Written by James Will
In the 24-hour news cycle/social media era of sports, it’s hard to truly shock anybody with news anymore. But, from time to time, a big story pops up and grabs attention while spreading like a wildfire. The NFL wildfire story of the 2014 offseason arrived recently in the form of the DeSean Jackson saga. There is a lot to this situation and so much of it is still murky at best, but what is absolutely certain is that the evolution of the D-Jax/Eagles divorce has a ton of fantasy implications. Let’s take a look at how we’ve arrived at the present point in this ever-evolving story.
Chip Kelly started in Philadelphia in early 2013. Intrigue was at an all-time high because the hotshot offensive genius was bringing his high-octane offense to the NFL. Many people were split on what the results would be, ranging from “Kelly’s the next Bill Walsh and will revolutionize the game,” to “Spurrier 2.0, go back to college.” The one piece that was in place when Kelly arrived that intrigued people the most was the dynamic DeSean Jackson. I speak from personal experience, both as an offensive minded football guy and an Eagles fan, that the thought of what Kelly could do with DeSean caused involuntary drooling.
There were a few bumps in the road leading up to the season, but they all seemed minor. Perhaps the most public issue was that Kelly “demoted” Jackson to practicing with the 3s and 4s for a time in training camp as an effort to get him to truly buy in to the new program. Kelly also preached an open communication policy and practiced what he preached at that point by meeting with DeSean to clear the air and put all of the cards on the table. By all accounts, at that point, Kelly’s efforts were successful and all systems were a go. This is an important topic that I’ll revisit later.
The results in the 2013 for the Eagles offense, and Jackson in particular, only served to further the perception that all was well in Eagle-land. Jackson put up career numbers with 82 receptions, 1332 yards, and 9 touchdowns. The 82 receptions were 19 more than his previous career high and nearly double from his down 2012 season and the yardage total was 165 yards higher than his previous high. In addition, the manner in which Kelly deployed Jackson in different ways, including sometimes out of the backfield seemed to make everyone happy. The one obvious sign of any dissension during the season was a visibly heated sideline exchange between Jackson and WR coach Bob Bicknell during the Vikings game, but all parties involved were quick to write that off as a “heat of the moment” situation.
In the wake of the tough road loss to the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, all seemed to be positive in Philadelphia going forward. Prior to free agency and in the beginning of the signing period, the Eagles were lauded for retaining many of their core players, including wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin. I actually wrote a piece on this site a little while back about the fantasy goldmine that was the Eagles WR corps at that point heading into 2014. But little did I or anyone outside the organization know, that everything would change in a matter of weeks.
A couple of weeks ago, word started trickling out from various beat writers and sources that the Eagles were tiring of DeSean’s act and were seeking trade options for him. I remember hearing that initially and being surprised. Then word started going around that they were seeking a third round pick for the 27 year-old pro bowler and that is when my jaw dropped and indented into the ground, where it has stayed since.
Even from the initial reporting, the Eagles refused to make any kind of statement on the matter. More importantly, it was made clear that Kelly had not spoken to Jackson about it. This goes back to the point earlier about Kelly’s open communication policy. You may have noticed along the way, that I used a lot of “perception” words in the initial describing of the 2013 events. What we saw and perceived along the way clearly was not the reality within the confines of the Novacare Center in Philadelphia to say the least.
A few days ago, it seemed like Jackson’s departure was all but certain and that the possibility he could be released became more and more real as teams tried to wait the Eagles out. Then came the now widely known bombshell (courtesy of NJ.com) that they essentially outed Jackson for having ties to people in California gangs who have committed a multitude of crimes, including murders. Within 30 minutes the Eagles released Jackson via the shortest press release I can recall in recent memory. They used all of 25 words to send DeSean packing.
Now what? For DeSean Jackson, he is on the open market and is free to sign with any other team in the NFL. Reports of a line of suitors emerged quickly for Jackson’s services including the Jets, Raiders, Panthers, 49ers, Seahawks, and Redskins. The contents of the NJ.com article could complicate and delay things from the Jackson side of the equation because all of these interested teams will likely be sure to investigate thoroughly into the insinuations from the article. Some reporters also believed that teams might be wary of jumping in to the sweepstakes because the Chiefs, led by Andy Reid, decided not to pursue Jackson after initially showing interest. The other big question in regards to his career year in 2013 is how much of his spike in success correlated to his role in Chip Kelly’s creative, up-tempo offense. Some view Jackson as a dynamic threat no matter what the scenario, while others consider him to be more of a “one-trick pony.” For now, let’s take a look at his potential landing sports in order of potential fantasy impact.
1). Washington Redskins
I chose Washington first for a couple of reasons. First, they are reportedly going to be Jackson’s first visit and some believe that Dan Snyder may be smitten with Jackson to the point of starting a bidding war. Eagles fans definitely don’t want to see Jackson in Redskins’ colors going forward, but one guy who really does is RGIII. Nobody is entirely sure of the style that new coach Jay Gruden will employ on offense, but his track record has shown that he can utilize big time receiving talents to their potential, so that bodes well for Jackson. He also wouldn’t have to do it all himself, as Pierre Garcon would be manning the other side. As much as the Eagles fan in me hates to say it, Jackson could do a lot of damage in Washington.
2). Carolina Panthers
The receiver-starved Panthers popped up when discussing seemingly every available receiver during free agency. Their problem, which could very well preclude them from signing Jackson, is that their cap situation is prohibitive. Should they find a way to strike a deal, Jackson would enter as the unquestioned WR1 in Carolina with Cam Newton. Over time, they were able to do a lot with another undersized receiver in Steve Smith, but the two aren’t actually that comparable because of Smith’s toughness with the ball in the air. That said, pairing dynamic talents like Newton and Jackson could provide a lot of fireworks. Jackson would also be on a rising team, which could go a long way to keeping his focus in the right place.
3). San Francisco 49ers
Similar to the Panthers scenario, joining the 49ers would potentially create a dynamic pairing between Jackson and Colin Kaepernick. Jackson, a native Californian, has expressed a desire to return closer to home at times and San Francisco is also a top team already with the potential to keep rising. Offensively, Jackson’s fit in the offense as it currently works is a little unclear. In recent years, the 49ers have run a power offense with bigger, possession receivers. But, many consider Jim Harbaugh to be one of the better offensive minds in the game and there is little doubt that he could find a way to use Jackson effectively, considering he would provide a skill set that is way different than the other receivers.
4). Seattle Seahawks
This scenario is again similar to that of the 49ers. Jackson’s fit in the offense would be unclear at this point because his skill set largely conflicts with what they’ve used on offense for the last two seasons. The same questions are still in the air as far as a similar dynamic talent in Percy Harvin who is already on the roster. But the potential of the killer speed combo of Harvin and Jackson with Russell Wilson’s playmaking abilities could be enormous. The issue for Jackson and his fantasy potential, is that the successful mode in Seattle has limited the number of throws per game and he would have to share the wealth with Harvin, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse. Still, adding Jackson to the Seahawks offense would give them an absurd amount of playmaking potential and if nothing else, the most popular Madden team in 2014.
5.) New York Jets
I was tempted to add the Jets earlier in this list but ended up being more enticed by the other options. The Jets could be a very realistic option though, reuniting Jackson with one of his former QBs as well as his former offensive coordinator. While Michael Vick (should he end up starting) and Marty Mornhinweg certainly know how to succeed with Jackson on the field, the situation is not exactly ideal because the offense has a lot of unknowns at this point. The big question is the quarterback position, where either incumbent Geno Smith or Vick could be leading the show and, worst-case scenario, flip-flopping throughout the season. Also, the Jets’ prized signing thus far was Eric Decker, who would also command a lot of targets. There is no doubt that two talented receivers can not only coexist but flourish together, but considering Rex Ryan’s desire for a “ground and pound” offense and the uncertainty at QB, this situation could turn out to be rough for D-Jax.
6.) Oakland Raiders
In what would be a homecoming of sorts for Jackson to Oakland, he would be walking into a black hole in more ways than one. While I do believe that the Raiders did a solid job, for now, in obtaining Matt Schaub at QB, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future in Oakland as well as the management (what else is new?). Jackson would instantly become the top dog in the receiving corps in Oakland, but that is not always the goldmine that it’s made out to be if the line breaks down or the QB play goes to hell. While the Raiders could ultimately land Jackson, I wouldn’t be overly excited about his fantasy prospects off the bat if he headed west to don the silver and black.
In attempting to sum up this whole D-Jax fiasco, I am realizing that the situation is still so fluid that it is nearly impossible to tie a bow on this thing at this point. The next several days or week(s) should provide more information, as he will likely sign in the near future, leading to the next chapter of the DeSean Jackson saga. For now, we all anxiously await what’s next while trying to grasp what other surprises may pop up along the way. This is certainly far from over.