DeSean Jackson's departure left Eagles in deep trouble
THE NEWS that the Eagles had released DeSean Jackson might not have been on the same level as "Dewey Defeats Truman" or "Surrender is Unconditional," but it was still one of those where-were-you moments. At least, in local circles it was. For example, I was walking down Locust Street. A gentleman whom I did not know, and who did not know me, informed me of it as we passed each other. He was studying his phone with a blank stare and seemed to be in need of someone to hug.
eTHE NEWS that the Eagles had released DeSean Jackson might not have been on the same level as "Dewey Defeats Truman" or "Surrender is Unconditional," but it was still one of those where-were-you moments. At least, in local circles it was. For example, I was walking down Locust Street. A gentleman whom I did not know, and who did not know me, informed me of it as we passed each other. He was studying his phone with a blank stare and seemed to be in need of someone to hug.
Anyway, that's my story. Feel free to share yours. Whether or not you agreed with the move, there seemed to be an implicit promise that came with it: Chip Kelly had a plan.
Two years later, as the Eagles prepare to face the Redskins in a Week 16 game that will eliminate one of the two from contention for the division title, it still isn't clear what that plan is. Instead of a promise, Kelly's decision to release Jackson after his best season as a pro now looks more like an early indication of the blind spot that has come to define him. If you can't be with the one you love, don't release, trade or allow the Chiefs to sign the one you're with.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Jackson spoke with a veteran's reserve, repeatedly talking around or declining to answer questions about the destruction of a core group of skill position players that included himself, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
"Everybody's still happy, everybody is still having a chance to do what they love to do," said the former Eagles star, who missed seven weeks with a hamstring strain, but is coming off a six-catch, 153-yard outing against the Bills.
Otherwise, "I don't have nothing to say about that."
Besides, the road since then has been anything but black-and-white. There were rationalizations for each move, some of which have been validated, even if partially, as the trio has moved on. The departure of Maclin, who signed a monster contract with the Chiefs, was the most concrete among them. The free-agent market is not like a grocery store. As limited as the Eagles are at wide receiver this year is how limited the Chiefs were last year with Dwayne Bowe (60 catches, 754 yards and no touchdowns) and Albert Wilson (16-260-0).
(On a side note, as bad as Miles Austin was, consider that the Browns paid Bowe $9 million guaranteed to catch five of 12 targets for 53 yards in six games.)
At some point, the bidding has to stop and somebody has to lose. Hindsight will tell you - and perhaps foresight should have, too - that the Eagles would have been better off kicking some of that DeMarco Murray money into the Maclin pot. With two games remaining, the 2009 first-round draft pick has 79 catches for 985 yards and six touchdowns, good enough for his second best season as a pro (behind last year's 85-1318-10).
As for McCoy, the move would not look bad if it had been done to alleviate concerns regarding wear-and-tear, salary or running style, except that the Eagles ended up taking on a similar level of liability in all three departments by signing Murray.
Now, Jackson: He was not a perfect receiver, not for Kelly's offense, not for any offense. He was a one-tool player here, and he remains a one-tool player in Washington. Last year, he caught 56 passes for 1,169 yards - a 20.9 average that led the league. But his inconsistency is what led to his departure here, and that hasn't changed. In his first year with the Redskins, he had games of 115 yards or more six times. But he was held under 50 yards in the same number. During Washington's six-game losing streak in November and December, he was held under 40 yards three times.
You also get the sense that Kelly understood that Nick Foles and Jackson's weekly games of "Go Deep!" weren't sustainable. Jackson was targeted 126 times during the 2013 season, when he caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Jackson's two biggest performances came in Eagles' losses: nine catches and 193 yards in a 33-30 loss to the Chargers and 10 catches and 195 yards in a 48-30 loss to the Vikings.
Problem is, Austin didn't have any tools. And while Jordan Matthews has had a solid couple of seasons, all you need to do is watch how opposing defenses choose to scheme the Eagles to realize that the field has shrunk considerably since the days Jackson would streak down the field and command over-the-top help every play.
Matthews, the No. 42 overall pick in 2014, has 72 catches for 839 yards and five touchdowns, but that puts him somewhere in the lower half of the top 10 of his draft class, which, in addition to Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks, featured Allen Robinson at No. 61 (69-1,141-13), John Brown at No. 91 (58-933-6), Jarvis Landry at No. 63 (97-974-4), and Martavis Bryant at No. 118 (48-759-6) not to mention injured Panthers star Kelvin Benjamin, who caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie after going No. 28 overall.
Beyond Matthews, no other receiver has more than Riley Cooper's 327 yards on 21 catches. In 13 games this season, Josh Huff has caught 26 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns, an 11.7 YPC average. And while Nelson Agholor looks to the naked eye as if he has some physical maturing to do before he can hang with the big, physical defensive backs of the NFL - keep in mind, Antonio Brown caught only 16 passes for 167 yards as a 22-year-old rookie in 2010 - Kelly did not put his rookie in a position where he could afford to take a developmental year.
The coach has tried to explain away the obvious, but the dearth of talent outside the hash marks and deep down the field is glaring. It might have been Jackson's only tool. But even his harshest critic has to admit they miss it.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy