You look at the staggering $10 million up front given to Riley Cooper after one good -- not terrific -- season. You look at the $3.5 million guaranteed to Jeremy Maclin coming off his second major knee blowout since his freshman year of college.
You hear Howie Roseman talk about this year’s extraordinarily rich class of wide receivers in the draft, and it all seems to add up to this conclusion: DeSean Jackson, you’re on the clock.
Jackson is coming off his third 1,000-yard season and third trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, but all of Roseman’s recent moves and hints suggest that the super speedy wide receiver isn’t part of the team’s long-term vision.
For a variety of reasons, mostly financial, Jackson’s days with the Eagles are likely numbered. His salary this year jumps to more than $10 million and remains over $9 million annually through 2016. His lithe body frame doesn’t really fit with coach Chip Kelly’s preference for big bullies. And despite his world-class speed, Jackson isn’t an irreplaceable piece of Kelly’s spread offense, which also features NFL leading rusher LeSean McCoy and rising tight end Zach Ertz.
Although he’s not nearly the malcontent who, by his own admission, handled his 2011 contract dispute with poor judgment and petulance, Jackson remains an enigmatic figure for a head coach who is agitated quickly by me-first behavior.
According to multiple sources familiar with the team’s thinking, two incidents haven't gone unnoticed by the front office. First, Jackson lobbied for a new contract less than 48 hours after the team’s first-round playoff loss to the Saints. Then shortly thereafter, police in January reported $250,000 in stolen cash and jewelry along with a handgun from the receiver’s South Philadelphia home during a break-in while Jackson was vacationing.
Jackson said a new deal was “deserving” after posting career highs in receptions (82) and receiving yards (1,332) to go along with nine touchdowns. He sent a message to the same management that looked past his prior antics and ponied up $18 million guaranteed two years ago in a five-year extension worth nearly $50 million.
Jackson also had his share of unpopular moments during the season, most notably when he clashed with receivers coach Bob Bicknell on the sideline during the team’s 48-30 loss to the Vikings at the Metrodome and needed to be restrained by Jason Avant (who will handle DeSean now?) and other teammates.
What are the team’s options?
If the Eagles could find a trade partner, they’d take a $6 million cap hit in dead money but save nearly $30 million in base salary over the next three seasons. But who’d be willing to inherit Jackson’s $10.25 salary, knowing how he's has caused headaches for the Eagles in the past and given the quality of talent in this year’s draft?
Could the team outright release him? Same deal, a $6 million hit this year, but plenty saved going forward.
At this point, there’s no reason to send Jackson packing, not as the Eagles are gearing up for a Super Bowl run, not with Jackson coming off the second-most receiving yards in team history. But Jackson had better tiptoe lightly around town and keep away from trouble.
Either way, signs indicate that Jackson will be hard-pressed to be with the Eagles beyond 2014, and more moves this offseason could further clear the way for his exit.
The free-agent market is loaded with quality receivers who wouldn’t cost them $30 million over the next three years, and this year’s draft class at receiver is the deepest it’s been in years. If the Eagles are looking for a burner with the potential to replace Jackson, they could opt for De'Anthony Thomas, who played under Kelly at Oregon.
Next offseason, the Eagles will have several pieces of their nucleus eligible for extensions, including quarterback Nick Foles, cornerback Brandon Boykin, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Maclin will also be up for another contract if he doesn’t reach one during the season.
Even with the cap expected to go up, will they have enough space to afford Jackson’s $9.75 million salaries in 2015 and 2016?
If he can manage to avoid ruffling feathers, Jackson will probably be with the Eagles this season. He’s a productive player with rare game-breaking speed.
It just doesn’t look promising for anything beyond 2014.