Avant saw release coming, no ill will toward Birds

Avant saw release coming, no ill will toward Birds
March 4, 2014, 7:45 pm

Jason Avant caught 297 passes for 3,646 yards and 12 touchdowns in 116 games with the Eagles before being released on Tuesday. (AP)

Jason Avant saw the writing on the wall. Or, more accurately, saw the writing on the stat sheet.

As his role diminished last year, the Eagles’ popular veteran wide receiver gradually began to realize that 2013 would be his last season in Philly.

“You start seeing things when your role gets a little bit taken back and you don’t get as many opportunities as you had, as many plays that are called for you,” Avant said Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview with Comcast SportsNet’s Derrick Gunn.

“Not necessarily when the quarterback is scrambling and you’re the last option. There were a lot of those this year.”

Avant, who has played more games at wide receiver than any Eagle over the last 35 years, was released by the Eagles on Tuesday after 116 games, 297 catches, 3,646 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The numbers don’t come close to defining Avant, an inspirational locker room leader, a fearless special teamer, a clutch big-play receiver and an athlete as unselfish and humble as any pro you’ll ever see (see story).

“I knew [being released] was likely, but you never know in those situations,” Avant said. “I was 99 percent sure but there was still that one percent chance.

“But at the same time, I really respect the Eagles for letting me know so soon, so I can be on the market before free agency. That’s beneficial to you rather than go into it with 100 other players.”

Only four wide receivers in franchise history played more games than Avant -- Harold Carmichael, Bobby Walston, Pete Retzlaff (who was also a tight end) and Charles Smith.

Avant is one of only 12 NFL wide receivers who finished 2013 with the same team he started 2006 with.

“People don’t realize, eight years in the National Football League, that’s like 20 years in someone else’s work,” Avant said. “I talk to kids now who say, ‘I remember you when I was a little kid!’ A little kid? Are you kidding me?”

Avant, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick in 2006, made a name for himself as a clutch third-down receiver with a highlight-reel knack for remarkable one-handed catches.

This year, playing in Chip Kelly’s offense, he caught just 38 passes for 447 yards, both his lowest totals since 2008.

“I believe … if there weren’t contracts and there wasn’t a salary cap I’d still be here,” he said. “But when your [salary] numbers are going up and your production doesn’t look the same, there has to be some type of release to relinquish that pressure.”

Avant told Gunn that 2013 was the most frustrating year of his career.

“By far,” he said. “Not necessarily from a selfish standpoint of a numbers situation, just with knowing that I could be used different, that I could help the team.

“That’s one of those things with the new coaching staff -- which is a great staff, which is a great coach -- but every player doesn’t fit, and I felt like that square trying to fit into a triangle. I felt like that at times.

“Because I have a very unique way of getting open and doing certain things. As everybody knows, I’m not a blazer, but I’ve been able to get open consistently, and when you have a new coaching staff, everybody’s not accustomed to that. Coach [Andy] Reid wasn’t accustomed to that. I had to make him believe in me in order to do what I do.

“It was frustrating because you can’t play the way you want to play. Coach Kelly and Coach Bick (receivers coach Bob Bicknell), it’s a great staff. I just don’t fit what they do.”

Avant spoke several times during his 20-minute interview with Gunn about the fans and how pleasing them drove him and motivated him.

He spoke about the relationships he built during eight years with the Eagles, mentioning everybody from his coaches and teammates to the security and maintenance guys at the NovaCare Complex.

“That’s the hardest thing about it,” he said. “The relationships with the media members, my teammates and fans here, church family, all those people. Those are the things that I’ll miss.”

Avant, who turns 31 next month, believes he can still play and said he hopes to sign somewhere before the start of free agency Tuesday.

The Chiefs, coached by Reid, and the Jets, with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, are obvious candidates.

“I’ve been here eight years and sometimes it’s good for a fresh start,” he said. “I know I still can play.”

Asked about his legacy, Avant said it goes far beyond football, far behind all the circus third-down catches and key blocks in the running game that may have gone unnoticed by most fans.

It’s all about being a good person, a good role model, a good teammate.

“Would I love to make the Pro Bowl? Would I love to have catches and new contract? Yeah, you love those things,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, you want your significance to have more effect on what you did outside the field and the type of people that you affect day in and day out and what type of person you are,” he said.

“I want that to be my legacy. That should mean more than what you do on a football field, and that’s what I wanted to leave. …

“I just hope the fans would know that I respect them, and that I care for them, and that I thought about them when I was playing.

“Hopefully, I played this game, blocking, tackling, running -- as best as I could. That was my role for years and years and years. To assist someone else to be great. Hey, everybody has a role. Everybody can’t be Michael Jordan or DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin. A team just doesn’t work like that.

“There has to be someone who concedes and says, ‘No, you go ahead, you do your thing. As long as we’re winning, I’ll stay back,’ and that was my role here. To stay back and do what was asked of me and catch a couple passes over the middle.

“Could I have done more? Probably. But I loved doing it because it was going to help the team, help the city, help the team win.”