Forget about the alleged gang ties. Ignore the cap hit. Look past the rumored attitude issues.
Wait, what? How does a wide receiver that just finished with 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns suddenly become expendable? How does a wide receiver that is one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL suddenly become disposable?
There are four main factors here:
- The Eagles traded for Darren Sproles.
- Jeremy Maclin returned from injury and Riley Cooper developed chemistry with Nick Foles last season.
- This year's NFL draft contains one of the deepest wide receiver classes in recent memory.
- Zach Ertz could take a big step in year two.
Obviously, Sproles doesn't have the ability to take the top off of a defense like Jackson does, but he is a dangerous playmaker in space and will likely be the recipient of the quick flare passes and wide receiver screens that were run for Jackson last year. In that role, Sproles is as effective, if not more, than Jackson.
The Eagles also must feel very comfortable with Maclin and Cooper as their starting receivers. Cooper finished the season with 47 receptions for 835 yards and eight touchdowns, though in the 10 games Foles started he finished with 37 catches for 729 yards and seven scores.
Cooper isn't the type of player that is going to beat top cornerbacks, but he did prove he could take advantage of a team's No. 2 player at the position. Part possession receiver, part deep threat, he forged a very obvious chemistry with Foles last season.
Maclin, meanwhile, is a bit of a question mark after returning from a torn ACL, though he seemingly is a great fit for Kelly's offense. Maclin thrived in Missouri's spread attack, and Kelly had nothing but glowing praise for him on Thursday, via Mike Reiss of ESPN:
I think it was a big blow for us losing him in the preseason, because I was excited to work through OTAs and minicamp with him. He’s very, very talented. He’s one of those guys that if we’re going to see a lot of man coverage, I think can do a really, really good job because he’s such a precise route-runner, has outstanding speed, and is good after the catch.
So we’re excited to have him back. I don’t know exactly what his status will be in the offseason, through OTAs and minicamp, but I know he’ll be 100 percent when we get to camp.
Can Maclin step up and become the No. 1 receiver for this team? That remains to be seen. But it certainly sounds like Kelly is convinced Maclin deserves the opportunity to prove himself in that role.
And Maclin and Cooper more than likely won't be alone at the position. This year's wide receiver draft class is loaded.
It's possible that up to nine receivers—Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Jr., Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams and Jordan Matthews—could be selected in the first round. Surely, all will be gone in the first two rounds.
In other words, if you ever were going to cut DeSean Jackson, this would be the year to do it.
Finally, there is Ertz. While he obviously plays a different position than Jackson, the Eagles could be banking on him becoming a much bigger part of their offense at tight end in his second season.
In January, Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com compared Ertz's rookie season (36 catches for 469 yards and four scores) to the rookie seasons of other prominent tight ends in the league. Only Rob Gronkowski had more receiving yards in his first year (546) and only Gronk (10), Jimmy Graham (six) and Heath Miller (five) had more touchdowns.
Plus, Kempski noted that Ertz was far better in the team's last nine games (including their playoff game) than in their first eight, compiling 25 receptions for 290 yards and five touchdowns in the second half of the season.
Suddenly, life without Jackson is a bit easier to comprehend with Sproles, Maclin, Cooper and Ertz making plays in the passing game, LeSean McCoy carrying the rock and the team having the opportunity to add a talented young receiver in the first round when they select at No. 22 overall.
Add it all up, and any potential gang affiliations as reported by
If this were about Jackson’s contract, the Eagles would have cut him two weeks ago.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) March 28, 2014
Per a league source, the Eagles terminated Jackson’s contract without the post-June 1 designation. That means he’ll count $6 million against the cap for 2014.
That’s the remainder of the $10 million signing bonus he received in 2012. He keeps that money free and clear, part of the $18 million he made in two years under a five-year deal.
If the Eagles had used the post-June 1 designation, Jackson would have counted $2 million against the cap in 2014 and $4 million in 2015. However, his full cap number of $12.75 million would have remained on the books until June.
As it stands, the Eagles have created $6.75 million in cap space, and they’ve saved $10.75 million in cash.
Maybe—and this is a big maybe—the Eagles would have kept him around if he was making less money. But why pay a guy you don't think you need?
And that's why this is ultimately about Jackson being expendable within this offense. Or at least expendable within Kelly's mind. Don Banks of Sports Illustrated wrote that "the rumblings were that Kelly was never comfortable with Jackson's act and didn't believe his attitude, accountability and commitment level matched those of his fellow Eagles."
Maybe. Heck, probably. But if the Eagles were bereft of weapons, do you think Kelly would have been as likely to cut ties?
Perhaps it is a cynical view, but if Jackson was deemed a franchise player, a cornerstone of this organization, the team likely would have overlooked the off-field concerns. Jackson hasn't been accused of a crime here, hasn't put the Eagles in a situation where keeping him on the team would have represented some sort of major public relations hit.
After all, as the popular argument has gone, the Eagles absorbed the PR hit that came after Cooper made his racist remarks last summer. Of course, that was an isolated incident compared to the pattern of perhaps-questionable behavior in Jackson's case, but the point stands that the Eagles as an organization didn't cut and run from Cooper when it would have been popular for them to do so.
And there is an argument to be made that Jackson's past ties to any gang members are more than understandable. Monte Pool of CSN Bay Area wrote an excellent article chronicling the time he visited a prison with Jackson in 2011, who was there to speak to the convicts. Jackson would hardly be alone in professional sports as an athlete with former ties to gang members, after all.
But because Jackson was expendable, looking past any character concerns or huge cap hits became too difficult to do. Until the Eagles come out and publicly say otherwise, it isn't a stretch to assume that this move was first and foremost a football decision.