Depending on a number of different variables (how long you’ve turned away from a screen of some kind, your time zone, and the last time you drank orange juice, to name a few) there’s somewhere between five and nine teams interested in the services of DeSean Jackson. Shortly after his release this past Friday afternoon the high end there was widely reported, and since then the lower digit seems more likely.
Three days after a bizarre event in our lives, here’s what we know, or think we know.
- We know the Chiefs aren’t interested anymore after doing their due diligence, which is peculiar given their need at the position, and Andy Reid’s familiarity with Jackson.
- We know there’s mutual interest with the Raiders, who can buy several islands with their cap room, and play their football in a state where their potential future employee grew up. So that’s something.
- We think we know the Jets aren’t pursuing Jackson yet despite still having a wide receiver need even after signing Eric Decker. They’re holding back for…reasons (mostly price, the usual character concerns, and an upcoming WR-rich draft).
- We know he has a meeting with the Redskins today, his first official free agent job interview.
That last one is pretty important.
Jackson’s mere presence in Washington today means that by the time I finish typing this sentence, he could be a the newest signed shiny object to draw Dan Snyder’s eye. That’s how free agency works: football human enters city and building, and the goal is to sign him to a contract before he leaves both of those places.
So let’s pretend we live in a world where Jackson is indeed the newest Redskin. What we see is, in a word, expensive.
All about dat money
DeSean Jackson wants to be paid like he’s one of the top receivers in football. That makes sense because he’s been on this earth for just 27 years and he’s coming off easily his best statistical season, setting career highs in receiving yards (1,332), yards per game (83.2), and +20 yard receptions (25). He posted those glistening numbers and entered the offseason prepared to make $10.5 million from the Eagles in 2014.
Nothing has changed since then (he’s still stupid young, and he hasn’t had a string of crappy games), so Jackson wants to earn about that amount at his new destination.
Just one source, not directly connected but informed says he heard that DeSean Jackson is still very much looking for 9-10 M per year AVG +
— Chris Russell (@Russellmania980) March 31, 2014
This should surprise absolutely no one, and those who begrudge the rising cost of a premier wide receiver can still thank Mike Wallace, the Dolphins wideout who’s being paid $12 million annually with a monstrous cap hit of $17.25 million in 2014 even while being a crushing disappointment. This past season Wallace had nine games with 45 yards or less.
The problem for the Redskins is, well, money. It’s the same problem that likely led to the Chiefs dropping out of the Jackson conversation. The Chiefs have only $4.7 million in available cap space, while Washington’s situation is only mildly more encouraging with $6.8 in uncommitted funds, according to Spotrac. that doesn’t rule out signing Jackson, it just makes matters a little more difficult and means some creativity and juggling has to happen.
The most obvious avenue of relief is to lower Brian Orakpo’s cap number by signing him to a long-term deal. However, new head coach Jay Gruden has said Orakpo will be made to earn his next paycheck, and he’ll likely play the season out on the franchise tag.
Is he a product of Chip Kelly?
This is a troubling question, and it’s one the Redskins will have to weigh heavily while deciding whether or not to do that cap maneuvering and commit to Jackson.
The aforementioned booming numbers from Jackson in 2013 were indeed great, but they came during his first season playing under Chip Kelly and his unique offensive approach. It’s an offense that uses tempo as its foundation, leaning on the run and quick-hitting, high percentage passes to effectively set up deep bombs to Jackson and Riley Cooper. The lack of time between plays is often the crucial element, and it’s one Jackson benefitted from regularly when it provided him with one-on-one matchups he could win, and win often.
Just ask Kelly.
“Sometimes it’s quicker to get lined up [in man coverage], ‘I’ve got that guy. Oh they’re lining up quick? I’ve got that guy again.’ I think there’s a lot to be said in terms of that. You can assign a guy to the back, you can assign a guy to the quarterback. A lot of people played assignment football against us. And then it comes down to one on ones. And then you’ve gotta win. That’s the big thing.”
That’s how Kelly observed defenses attempting to counter his team’s offensive tempo, and he’s not wrong. Jackson was often gifted one-on-one matchups, and since so few defensive backs in the league can match his speed, the ending was usually very much in the former Cal standout’s favor.
His 2013 production wasn’t solely due to Kelly’s wicked hand, but it certainly played a role. Over the previous two seasons Jackson averaged 63.9 yards per game, nearly 20 yards lower than his 2013 pace. During the same period Jackson also had one week with 130 yards or more over 25 games. How many times did he go boom to that extent with just 16 games of Kelly magic? Four, including two games with more than 190 yards.
But, but…Jay Gruden?
Gruden is no offensive slouch either. If we assume he’s inheriting a now fully healthy Robert Griffin III, he’s bringing a much more pro-style offense that will be run by a far better quarterback than the one he dealt with in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton will never be mistaken for a quarterback with a strong arm. Instead it’s merely adequate, and yet even with sparse-to-no support, here’s what A.J. Green did over three years with Gruden as his offensive coordinator:
- 3,833 receiving yards, including a career high 1,426 this past season, the fifth best total in the league
- 81.6 yards per game
- 15 +100 yard games
- 29 touchdowns
If that can be accomplished with Dalton, Griffin’s deep arm and Jackson will be quite the delicious combination. Jackson has averaged 17.2 yards per catch over his first six seasons, making him one of only four receivers in league history to do that and have over 6,000 total yards.
Cool, but do they really need DJax?
Every team needs DeSean Jackson, and every team wants DeSean Jackson. Every team also wants every player that’s really, really good at what he does. But here’s a different and perhaps more accurate question: do the Redskins need Jackson at his requested price?
They just signed Andre Roberts to be a speed option, giving the former Cardinals afterthought $16 million over four years. On the other side there’s the also not at all slow Pierre Garcon, who was an absolute target beast in 2013, leading the league with 184. Clearly the presence of Roberts will eat into that volume somewhat, but with his after the catch ability Garcon is the type of receiver who thrives with buckets of targets.
Jackson may be faster than both, but the Redskins already employ two receivers who do what he does — run far and fast — and do it quite well. There’s also the matter of height, and a lack of it. Jackson is 5’10″, while Roberts is 5’11″ and Garcon is a tick over 6’0″. A trio of undersized wideouts leads to a one-dimensional offense.
More speed is always a nice, welcomed thing. But simply adding out of a lust for abundance and paying $9-10 million would be very Dan Snyder.