Imagine being the NFL head coach or general manager charged with replacing 82 receptions, 1,334 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in your offense. That is precisely the position Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman are about to find themselves in should the Philadelphia Eagles trade DeSean Jackson.
Jimmy Kempski for Philly.com first reported Jackson could be moved during this offseason on March 1. Comcast SportsNet’s Derrick Gunn would later learn the Eagles are in fact listening to offers for their No. 1 receiver. Now, a source through Nick Fierro of The Morning Call describes the three-time Pro Bowler’s departure as fait accompli.
There is no way he's an Eagle this year. However it leaked out, it leaked out, and now this is what you have.
Try to put aside any feelings you may harbor for Jackson, and forget for a minute, if you can, the asking price could start at a third-round pick. If the Eagles are willing to part with such a productive player for so little—CSNPhilly.com’s Geoff Mosher even suggested outright release as a possibility—there must be good reason.
When the Eagles dump Jackson, the only question that will truly matter is can they withstand the loss? After all, the 27-year-old is one of only nine wideouts to post at least 350 receptions, 6,000 yards from scrimmage and 35 touchdowns since 2008. There aren’t many more explosive weapons out there.
Yet if somehow everything were to go according to plan, Philadelphia could emerge from a trade just fine. It’s not as if the league’s No. 2 offense is devoid of talent at wide receiver or overall. In fact, the Eagles are probably better prepared for a subtraction of this magnitude than most people realize.
|Jeremy Maclin Season by Season|
With Jackson out of the equation, Maclin assumes the role of No. 1 receiver in the Eagles offense. Prior to suffering the torn ACL that erased his '13 campaign, there was at least some debate as to which of the two is actually the better target in the first place.
Obviously, there are concerns now. Who can say for sure whether Maclin is the same player after surgery? Plus, he’s never put up quite the impressive numbers Jackson has. Maclin’s best season came in 2010, when the previous year’s 19th overall pick recorded career highs in receptions (70), yards (964) and touchdowns (10).
If Maclin could only do that much, it would still go a long way toward replacing Jackson’s output—remember, No. 18 wasn’t in the lineup at all last year. As long as he’s healthy, it stands to reason the 25-year-old would see the same spike in production Jackson, Riley Cooper and LeSean McCoy all enjoyed in season one under Chip Kelly.
The one major downside is although Maclin is one of the most dangerous deep threats around, he doesn’t hold a candle to Jackson in that regard. Defenses will naturally be more comfortable inching their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, which in turn could have a negative impact on the running game.
That being said, Maclin is plenty effective at every level of the defense and could be headed for a breakout season in Kelly’s offense either way, but especially should he become the focus of the passing attack. The biggest issue with Maclin could very well wind up being that he’s only signed to a one-year contract.
|Riley Cooper's 2013 Stats and Rankings|
|47 (t-82nd)||835 (38th)||16.8 (3rd)||8 (t-16th)||6 (t-6th)|
Cooper defied all odds in '13 to become both a fan favorite and an adequate No. 2 receiver in Maclin’s stead, but can he improve upon or so much as duplicate last season’s breakthrough?
Some regression seems likely. Cooper finished third in the NFL with 17.8 yards per reception. To put that figure in perspective, only two qualifying active players have maintained a higher average over their careers—the Cleveland Browns’ Josh Gordon and Devery Henderson for New Orleans.
The offense doesn’t necessarily require Cooper be a star though. Even accounting for some reduction in the number of deep passes he and quarterback Nick Foles connect on, the four-year veteran would be serviceable posting anywhere near his 47 catches, 835 yards and eight touchdowns from a year ago.
Even assuming last season’s downfield production is not sustainable, Cooper is going to be left alone in one-on-one coverage against smaller defensive backs plenty as long as Maclin and the rest of the offense can keep defenses honest. In other words, his job doesn’t change just because Jackson is suddenly out of the picture.
|Darren Sproles' Receiving Stats Last 3 Seasons (NO)|
If Jackson is indeed out the door, his departure makes sending a fifth-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for 30-year-old Darren Sproles look absolutely ingenious. If nothing else, the hybrid back/pass-catcher can replace nearly all of the volume that went Jackson’s way in '13.
Jackson reeled in 82 passes last season. Sproles averaged 77 catches over the last three years with the Saints. Their respective roles may be polar opposites in many respects, but production is production.
It’s also worth noting that Kelly deployed Jackson out of the backfield a fair amount last season, which just happens to be Sproles’ specialty. In fact, for as dynamic as Jackson is, Sproles’ skill set and experience may prove to be more advantageous in this particular capacity.
One thing is for sure, and that is despite his listing, Sproles is more receiver than running back at this stage of the nine-year veteran’s career and has been for a while. No, he’s not going to replace the bombs or push the secondary on its heels, but it's another tool in the tool bag.
|Zach Ertz Month by Month in 2013|
|Credit: Pro Football Reference|
While Brent Celek likely remains the starter at tight end in '14 thanks in large part to his run-blocking prowess, Ertz figures to play a prominent role going forward no matter what happens. However, it’s safe to assume the natural progression of the offense post-Jackson would include an increasing number of two-tight end sets.
Ertz is not just your conventional in-line tight end either. Last year’s second-round pick has the size, athleticism and route-running ability to line up in the slot or even outside, which can spread the defense out and create mismatches.
Greater opportunity typically breeds higher production. As long as Ertz continues to improve steadily the way he did in the second half last season, his footprint in the offense will continue to grow, meaning once again the Eagles will miss Jackson less.
One thing seems to be apparent here, and that is the Eagles will be taking a wide receiver in the draft, likely early on in the process. Of course, that was probably always part of the plan. As Roseman told Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com well before speculation about Jackson’s future became a hot topic, the class of '14 is rife with pass-catchers.
When you look at this class and you compare it to classes in the last few years, we’re going to be sitting there in every round and there’s going to be a receiver we like.
Granted, the prospect of some kid showing up in Philadelphia and contributing instantly in any significant way is not the likeliest of scenarios. Given all of the other weapons on offense though, whatever modest production from a rookie learning the ropes could go a long way.
The truth is the Eagles would be trying to set themselves for 2015 and beyond anyway. There are no guarantees that any draft pick pans out at all, but then Jackson isn’t getting any younger himself. The Eagles will be replacing Jackson sooner or later, even in the minor upset that he returns for another season. The front office might as well get a head start.