When a talking head football guy appears on your television to discuss the NFL matters of the day, he often refers to an example of poor off-field behavior and says it’s only tolerated — or at least tolerated far more easily — when a team is winning. In the past that was the logical conclusion, and the most famous examples of such thinking being carried out to the worst ending came when Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson were benched because they cared only about themselves.
That was always true about those two and it’s true of many others. Selfishness is an attitude that’s highlighted at a marquee offensive position like wide receiver, but those who play the position aren’t uniquely disgruntled snowflakes. They’re just a little more vocal about it because the nature of said position — the need to beat another man one-on-one — breeds hyper individuality. When a player who’s not afraid to voice thoughts about his self-worth is placed in a sport which gives very few cares about that with it’s non-guaranteed contracts, we get the Johnsons (Keyshawn and Chad), and we get Owens.
We get DeSean Jackson too, and apparently not even the tonic of winning can stop the persistent trade speculation.
Earlier this month reports emerged that the Eagles would be open to trading Jackson. But be careful how you read the language of both those early reports and the subsequent ones that surfaced yesterday, because there’s a clear difference between “being open” and “actively shopping”. The Eagles aren’t officially doing the latter, but unofficially they are by advertising through a source that calls are being accepted, and telling Jackson as much.
Derrick Gunn of CSN Philly reported yesterday that the Jackson lines are indeed open in Philadelphia, with the asking price starting at a third-round pick. That echoes Jimmy Kempski’s report from a few weeks back when he connected the dots after general manager Howie Roseman gave money to two other receivers not named Jackson. After signing Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, the Eagles had roughly $26.4 million committed to the wide receiver position for 2014, which is second only to the Miami Dolphins and their bloated Mike Wallace contract.
As explosive and dangerous as Jackson is in the open field, that’s significant cash at wide receiver for an offense rooted in the run with LeSean McCoy, and one that finished fourth in the league this past season in rushing attempts with 500. And if Nick Foles is indeed the franchise quarterback the Eagles think and hope he is, they need precious cap room to negotiate an extension with him as his rookie contract expires in 2015.
In just the second year of a $47 million extension graciously given to him when he was struggling, Jackson is slated to make $10.25 million in 2014, but $6 million of that would be a dead money cap hit if he’s traded. That’s why interest in moving him right now is lukewarm at best with the Patriots and 49ers reportedly putting out feelers. It’s easier to justify dead money when you look at the slightly larger picture: if Jackson vanishes now, the Eagles wouldn’t owe him the $30 million in base salary he’s due over the next three years.
The reality of those finances makes a trade justifiable, especially when you remember that Jackson is due over $9 million in each of the next three seasons, and Cooper was just given $10 million guaranteed. When that money madness is combined with the apparent diva intolerance Chip Kelly has even during happy times, the Eagles’ willingness to pick up those ringing phones gets even more understandable.
Just like the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh’s controlling nature, the Eagles were aware of what they signed up for and so was Kelly when he took the job. Harness his behavior as much as possible, and then keep going on with the business of winning — with Jackson a crucial piece of the league’s second-best offense in 2013 (417.2 yards per game).
Although there are always other more efficient ways to use money, the central problem with finding holes in Jackson’s contract is the implication that he’s not playing according to what it says he’s worth. After Year 1 in an entirely new offense, that’s simply not true. Nearly across the board Jackson set career highs in 2013, which includes receptions (82), receiving yards (1,332), yards per game (83.2), +20 yard receptions (25), and he tied his touchdown high (9). His 16.2 yards per catch average was also the third highest among receivers with 80 grabs or more, and his 17.2 career average is the second among wideouts with 300 or more catches since 2008. Oh and one more: Jackson’s seven games with over 150 yards is the most in franchise history.
Annually he’s paid an average of $9.7 million, meaning he’s also being paid to be a top 10 receiving (that’s the eighth highest average in the league). A still-young receiver, at 27 years of age, fulfills any expectations associated with those dollars.
Thus we arrive back at the problem of behavior, because with that youth and those numbers, any trade (still unlikely) wouldn’t be solely about money. Although the Eagles are satisfied with the investment made in DeSeaon Jackson, the on-field product, the cost of business with Jackson goes beyond numbers. There’s no stat for being a jerk, but there is a breaking point.