Should They, Will They? DeSean Jackson, the Eagles, & the Franchise Tag

Should They, Will They? DeSean Jackson, the Eagles, & the Franchise Tag

Citing league sources, the Inquirer's Jeff McLane is reporting the Eagles will apply the franchise tag to DeSean Jackson before the free agent period begins. Assuming he signs, Jackson is guaranteed a one-year deal worth the average of the five highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, a figure estimated at nearly $10 million.

Should McLane's report come to fruition, the decision is no surprise. Jackson's production dipped in 2011 as the two-time Pro Bowler sulked throughout the season over an unresolved contract issue, but the team would be crazy to let his talent simply walk out the front door. The franchise tag restricts DJacc's freedom to negotiate with other clubs, while leaving the front office a measure of flexibility with respect to their next move.

So it's not as much a matter of should they or will they franchise DeSean -- that much is almost a no-brainer*. Rather, should the Eagles use the franchise tag as a means to re-sign Jackson for one or multiple years, or should they use the provision to hold him up until they can at least trade him.

Most importantly, what will they do? Full analysis of this story after the jump as we kick off our free agency coverage.

MOVING ON IS HARD TO DO
A few months back, when DJacc was dropping practically as many footballs as he was hauling in, a tag and trade looked like it might be the most promising option. Once a player develops a pattern of putting the rock on the carpet, while ducking any and all contact, there is always some concern as to whether he can get his head or his heart back in the game.

The Eagles were also in a free fall at the time, and there was a sense that blowing this team up might be a possibility. For better or worse, that fire is extinguished.

The other problem with the idea: it turns out the free agent market is loaded with talent at wide receiver. Some of the great players scheduled to have unrestricted rights, like DeSean, inevitably will wind up franchised, but plenty of others will be priced to move. With so many Pro Bowlers and budding superstars readily available, what would compel a team to exchange high draft picks or starting-caliber players instead?

Not that it completely precludes a swap from taking place, but the front office would need to significantly reduce its expectations on the return. Rather than trade Jackson for less than he's worth -- here's where the "almost a no-brainer" comes in -- it actually makes more sense to let him leave, and pursue his replacement against 31 other clubs.

And that is an alternative that merits consideration, or mention anyway. Jackson is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, fourth among active players with 17.8 yards per reception and second in punt return touchdowns among active players. He's also an unconventional target, neither imposing in size nor somebody who will catch 90 to 100 passes a season. From that standpoint, the Eagles could conceivably upgrade with the right addition, perhaps a guy like Vincent Jackson.

Of course, that is highly speculative. DeSean's ability to stretch the field is unique. It creates match-up problems in the secondary, and prevents defenses from keying on LeSean McCoy. When do you ever see the opponent's safety lined up closer than 15 yards to the line of scrimmage? This is not something easily replicated.

Finally, factor in continuity. If next season is actually Super Bowl or bust for Andy Reid, the volatility involved with bringing another wide receiver into a new scheme may prove to be counterproductive. Jackson knows the offense, knows what is expected of him, and bringing him back eliminates any chance the front office swings and misses in free agency.

LEVEL OF COMMITMENT
Anybody who still holds out hope the Eagles will come to terms with DJacc on a lengthy extension this offseason needs to open their eyes and see that ship has sailed for the time being. It could return to port at a later date, but after this past season, and with the future directions of the franchise uncertain, it would be flat out irresponsible to commit to a malcontent whose numbers experienced a significant decline.

Just to briefly summarize how we reached this point, Jackson made less than $1 million  each of the last two seasons. Due to special rules that were in effect to prevent a lockout, the front office could not easily extend his rookie deal in 2010, and last summer the two sides apparently talked, but negotiations were described as being far apart. Jackson pouted (somewhat understandably), and 2011 became something of a lost year.

As lost years go, Jackson's 961 yards weren't too bad, but when you're asking to be paid in line with the best in the game, that's not cutting it.

The good news is, DeSean claims he has no problem with the franchise tag. Many players see it as a "slap in the face," because while they earn a huge lump sum of cash up front, they still take on a lot of risk without the benefit of guaranteed money in future years. In DJacc's case, there have been rumors about his fiscal well-being, and he didn't do himself any favors on the field toward landing mega bucks in a crowded free agency, so the tag might be the best outcome until he rehabs his image.

Some might say the Eagles are overpaying even at $10 million, but a team cannot truly overpay on a one-year contract. Either DeSean lives up to the lofty expectations he created, and the Birds get their money's worth, or he continues falling back to earth, and he becomes a free agent again in 2013. The dollar amount is only significant when taken over a period of time.

Besides, when you consider how grossly underpaid Jackson has been compared to his peers, you could argue he deserves to earn slightly more than he is worth.

When you look at it that way, the franchise tag is the only way to go, because the front office gets the best of every world. They maintain continuity in their starting lineup in a probable make or break year for Andy Reid, avoid getting locked into a long-term extension with a player who underperformed in 2011, and still manage to keep DeSean Jackson relatively happy for the immediate future with a hefty payday.

If they intend to keep him when next year rolls around, they can even franchise him again, then work out an extension.

Don't count on the Eagles resting on that small comfort though. Chances are if the organization doesn't feel he's worth his demands now, they won't be any closer to caving later. With a healthy amount of picks in this April's draft, and a limited number of immediate, front-line needs, a franchise that has its eye on the future would most likely use a relatively early selection on a wide receiver, and begin grooming Jackson's eventual successor.

Just in case, of course. DJacc is totally going to be here for a long time (wink).

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

ATLANTA — Seven months after he was acquired from the Houston Astros and anointed a key piece in the Phillies’ rebuild, pitcher Vince Velasquez could be on the move again.

The Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez, a major league source told CSNPhilly.com on Friday night (see story).

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported by Jon Morosi of MLB Network earlier in the week and essentially confirmed when three Rangers scouts, including Scott Littlefield, one of that club’s top talent evaluators, showed up at Turner Field for Velasquez’s start against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

Velasquez delivered a solid but unspectacular performance in a 2-1 loss to the Braves, but he still has the qualities that attracted the Phillies to him last winter. He’s just 24 years old and has a power arm that has produced a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has the upside to pitch at or near the top of a rotation if his development goes in the right direction and he stays healthy. That is a legitimate concern because he had Tommy John surgery as a young minor leaguer and spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a biceps strain.

The question now is: where will Velasquez continue his development? Philadelphia? Texas? Somewhere else?

Clearly, the Phillies’ big wintertime acquisition is in play as Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline approaches.

Manager Pete Mackanin said he knows nothing of the front office’s trade plans, but he offered his opinion on trading a young pitcher like Velasquez.

“Our whole goal was to get young pitchers because they’re the most expensive commodity and if you can develop young pitchers like him and have four or five of those guys, then you’re ahead of the game,” Mackanin said. “But at the same time, at least as far as I’m concerned, I’ll listen to any offers. If you get three guys that are really good looking prospects because pitching is such a commodity, I’m sure you have to consider it.”

With the Rangers' scouts looking on, Velasquez pitched six innings and gave up seven hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out five. His fastball reached 96 mph, proving that his stuff is good. Mackanin, however, said he thought Velasquez relied too much on his off-speed stuff instead of his power fastball.

“It was unusual to me the way he pitched,” Mackanin said. “It was almost like a finesse pitcher instead of a power pitcher. I’m not arguing with it because he did a good job, but he made me a little nervous here and there. I like the 16 strikeouts.”

That, of course, was a reference to Velasquez’s 16-strikeout complete game win over the Padres on April 14. Could anyone have imagined that he'd be the subject of trade talks 3½ months later?

Velasquez said he was aware of the trade buzz surrounding him and unbothered by it. He’s been down this road before. He said he would not be disappointed if he were traded because he understands baseball is a business.

“At first when I got traded from the Astros it was kind of tough for me, but you have to move on and make the best of what you've got,” Velasquez said. “If things happen, just let it happen. If I go to another team, then I've got to make the best of what I've got there. There's a lot of things that are in the future. I don't know what to expect is what I'm saying. Again, all I can do is live in the present and live another day tomorrow. If something happens, something happens. I've got to make the best of what you've got today.

“It's just one of those things I can't control. I had to fight, had to battle for a spot here in Philadelphia and I'm very thankful for the opportunity and everything. Again, I've still got to keep working hard and make the best of what I've got.”

Any team looking to acquire Velasquez would have to pay a steep price. In addition to having talent and upside, he won’t be eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2018 season and free agency until after the 2021 season.

The Phillies have a good knowledge of Texas’ deep farm system having scouted it extensively — and plucked from it — in making the deal for Cole Hamels a year ago. Are the Phillies about to fuel their rebuild with more talent from the Texas system? Stay tuned.

Velasquez isn’t the only Phillies starter who could move. Several teams remain interested in Jeremy Hellickson (see story), who is scheduled to pitch against Atlanta on Saturday night. The Rangers, in fact, have some interest in Hellickson as a fallback option if they don’t get a pitcher elsewhere. Velasquez is not the only pitcher the Rangers have on their radar, but from a Phillies’ perspective, he is certainly the most interesting.

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rougned Odor homered twice, A.J. Griffin pitched into the sixth inning and the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Friday night.

Jurickson Profar also went deep for the Rangers, and scored three runs.

Odor hit a solo homer in the first that put AL West-leading Texas up 3-0 against Edinson Volquez (8-9). That 443-foot drive into the second deck of seats in right field came a night after Odor's 465-footer that is the longest in his career. He had another solo shot in the seventh, his 21st of the season barely clearing the 8-foot wall in right.

Eric Hosmer homered for the defending World Series champion Royals, who dropped to 10 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.

Griffin (4-1) had his longest outing in seven starts in just over a month since coming off the disabled list because of right shoulder stiffness. The right-hander struck out one and walked two while throwing 66 of 98 pitches for strikes in 5 2-3 innings (see full recap)

Chatwood, Gonzalez lead Rockies over Mets for 4th win in row
NEW YORK -- Tyler Chatwood kept winning on the road, Carlos Gonzalez homered and drove in four runs and the Colorado Rockies defeated the New York Mets 6-1 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Mark Reynolds also homered for the surging Rockies, who are 11-4 since the All-Star break and have moved within four games of Miami for the second NL wild-card spot.

Chatwood (10-6) improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA away from Coors Field this season. The 26-year-old is 4-6 with a 5.69 ERA at home.

Gonzalez matched a season-high hitting streak of 11 games with an RBI double in the first. He hit a 448-foot, three-run drive in the ninth for his 21st homer.

Steven Matz (8-7) gave up two runs and 10 hits in six innings (see full recap)

Lester recovers from rut of bad starts, Cubs rout Mariners
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester recovered from a rut of bad starts, pitching six shutout innings that led the Chicago Cubs over the Seattle Mariners 12-1 Friday for their third straight win.

Jason Heyward and David Ross homered as the NL Central leaders improved to 9-5 since the All-Star break following a 1-9 slump. Seattle lost in its first trip to Wrigley Field since 2007.

Lester (11-4) had lasted just 16 innings over his previous four starts, going 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA. That skid came after he had gone 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA in his first 16 starts.

Lester gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked two. He was already done when there was a 74-minute rain delay in the seventh.

Mike Montgomery, traded last week from Seattle to the Cubs, pitched the final two innings. He gave up a single to Shawn O'Malley in the ninth for the Mariners' run.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-7) had won his last five starts, but gave up five runs and eight hits in three innings (see full recap).

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies lost, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The big news from this game, however, was that Vince Velasquez might have made his last start with the Phillies. A major league source told CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez. The Rangers, the source said, also have some interest in Jeremy Hellickson, who pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night, but he appears to be a secondary target (see story).

It would take top talent to get Velasquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with a power arm. The Phillies acquired him over the winter from Houston as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

The Rangers had several scouts at the game, including Scott Littlefield, one of their top talent evaluators.

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported earlier in the week by Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Apparently there’s more than just interest (see story). Stay tuned as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez scattered seven hits and two runs over six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Velasquez battled some command issues and needed 91 pitches to complete the six innings.

He is 8-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in six starts since a brief stint on the disabled list with a right biceps strain.

Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins gave up just one unearned run over six innings.

Bullpen report
Both bullpens pitched scoreless ball.

At the plate
Phillies leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached base in his first three at-bats and scored the Phillies’ only run on an error in the third inning. 

The Braves scored two runs in the third inning on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk against Velasquez. Gordon Beckham and Nick Markakis drove in the runs with base hits.

Up next
Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) makes perhaps his final start with the Phillies on Saturday night. He will face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71).