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Why the Kansas City Chiefs Were Wise Not to Chase DeSean Jackson

Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid talks with wide receiver DeSean Jackson during a timeout against the Baltimore Ravens in a NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008 in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Gail Burton
Christopher HansenNFL AnalystJanuary 5, 2017

Since it became clear that the Kansas City Chiefs were not going to retain wide receiver Dexter McCluster, fans have been clamoring for the team to find a replacement. Most of the speculation on free agents has centered on the wide receivers from the Philadelphia Eagles because Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid drafted them.

Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper chose to stay in Philadelphia, but DeSean Jackson joined Jason Avant on the market last week. The Chiefs instantly became one of the favorites to sign Jackson because they had more information about the enigmatic receiver than most of the competition.

The Chiefs would love to have Jackson, but they don’t have the cap space to compete on the open market according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Although they could figure out something if they really wanted him, the Chiefs are much better off not chasing Jackson.

The volume of teams interested in Jackson’s services drove the price up, forcing the Chiefs to weigh his cost with the benefit and risk. Jackson is talented, but there comes a point where the cost-benefit analysis favors staying away.

Chris Russell of ESPN Radio 980 in Washington cited one informed source who wasn't directly involved, saying Jackson was still seeking $9-10 million per season. If true, that would be significantly more than any other wide receivers received on the open market this offseason.

A cost-benefit analysis doesn’t just look at ability and cost in a vacuum, but how specifically Jackson would produce within the Chiefs’ offense. In the case of the Chiefs, that means relying on production of quarterback Alex Smith to help determine Jackson’s total value.

Smith and Jackson aren’t a natural fit. Smith’s strength is the short passing game and Jackson thrives in the deep passing game. Smith has historically been unable or unwilling to test the top of a defense where Jackson thrives.

Deep Passing/Receiving Comparison
PlayerDeep Targets/AttemptsReceptionsTDINTDrops% of TotalCatch Rate/Comp. %
DeSean Jackson33198-027.7%48.5%
Alex Smith41134068.1%46.3%
ProFootballFocus.com

Jackson caught a league-high 16 passes over 20 yards in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He had 33 deep targets for 27.7 percent of his total, the second-highest percentage in the league.

Smith attempted just 41 passes over 20 yards all year with 13 total completions. Smith’s deep-attempt percentage of 8.1 was 38th out of 40 qualifying quarterbacks last year, according to Pro Football Focus. In the last five years, Smith hasn’t attempted more than 10.5 percent of his passes beyond 20 yards.

Jackson would’ve opened up things for Dwayne Bowe, Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles in the short passing game by stretching defenses, but his own production would have taken a hit in Kansas City. The Chiefs would be paying for his 2013-level production and getting much less.

It makes far more sense for the Chiefs to target a receiver in the draft who will thrive in the short passing game. Smith seems like the starter for the foreseeable future, so the Chiefs need to give him the weapons to be successful.

Jackson is also good after the catch, but so are many of the wide receivers who are about to be drafted. Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller has 16 wide receivers ranked in the top 101 picks. Bleacher Report’s Associate Editor Ian Kenyon and other draft analysts are in unanimous agreement that this is one of the best drafts for wide receivers in years.

There are numerous advantages of drafting a wide receiver over paying big money for Jackson. Chief among them is that a rookie wide receiver will have a modest contract by comparison. If the Chiefs draft one in the first round he’ll be under control of the team for five years at an affordable price.

If the Chiefs were to pay Jackson, they would have a lot of money invested in the position. With limited cap space, the Chiefs would have a hard time improving the team in other areas. Rookies are cheaper but come with more risk.

There is some risk in the draft, but it’s hard to doubt the collective record of general manager John Dorsey and Reid. In Philadelphia, Reid was directly responsible for drafting Jackson, Maclin, Cooper and Avant. Dorsey assisted in drafting Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson.

PlayerYearRoundPickScouted/Drafted by
Riley Cooper20105159Reid
Jeremy Maclin2009119Reid
DeSean Jackson2008249Reid
Jason Avant20064109Reid
Randall Cobb2011264Dorsey
Jordy Nelson2008236Dorsey
James Jones2007378Dorsey
Greg Jennings2006252Dorsey
NFL.com

Of course, Jackson is not without some risk. Lost in the kerfuffle about his alleged gang ties was the real reason the Eagles released him. The team isn't commenting, but two unnamed Eagles players said that Jackson was a distraction, per Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Reid was able to tolerate Jackson in Philadelphia, but he was also fired at the end of the 2012 season for not winning enough games—an important fact that he would be wise not to forget. The Chiefs would be smart to avoid any problems in the locker room that may have lead indirectly to that result.

Adding an explosive player like Jackson is appealing. The Chiefs are certainly looking for that type of player, but there are better uses for their salary-cap space. With a deep draft of wide receivers, the Chiefs may be able to add the kind of player they want and a good fit for their quarterback while avoiding the locker room distractions.

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