Originally Published: April 1, 2014
Ashley Fox | ESPN.com
There is a thing called addition by subtraction.
That is what the Philadelphia Eagles did Friday. By flat out releasing DeSean Jackson, they added a greater probability that they will have a harmonious, drama-free locker room this season. They added the assurance that Jackson will not create a distraction. That he will not pout or sulk or hold out over a contract that was set to pay him $10.5 million in 2014 and make him the fifth-highest-paid receiver in the National Football League but apparently wasn’t good enough for him.
No, the Eagles removed that possibility when they unceremoniously cut one of the most talented playmakers in the league.
Addition by subtraction — that’s how little Chip Kelly thought of 27-year-old Jackson.
And I don’t necessarily blame him.
Jackson is a talented football player. He is wickedly fast. He is impossible to defend on the outside in single coverage. Throw him the ball, and he will go get it. Jackson has proved to be a threat to score whenever and however he touches the football. When he wants to.
That’s the rub. When Jackson is good, he is game-changing good. When he is bad, he is chemistry-killing bad. You don’t get one without the other.
Even though this is Kelly’s second season as the Eagles’ head coach, it is his first real opportunity to retool the Philadelphia roster he inherited from Andy Reid. Kelly has a season under his belt. He had an opportunity to evaluate firsthand every player on the roster. He became intimately aware of every player’s strengths and weaknesses, his work habits, his dedication, his attitude, his practice tendencies, his commitment to good nutrition and sleep habits.
Kelly now can make informed decisions on how a player fits, or doesn’t fit, into his program, into his system and into his plans.
That is why the Eagles gave Riley Cooper a five-year, $25 million contract before Cooper hit free agency last month. Kelly liked Cooper’s production. He liked his physicality. He liked that Cooper valued blocking. And he liked the accountability Cooper showed after he was caught on video using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert last summer.
Cooper fit. Jackson did not.
Jackson also was expendable because Jeremy Maclin is on schedule to return to the playing field after tearing an ACL at the beginning of training camp in July. Maclin doesn’t have the speed Jackson possesses, but he is a sure-handed, reliable receiver who is a jewel in the locker room. Maclin is thoughtful, committed, a team-first guy and a hard worker. Kelly saw that in the short time he had Maclin in practice and certainly in the way Maclin has diligently approached his rehabilitation.
That is why the Eagles didn’t allow Maclin to hit free agency in March but instead signed him to a one-year deal — at Maclin’s request — for up to $6 million, with $3.5 million guaranteed.
Maclin fit. Jackson did not.
There is no telling how productive Maclin can be in Kelly’s offense, but the presumption is he should be very successful. Jackson had a career year last year, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and 9 touchdowns. In the four previous seasons, Maclin never broke the 1,000-yard marker, but he also never was officially the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver, even if he was the more well-rounded player.
Given the way Kelly likes to throw the ball and run an up-tempo style, there’s no reason Maclin can’t emulate Jackson’s numbers from last season as long as he can stay healthy.
The Eagles certainly aren’t done with the wide receiver position, either. They very well could make a play and move up in the draft to select Clemson’s Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. Or they could stay patient at No. 22, select the best player available and take a receiver later in the draft, perhaps Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, who is considered a project but, at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, has great size.
There is an interesting transformation ongoing in the Eagles’ locker room. The leadership is changing. Quarterback Michael Vick was the unquestioned leader of the team, but he now will be fighting for a starting job with the New York Jets. Wide receiver Jason Avant was so revered for his leadership — particularly in the wake of the Cooper fiasco last summer but also during the competition between Vick and Nick Foles for the starting quarterback job — that the team put out statements from owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and Kelly after the team released him.
They didn’t do that for Jackson.
At the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., last week, Kelly was asked about the leadership void. He acknowledged that the Eagles had “two great ones” in Vick and Avant, but he also mentioned ascending players such as linebacker Connor Barwin, center Jason Kelce and newly acquired players such as cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and running back Darren Sproles.
“That’s a big component in evaluations when we’re adding to our team,” Kelly said.
You can add Maclin into that equation. He is not yet 26 years old, but he has the potential to be a level-headed team leader who doesn’t question authority, plays hard and has his teammates’ respect. Jackson wasn’t that, which is why the Eagles opted for addition by subtraction. ESPN.com NFL columnist
Joined ESPN in 2011
Has also worked at Sports Illustrated, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Louisville Courier-Journal