Forget for one minute all the recent questions about DeSean Jackson’s life off the field, the most scandalous of which have yet to be substantiated. Let’s also not spend much time debating the arrogance that led Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly to believe his offense didn’t need its best wide receiver anymore. The most interesting aspect of Jackson’s new three-year deal with the Washington Redskins has little to do with those things. Instead, it has everything to do with a franchise that has been largely dysfunctional ever since Daniel Snyder purchased it in 1999.
Anybody who thinks Jackson’s arrival in Washington is destined to be a roaring success is in need of a serious reality check. He’s a highly emotional player with a history of losing his focus and driving coaches crazy with his mood swings. Jackson became a star in the NFL because his first head coach — Andy Reid, now with the Kansas City Chiefs — knew how to relate to one of the most explosive talents in the league today. Jackson also became expendable in Philadelphia, after his best statistical season, because Kelly doesn’t have much interest in going out of his way to do the same.
The question the Redskins have to answer today is whether they have the requisite leadership to get the best out of Jackson. It says here that they most certainly don’t. Their new head coach, former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, hasn’t even met his entire team yet. Their star quarterback, Robert Griffin III, went from being a media darling to an alleged diva in about the same time it takes him to cover 40 yards. Finally, there’s Snyder, a man who runs through coaches the way George Clooney runs through girlfriends, and rarely hits it big when signing a star free agent.
This is a place where Jackson is going to soar? For all the speculation over how dynamic the Redskins’ offense will be — with Jackson joining Griffin, running back Alfred Morris and fellow wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts — we should be spending more time discussing how long it will take for this entire operation to blow up. We have no idea if Gruden has the ability to coexist with Jackson (and remember, this is a coach who spent the past two years working with A.J. Green, a low-maintenance star receiver in Cincinnati). Even further, we have no clue how Gruden will interact with Griffin.
The last time we checked, there had been no clear explanation as to what role Griffin played in the disaster that was his relationship with Gruden’s predecessor in Washington, Mike Shanahan. The bulk of the blame landed in Shanahan’s lap, but there were plenty of accusations that Griffin and Snyder were so cozy that the owner appeared to have a man crush on his star quarterback. Griffin also had a habit of delivering perfectly ill-timed public comments that opened up all sorts of questions about his respect for Shanahan. It’s fair to wonder whether Griffin will feel even more emboldened to use similar tactics if he doesn’t like what he sees in Gruden.
If Griffin continues down that road, don’t be surprised if Jackson follows in lockstep. NFL players aren’t stupid. Most will exploit a situation if they think they can work it to their benefit. Even more will struggle to succeed in an environment that isn’t stocked with strong leadership and a clear vision for success. This is a major reason the Redskins have produced only four winning seasons since 2000. Players surely know the best way to survive is by doing their jobs and trying to steer clear of all the distractions hovering around them.
Jackson surely will say and do all the right things as his career in Washington begins. That won’t make him any different from the Redskins’ last huge free-agent signing, former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Snyder gave Haynesworth a seven-year, $100 million contract in 2009, an investment that many deemed risky given Haynesworth’s own red flags. A year later, Haynesworth was sparring openly with Shanahan because of Haynesworth’s poor conditioning and disinterest in playing nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. By 2011, Haynesworth was playing in New England.
It’s difficult to say how long it will take for Jackson to become a problem, but there are going to be issues. His first six seasons in the NFL tell us that. Jackson had his run-ins when Reid was in Philadelphia — in 2011, Jackson was deactivated for one game for missing a special teams meeting and benched in the fourth quarter of another contest after dropping two touchdown passes — and Kelly has given every indication that Jackson’s mercurial speed didn’t necessarily mean he was worth keeping on the roster. The flimsy allegations that Jackson has ties to street gangs might have little to do with this. Plain and simple, the Eagles’ decision to release Jackson sounds very much like an organization realizing what it can and can’t control.
Now we’ll see whether the Redskins really have the resources to make Philadelphia look foolish. It’s likely that Jackson picked Washington mainly because of the potential $24 million that came with his three-year deal ($16 million of which reportedly is guaranteed). It’s even more probable that he didn’t visit with any other teams because the Redskins offered him two opportunities a year at sticking it to Kelly. Revenge is a great motivating force. It can seduce the most practical of men into believing they’re making wise choices.
The reality is that Jackson should’ve taken more time to investigate his options. He should’ve been more honest with himself about what went wrong in Philadelphia and how his own actions factored into it. If anything, Jackson should’ve paid attention to how little interest Reid displayed in wooing him to Kansas City. The Chiefs may not have had enough money to compete with Washington — or the other eight teams that reportedly displayed interest in signing Jackson — but it says plenty about Jackson’s maturity that Reid didn’t even get into the game.
If Jackson wanted money, he certainly got it. If he wanted to stay in the NFC East, then that wish came true as well. But if Jackson coveted stability, a chance to win and a place where he could make the most of his vast potential, then it’s difficult to see the logic in his decision. That’s because he’s just joined an organization that has been a long-running joke in the league for a good reason. And as Jackson is about to find out, that’s not about to change with his arrival.Jeffri Chadiha, formerly of Sports Illustrated, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chadiha first attended Wyoming on a full football scholarship before injuries led him to transfer to Michigan after two years. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication from Michigan in 1993 before pursuing a career in journalism. Chadiha is also a frequent contributor to ESPN TV.