|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.