Money Helps Mask Pellegrini’s Errors as City Pursue Domestic Treble

Yaya Toure scored Manchester City's equaliser at Wembley against Sunderland

Yaya Toure scored Manchester City’s equaliser at Wembley against Sunderland

The old saying goes you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy world class football players and those players will inevitably win their owner the occasional trophy or two. Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini will be relieved that his employers had previously splashed out on talents such as Yaya Toure and Sami Nasri, as their undoubted class helped Pellegrini’s side turn around a one-nil deficit against a resilient Sunderland at Wembley to ultimately win 2-1 and capture the Capital One Cup.

For Pellegrini the trophy represents his first piece of silverware in England, and with his side well positioned in both the Premier League and F.A Cup a domestic treble is not an unachievable target for the Chilean in his first season managing on these shores. After a disastrous first half this afternoon where Fabio Borini did brilliantly to hold off City skipper Vincent Kompany and fire the Black Cats into the lead Pellegrini looked set to cop a fair amount of flack for some unpopular decisions made when it came to picking a team for the first showpiece final on the domestic calendar, not least his choices to select the frighteningly immobile David Demechelis at centre half and number two ‘keeper Costel Pantillimon over regular stopper Joe Hart. Having been out thought and out maneuvered by Jose Mourinho when Chelsea visited the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League last month Pellegrini could well have found himself slapped with the big game choke artist label, a tag that is far easier to attain than to rid oneself of.

Yet when Toure bent a 35-yard effort beyond Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone into the top corner all of Pellegrini’s anxiety could be seen to have evaporated. The tension that could have previously been cut with a knife disappeared in an instant and when Nasri powered his shot home with the outside of his right boot minutes later the game was all but decided. It was an unfortunate defeat for Sunderland and boss Gus Poyet, who must now focus his team’s attentions on their fight for survival in the Premier League, while Pellegrini will know that failing to add another trophy this season on the back of this victory will see the campaign deemed unsuccessful by City’s rightfully demanding owners.

However with the kind of talent he has at his disposal the Chilean is in the enviable position of being able to afford to make questionable tactical decisions. While he was found out by Mourinho in the league he overcame him in the F.A Cup, to his credit, and with Arsenal the only genuine threat to City in that particular competition a domestic cup double will in all likely-hood be achieved. Additionally, should the Citizens win their two games in hand they will find themselves top of the Premier League on goal difference, level on points with Chelsea with ten games of the season remaining. Yet it remains unsurprising that City find themselves in the position they’re in. It’s their good fortune to have masses of cash at their disposal, and when you can afford to leave the likes of Nasri (£22 million) and scorer of their third goal Jesus Navas (£23 million) on the bench then the manager should be able to change the game with a well timed substitution. Sunderland were limited to bringing on Steven Fletcher and Craig Gardner, both commendable Premier League players, in search of a goal but their impact was unlikely to be as great as their City counterparts when you consider the fees that were spent on them in comparison. Money can’t buy you happiness, but if you happen to have £24 million to spend it’ll get you a Yaya Toure. And a few trophies, besides.