Kelly, Eagles better be right on DeSean decision

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Kelly, Eagles better be right on DeSean decision

They better know what they’re doing here.

The Eagles just got rid of one of the NFL’s most electrifying players in the prime of his career without getting anything in return, apparently for the crime of choosing his friends incorrectly.

DeSean Jackson has never been arrested for anything more serious than marijuana possession and driving with tinted windows, according to the NJ.com report, and those charges came five years ago and were eventually dropped. He’s never tested positive for a banned substance. What’s the worst thing he’s done in six years with the Eagles? He was suspended for one game in 2011 for missing a team meeting.

What he has done is make big plays more often than anybody in the 81-year history of the franchise. Game after game, year after year.

Jackson grew up in a section of Los Angeles where he was surrounded every day by gangs and crime. He rose up above all that to become a three-time Pro Bowl receiver with a charity foundation that raises money to fight pancreatic cancer, which claimed his dad.

And so far, the worst thing I’ve learned about Jackson is that he has close friends who are active gang members. Which really means that he’s still friends with the people he grew up with in L.A.

Jackson is a young African-American man from Compton who grew up around other young African-American men from Compton, and last time I checked, that’s not a crime.

Anybody care to take a guess what percentage of professional athletes have friends or associates who have gang ties? It’s not an insignificant number. Guilt by association isn’t a reason to cut somebody.

Now, obviously there could be a lot more out there that we haven’t heard. Stuff the Eagles know that they haven’t shared. Things Chip Kelly saw that the rest of us didn’t see. Charges or allegations that haven’t been revealed yet by authorities.

But if Jackson was such a distraction, he distracted his team last year all the way to a 10-6 season, an NFC East title and a playoff berth, and he distracted himself all the way to 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.

Distracted himself to a career year.

Jackson is such a bad influence on his teammates that in four of the five seasons he’s played at least 12 games, the Eagles have reached the playoffs.

So Kelly will move on without his top playmaker, and that leaves the Eagles awfully thin at wide receiver.

There’s Riley Cooper, who had a couple big games in the middle of last season, but averaged 18.6 yards the first five games of the year, 49.7 receiving yards the last seven games of the year and had 11 games with 53 or fewer yards.

There’s Jeremy Maclin, who’s been a steady contributor when healthy but doesn’t have nearly the game-breaking ability that Jackson has.

Jackson has 18 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more. Maclin has four.

And there’s … Ifeanyi Momah, B.J. Cunningham, Brad Smith, Will Murphy, Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.

In other words, there’s Maclin and Cooper.

And if you want to include hybrid running back Darren Sproles in the equation, feel free. But keep in mind that Sproles averaged 8.5 yards per catch last year, and Jackson averaged nearly twice that.

The Eagles have reminded us all offseason that this is a historic wide receiver draft, so apparently that’s where they plan to replace Jackson.

So maybe you get a stud and maybe you don’t. Maybe you get Freddie Mitchell or maybe you get Reggie Wayne. Maybe you get A.J. Jenkins or maybe you get Kendall Wright. Maybe you get Dwayne Bowe or maybe you get Craig Davis.

You don’t know. You never do. The draft is funny that way. You might think you know, but you really don’t. Not with wide receivers.

DeSean Jackson, we all know what the Eagles had. It wasn’t a projection. It wasn’t guesswork. It was documented and it was electrifying and it was a blast to watch every Sunday for six years.

Derrick Ward, who spent eight seasons in the NFL as a running back with the Giants, Buccaneers and Texans, put some perspective on all this via Twitter Friday afternoon:

“I'm born and raised in South Central LA. I have uncles who are still gang bangin’, cousins who still gang bang. But what does that have to do with someone playing football and ballin’ out for your team?”

Nothing.

Still, the Eagles had every right to do what they did, and Kelly’s credentials certainly can’t be questioned after taking a lost franchise and going 10-6 with a division title in his first year in the NFL.

Maybe this really is a case of addition by subtraction, and cutting ties with Jackson help the Eagles turn into an elite NFL team and Super Bowl contender.

But they better be right. Because outright releasing a 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowler coming off his finest NFL season just might unprecedented in NFL history.

The Eagles have had two Pro Bowl wide receivers in the last 15 years, and they’ve released both of them in their prime.

Andy Reid ultimately did the right thing with T.O., although the Eagles have won just three playoff games in nine years since he left.

Kelly better be right about this one.

Eagles Stay or Go Part 3: Trey Burton to Vinny Curry

Eagles Stay or Go Part 3: Trey Burton to Vinny Curry

In the third of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 3 is Burton to Curry.

Trey Burton
Restricted free agent

Roob: Burton caught 14 passes the first nine games of the year and 23 the last six games of the year. One of the few Eagles who actually showed significant improvement as the year went on. He did drop a few too many passes, which is surprising for the usually sure-handed tight end. But overall Burton continued to progress and show signs that he can be a very good receiver in this offense. Burton isn’t a Zach Ertz, but there’s no reason he and Ertz can’t be a pretty potent 1-2 tight end punch. Burton will catch 50 passes next year and continue to improve as a blocker. A nice player who can do a lot of different things. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Burton had a career-high 37 catches in 2016 after having just three in his first three seasons. The Eagles would love to have Burton back next season, but they might not be able to afford it. They really have two options. One would be to use the lowest tender, which would allow teams to negotiate with him and sign him without compensation; that price would be about $1.8 million. Or they could place a second-round tender on him, which means any team that signs him would have to give the Eagles a second-round pick; that price would be around $2.75 million next season. If the Eagles place the original round (lowest) tender on him, which I see happening, other teams might be interested. The Eagles would then have the ability to match an offer, but how much money are they going to put into the tight end position? 

Verdict: GOES

Nolan Carroll
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: Carroll isn’t as bad as Nnamdi Asomugha or Byron Maxwell or Bradley Fletcher or even Leodis McKelvin, but he is yet another in a seemingly endless list of free-agent cornerbacks the Eagles have spent a fortune for that haven’t panned out. Carroll isn’t awful, but let’s be honest. He’s really not much of a playmaker, he gets beat way too often, he’s inconsistent and the Eagles need to get better at corner. Carroll is a free agent, and I don’t see any reason to re-sign him. He had just one interception this year, and 44 NFL cornerbacks had more. He’s just a guy, and the Eagles need more than that. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Carroll was brought back on a one-year deal for 2016 after he visited with the Cowboys. The deal wasn’t worth a ton — just over $2 million — so they could go with the same type of deal to bring him back for next season. But do they want to? Carroll didn’t have his best season and even admitted as much. It might be time to part ways and try to upgrade at the position long term. 

Verdict: GOES

Brent Celek
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: Celek isn’t going anywhere. Thanks to that somewhat mystifying three-year contract extension last offseason, he would count $6 million in dead money if the Eagles released him. As opposed to $2 million in salary. So Celek, who is still a capable blocker and catches just about everything he can get to, will be back for an 11th year in an Eagles uniform. I have no problem with Celek staying. He's been a tremendous Eagle on and off the field for a long, long time. It’s just the Eagles have so many weaknesses and then this glut of tight ends, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. But at least they’re deep somewhere. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Yeah, $5 million is a big cap hit for a guy who has pretty much become a blocking tight end. With his new deal, though, the Eagles wouldn’t save money if they cut him. And they probably wouldn’t want to anyway. I’m not really one for keeping a guy just for leadership, but I think the Eagles want Celek to retire as an Eagle. If he can hold on for two more seasons, he’ll do that. 

Verdict: STAYS

Don Cherry

Roob: The former Villanova Wildcat will get a chance to impress during offseason workouts, but his most likely landing spot if he impresses is the practice squad. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Villanova linebacker spent most of the 2016 season on the Eagles’ practice squad, so he’s an unlikely candidate to make the 53-man roster in 2017. Still, he’ll be in training camp and get a chance to prove himself. Maybe he can hang on the practice squad another year. 

Verdict: GOES

Fletcher Cox
Cap hit: $9.4M

Roob: Cox was good this year but not as dominating as last year, and it will be interesting to watch how his career progresses as the huge base salaries start to kick in. Cox has a $9.4 million cap hit this year, $17.9 the following year and as high as $22 million in 2019 before dropping to $20.3 million, $17.2 million and $17.1 million. Needless to say, that is an unprecedented investment. The Eagles aren’t paying him to be good, they’re paying him to be one of the upper-echelon elite defensive players in the NFL, and this year, he just wasn’t on that level. He’s not going anywhere for a long time, but he has to be consistently better than he was this past season for that contract to be worth it. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A tough one here. Just kidding. Cox might have had a down season statistically, finishing with just 6½ sacks, but those stats don’t tell the whole story. Cox is still the most disruptive force on the Eagles’ defense and brings double teams all the time, which in theory should help his teammates. He needs to eventually find ways to beat those double teams and I think he will. 

Verdict: STAYS

Vinny Curry
Cap hit: $9M

Roob: Curry’s another one who’s not going anywhere. You want to cut him after a disappointing 2½-sack season? Get ready for a $15 million dead money hit. That’s not happening. Curry’s five-year, $46.25 million contract looks like a mistake now, but the Eagles can’t get out from under it until 2018 at the earliest. Curry will be here for at least one more year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Curry got paid last offseason and didn’t have much to show for it in 2016. He signed a five-year extension worth $46.25 million and then went out and played just 43 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and had just 2½ sacks. That’s the same number of sacks Marcus Smith had in 2016. Curry had nine sacks in 2014 and has 10 in the other combined four years of his career. But that contract is just kicking in and he’s not going anywhere. 

Verdict: STAYS

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

At times during the 2016 season, the Eagles' defense looked like the best unit in the league. And at other times … it didn't. 

By the end of the season, the Eagles averaged out to be a middle-of-the-road defense. And the way ProFootballFocus ranked it makes sense.

PFF ranked the Eagles' secondary as the absolute worst in the league, but in it's list of front sevens, released on Tuesday, the Eagles came in at No. 2 behind just Seattle. 

Here's what PFF said about the Eagles' front seven: 

"It was a difficult decision between the Eagles and the Seahawks for the No. 1 spot, as this front-seven propped up a hodge-podge secondary to form one of the league’s most effective defenses for a good portion of the season. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox finished with the third- and fourth-highest pass-rushing productivity marks at their respective positions. Philadelphia’s front-seven also features a budding star in second-year linebacker Jordan Hicks, who led all players at the position with five interceptions."

Graham received the highest grade among the Eagles' front seven with a 93.3, while Connor Barwin received the worst at 42.1. Graham was the only Eagles player to make the PFF All-Pro team this year. To prove that stats don't always tell the full story, Graham finished with a half sack more than Barwin (6½ to 6). 

While the Eagles' cornerback trio of Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Jalen Mills ranked 79th, 107th and 120th out of 120, respectively, their players across the front seven were much, much better. 

Hicks was ranked as the seventh-best middle linebacker and Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks were both top-10 outside linebackers in 4-3 defenses. Graham was the top-ranked 4-3 defensive end and Cox was the fifth-best interior lineman.