Oct 30, 2013, 11:38 AM EDT
It doesn’t take much rolling up of the sleeves to establish that DeSean Jackson is a less than cost-efficient asset. Since 2011, he ranks 33rd among NFL wide receivers in receiving touchdowns, 17th in receiving yards per game and 13th in yards per catch. All account for the first eight weeks of this year, his supposed “breakout” year.
Yet Jackson’s $6.75 million average base salary over the life of his five-year, $47 million deal signed in 2012 makes his the sixth-steepest cap hit at the position this year, and about $300k more than Megatron’s. Next year and the year after, the last two years of Jackson’s deal, don’t provide a prettier picture.
But this you already knew, even if you’d never before seen the particulars in such horrifying detail. And while it’s fair to note that, if given the freedom to cherry pick any player off any roster, the Eagles would be insane to choose Jackson over, say, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson or Demaryius Thomas, all of whom nearly match or surpass Jackson’s production for a fraction of the cost, that’s not the real conversation to be had here.
That is: Is he worth keeping for the last two years of his deal, neither of which contain guaranteed money?
He is. To the Eagles. For now.
First, the dollars and sense. The Eagles aren’t in a bind for cash, nor should they be for the foreseeable future. This year, they enjoy an estimated $18.6 million in available cap space, as they do in most years in what’s become an organizational shtick. About $7.06 million more becomes available next year from Mike Vick’s expiring contract alone. Thanks to the NFL’s rookie wage scale, replacing Vick in 2014 with young, cheap labor would cost, at its most expensive, about $6 million every year for four years, if the Eagles get “find a bazillion dollars in a suitcase under a bench” lucky and land April’s No. 1 overall pick.
Even in that extreme (and unlikely) scenario, that still leaves more than enough room to re-sign Jeremy Maclin, which at this point seems sensible. Given his past production, how Wes Welker and others have recovered from ACL tears, how that injury in a contract year would nevertheless clip Maclin’s price tag and how deploying a possession receiver across from Jackson enhances both players’ value, thus undercutting one of the arguments for cutting Jackson loose in the first place, it’s pretty much a no-brainer.
And if Howie Roseman decided to go 2011 Free Agent Frenzy again, and the Eagles really needed to cut somebody to make room for a new deal for Maclin, there are plenty of other places they could (and should) start. At their smallest, Cary Williams. At their most significant, Todd Herremans and Trent Cole. Neither are due any more guaranteed money. Arguably, neither are more valuable to this team than Jackson.
Second, you’d have to consider the replacement cost: a high draft pick and, likely, production. Limited as he is, acquiring a player like Jackson requires sacrifices. Two of the three hypothetical upgrades at the position mentioned earlier commanded first round picks. The other commanded a second.
Right now, the Eagles have far more pressing needs at, basically, every defensive position and, likely, a few on the offensive line. Oh, and quarterback. Walk away from Jackson, and you undermine your efforts to field a viable defense, support franchise quarterback and/or compliment possession receiver by using a first or second day selection to replace him, or suffer by (a) skimping on addressing the position by using a late pick or over-the-hill free agent or (b), worse, not addressing it at all. Not to mention, deploying Jackson boosts the effectiveness of the NFL’s most dynamic running back, who only has two or three prime years left anyway.
So while other circumstances might point to a different conclusion for another team, who cares.
For the Eagles, it’s just not worth it to part ways with Jackson now.
Of course, there’s always a “but.” The obvious caveat to all of this are DeSean’s intangibles. And should his rap career, propensity to jump off balconies and pout on game day, as he did during the Eagles last two losses — to the Cowboys and Giants, both of which could have, at worst, put the Eagles in a tie for first place — manifest into a real, tangible impact, Jackson is absolutely dispensable. The next two years are too important of a juncture for nonsense like that. New, highly scrutinized head coach. Likely to be new, highly scrutinized quarterback. Locker room without an ostensible leader for the first time in three years. If it came to that, keeping Jackson would amount to Joe Dirt shooting roman candles at a nuclear bomb.
So if DeSean ever again becomes the topic of “keep him or cut him?” conjecture, remember, the numbers aren’t what’s working against him. Not for the Eagles. It’s all the noise that comes with, and from, him.
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