IF THERE still was any doubt that DeSean Jackson will be playing somewhere else next season, it was effectively erased Monday near the end of Andy Reid's 15-minute news conference.
A reporter mentioned that Jackson, who will be a free agent after the season, had said after Saturday's win over the Cowboys that he "hopefully" will be back with the Eagles in 2012. Asked if that feeling was reciprocated by himself and the organization, Reid damned the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver with faint praise.
"The last how many games he's done a heckuva job," he said. "He's playing pretty good football right now. I'm proud of him for that."
And with that, DeSean, don't let the locker-room door hit you in the butt on the way out next week.
Assuming Jeff Lurie doesn't fire Reid and Joe Banner in the next few days and bring in Drew Rosenhaus to run his organization, Jackson will play just one more game with the Eagles and then he will be gone. The only lingering question appears to be the method of his departure. The Eagles could place the franchise-player designation on him in February and then try to trade him. Or they could just let him walk.
The problem with franchising him is that he and Rosenhaus might call the Eagles' bluff and sign a 1-year franchise tender, which would be the average of the league's five highest-paid wideouts, about $11 million. Franchise tenders are guaranteed, so the Eagles wouldn't be able to release him later if they failed to find a buyer.
I know what many of you are thinking right now: Why is this an issue? Jackson is one of the league's most dangerous wideouts. Ask a defensive coordinator, any defensive coordinator, to name the five wideouts who most scare the bejesus out of them and DeSean almost certainly will get a mention.
But how much is fear worth? Is it worth as much as 90-plus catches a year? Is it worth as much as 12 touchdown receptions a season?
Jackson feels he is one of the league's best wideouts and wants to be paid like one. But while you can't question his talent, you can question his production.
That, along with the fact that he weighs less than Jason Peters' left leg and already has had two concussions and frequently can be a royal pain in the butt to coach is why his 4-year marriage with the Eagles is about to end.
Jackson has just two 100-yard receiving performances this season and only four in his last 26 starts. He has just four touchdown receptions in his last 21 games. No fewer than 49 wideouts in the league have more touchdown catches this season than Jackson's three. There are 19 wideouts with more 20-plus yard receptions than his 14.
His yards-per-catch average has plummeted from a career-high 22.5 last year to 16.2 this season. He's third on the team in receptions behind Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin, second to Maclin in first-down catches and is a nonfactor in the red zone. Inside the 20, Jackson has just two catches for 14 yards and one touchdown.
Jackson said the other day that his future with the Eagles is "out of my control." But that's only accurate if you think the Eagles should pay him whatever he and Rosenhaus, his agent, are asking.
This isn't a question of whether they want him. It's a question of whether he is worth what he's asking.
The Eagles have been criticized for not signing him to a contract extension last year. But the league's labor uncertainty would have made that difficult even if Jackson and Rosenhaus hadn't wanted big money. And they did. Still do.
It's been suggested that the Eagles should have offered him a deal akin to the one Santonio Holmes signed last summer with the Jets. Holmes received a 5-year, $50 million contract, with $24 million guaranteed.
But that's one of those if-Johnny-jumped-off-a-bridge-does-that-mean-you-should-too questions. Holmes, like Jackson, is a very good receiver. But he's had more than 55 catches in a season just once in 6 years. He has just eight 20-yard-plus receptions this season and has had more than six touchdowns in a season twice.
Another factor in the Eagles' willingness to say bye-bye to Jackson is the emergence of running back LeSean McCoy, and not just because they soon will have to dump several truckloads of money on his driveway.
The Eagles' offense is changing before our eyes, mainly because of McCoy and an athletic offensive line that has been able to open lanes for him on the edges. While Reid never will join the ground-and-pound club, he has embraced the run, or at least given it a man-hug.
Through 15 games, 44.1 percent of the Eagles' offensive plays have been running plays. That's their highest run percentage since 2003 and the third highest since Reid became their head coach in 1999. Yes, quarterback Michael Vick and his 75 carries have had a little influence on that number. But Donovan McNabb ran the ball every now and then, too.
McCoy leads the league in rushing touchdowns and is second in the league in rushing yards with 1,309. He heads into Sunday's meaningless season finale against the Redskins with an outside chance to become the first Eagles back since Duce Staley in 1999 to have 300-plus rushing attempts in a season (he has 273).
Because of the blocking-catching versatility of Brent Celek and second-year man Clay Harbor, Reid has employed more two-tight end sets this season than he had in a while. Almost a third of their offensive plays (308 of 976) have come out of two-tight-end sets. Six-hundred fifty-two of McCoy's 1,309 rushing yards and 13 of his rushing touchdowns have come out of two-tight-end formations.
Both Celek and Harbor also have become factors in the passing game as the Eagles have focused more on short and intermediate passes and less on the deep ball. They have just nine completions of 40 yards or more this season, compared to 15 last year.
After catching just nine passes in the first five games, Celek has been targeted 66 times in the last 10 games and has 47 catches for 652 yards and four TDs in those 10 games. He has a team-high 56 catches and is the team's top red-zone receiver with eight catches and three TDs inside the 20.
All things being equal, the Eagles would like to re-sign Jackson. But all things aren't equal.
Haven't been for a while.
Hasta la vista, DeSean.
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.
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