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Releasing Jackson makes no sense for Eagles

The team should be patient. The trade return for DeSean Jackson likely will rise as the draft gets closer.

Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. (Michael Perez/AP)
Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. (Michael Perez/AP)Read more

ORLANDO, Fla. - I'm not sure I follow the logic that if the Eagles don't get a reasonable trade offer for DeSean Jackson in the next 5 or 10 minutes, they probably are going to release him.

Unless there is something non-football-related going on here with Jackson that we aren't aware of, there is no good reason for the Eagles to cut the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver loose right now.

Yes, Jackson's unwieldy contract, which includes a $12.75 million cap number and $10.5 million in base salary in 2014, could make it difficult for the Eagles to find a trade partner.

At last count, six teams - the Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks, Jets, Raiders and Panthers - reportedly have expressed interest in Jackson, though the Niners denied yesterday having had any discussions with the Eagles about him.

Whatever the actual number of teams interested in Jackson is, it's fair to say that most of them would want him to agree to a contract restructuring that would lower his 2014 cap number before they would give up a pick(s) in May's draft.

This is where Jackson supposedly has the hammer, because theoretically he could spoil a potential trade by refusing to restructure his contract. If the Eagles truly don't want him back next season under any circumstances, that would leave them with just one recourse: release him.

I have two problems with that thinking. For starters, I doubt Jackson would be opposed to a contract restructuring. It would mean getting a bunch of money now in the form of a signing or roster bonus, as opposed to having to wait until September, when that $10.5 million in salary would be divvied up into eight payments during the season.

Second, even if he was inclined to play chicken with the Eagles, they have a hammer of their own. They could just hang on to him indefinitely, say, until mid-July right before the start of training camp, and then give him his walking papers, when the postdraft market for his services might not be as good.

He'd have his freedom, but most teams that needed a wide receiver already would have addressed that need in free agency or the draft, which supposedly includes the deepest receiving crop in the history of civilization.

Somebody certainly would make him an offer, but it might or might not include as much guaranteed money as he could get now in a restructured deal in a trade. Is he willing to wait that long to find out? Is he willing to wait that long to get another wad of cash?

Unless they know something we don't, the Eagles have no reason to be in a hurry to trade Jackson. This is late March. The draft isn't for another 7 weeks. Often, the best deals come to those who wait.

A team that might only be offering a third-round pick now might be in a much more generous mood on May 8, when it's on the clock and Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marquise Lee and Brandin Cooks all are off the board.

I know there are a lot of people out there who feel it makes zero sense to trade Jackson. I'm not one of them.

Yeah, I know he's coming off the best season of his career. But there is no guarantee he's going to put up another year like that last season, particularly with the return of Jeremy Maclin and the addition of Darren Sproles and the expected emergence of tight end Zach Ertz as a bigger part of the passing game. Particularly if DeSean decides to hold another pity party over the contract he feels he's outperformed. We saw how that turned out in 2011.

Everyone has chosen to conveniently forget the previous two seasons when Jackson underachieved in a big way. Before last season, the guy had just seven touchdown catches and five 100-yard receiving performances in his previous 33 starts.

Chip Kelly is a big-people-beat-up-little-people guy. There are exceptions, of course, but he admitted last summer that he had genuine reservations about putting Jackson and 5-8 wide receiver Damaris Johnson on the field at the same time. Basically said he'd only do it if he had no other options. He ended up having other options. Johnson played just 53 snaps and caught two passes last season. Yes, I know Johnson isn't nearly as good as Jackson. But you get the point.

Now, the Eagles have added the 5-6 Sproles, who technically is a running back, but will be used mainly as a receiver by Kelly, which means he'll be lining up a lot in the slot and out wide. I can't imagine Kelly is eager to pair Sproles and the 5-9 1/2, 175-pound Jackson together very often.

A lot has changed about the Eagles since the departures of Andy Reid and Joe Banner, but one very important thing has remained the same. They still are an organization that, for the most part, keeps one eye on the present and one eye on the future.

Their goal is sustainability. Get good and stay good. Year in and year out. Under Reid and Banner, that approach didn't get them a Lombardi Trophy, but it did put them in the playoffs nine times in 14 years and in the NFC Championship Game five times.

"We have to look at the big picture," general manager Howie Roseman said. "We're trying to build something. We want to contend for a long time. If we continue to do the right things, we have a chance to be a good team for a long time."

Even after his 82-catch, 1,332-yard, nine-touchdown season, Jackson wasn't considered a long-term piece in the Eagles' plans. He's just 27 but already has logged six NFL seasons. He's already had two serious concussions. This isn't a guy who is going to be playing football well into his 30s. Probably isn't going to be playing football beyond 30.

The Eagles are all about building through the draft. Their last two drafts were solid, producing eight 2013 starters or key role players.

The May draft is being hailed as the best and deepest in a decade, maybe longer. But after trading a fifth-round pick to the Saints for Sproles, the Eagles currently have only six draft picks, their fewest since 2003. Just two of those six picks are in the top 85.

They would like to add some more picks between now and May 8. Which brings us back to Jackson.

There seems to be some debate as to what the Eagles could get for him. The same people who are telling us six teams have inquired about Jackson also are telling us that they'd be lucky to get a third-round pick for him.

Again, it's March. The draft isn't for another 7 weeks. Even in a draft in which as many as 13 wideouts could go in the first two rounds, I think the Eagles will be able to do better than a third-round pick for Jackson.

On Twitter: @Pdomo