As a Redskins’ fan even I’m not sure how to feel about WR DeSean Jackson being kicked to the curb by the green, only to find refuge in the burgundy and gold. There are several elements to this new deal – from a reality and a fantasy football perspective -so let’s deal with the early impressions for each.
This whole DeSean Jackson story is puzzling to those of us outside the NFL’s inner personnel offices. What was the Eagles real motivation behind releasing the team’s 2013 leading WR? Was it conflict with the head coach Chip Kelly? Was it conflict with teammates? Was it potential contract demands? Or was it something more sinister? Like Jackson’s reported gang ties, and other assorted off field behavior?
I have to think by process of elimination that we are dealing more with one of those personality conflicts between coach and player, and possibly player and player – rather than the sensationalized “Crips” association. Don’t believe that? Like the soap opera storyline better? Ok, but let’s examine what’s happened in the last 48 hours.
Washington signed Jackson to a reported 3 year 24mil (could actually be a 4 year 32mil deal – but the 4th year is team voidable) dollar contract late last night. The contract has about 16mil guaranteed and breaks out to about 8mil a season. Those #’s are fairly high, but by no means are they out of a majority of teams’ budgets. Greg Jennings for Minnesota is making more per season by comparison (ouch Vikings, ouch). So I think we can rule out contract demands as a source of Jackson’s Philly release.
Also, one has to believe that the Redskins did some due diligence on researching DeSean’s off-field associations, before handing out that contract. I know they probably didn’t find everything about him, and I know it’s certainly possible he does hang with shady dudes. But let’s be real about this, every NFL team is willing to deal with some level of “shadiness” if the player can play. If it helps, the LA Police department came out publicly on twitter to say to their knowledge Jackson has no official ties to any gang or other criminal activity in the LA area.
As a Redskins fan I am very familiar with what happens inside organizations when a player and a coach fall out. I thought Mike Shanahan’s treatment of players was despicable last season -and the relationship between him and Robert Griffin was ugly and public. In its aftermath, when Shanahan was fired at the end of the year we had Shanahan’s people leaking stories to Adam Schefter and others – while the Redskins organization leaked its own stories to the press to try to counteract the PR damage. It was a mess full of exaggerations, lies, and stuff that was just better left unsaid.
The point is I see a lot of these types of things happening now with the DeSean Jackson story. Philly 1st reported clashes between him and headcoach Chip Kelly, then it was his asking for a new contract, then it was going to get worked out, then it wasn’t, then some teammates came out against him, and finally the gang stories surfaced – just as the Eagles were getting ready to tear up his deal. The root of the issue is what makes sense – Jackson was no longer a part of Chip Kelly’s philosophy on how to run a team.
And that’s valid – but it probably seems extreme to many football outsiders (fans for example) to just cut a player outright, and that leads to the other “layers” of the story – gang ties and contract demands, but let’s not be fooled here. At least part of the “other stuff” is a Philly state sponsored story to defend themselves for the move. How much of it is real- is probably somewhere in the middle – missing meetings for example sounds plausible, running with the Crips sounds less so. Whatever Jackson and Kelly really had conflict with we’ll never know – we just now have a he said/he said thing to sort through and frankly, it may not even mean much in the end.
POSITIVES OF THE DEAL
The positives for Washington in the new arrangement are fairly obvious: Jackson completes a WR overhaul in DC that was desperately needed. It’s hard to argue for example that Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, and Andre Roberts aren’t a massive upgrade in talent over 2013′s Garcon, Leonard Hankerson, and Aldrick Robinson.
The contract as a 3 year 24mil dollar (or 4 for 32mil) deal is also a win for them – in the sense that if things do go south for DeSean Jackson in DC, the Redskins can at least mitigate their losses to only a season or two. And if rumors are true – the shorter deal may be better for Jackson – as he may want to re-evaluate what he’s worth after bigger seasons.
For Philly the positives are that Chip Kelly, who remember has only coached one NFL season, has become the “sheriff” in town. He’s won the battle vs Jackson and has front office, and seemingly lockeroom support for his move. Kelly had a terrific offense last season, if he keeps it anywhere close to that – the number of Eagle fans who regret losing Jackson will probably vanish.
NEGATIVES OF THE DEAL
For Washington they are assuming risks here. Jackson in all likelihood does have some rough edges as a team player. As with most top WR’s there’s a degree of diva in him – but whether this means that he gets in a few minor shouting incidents with teammates or coaches, or whether that escalates into skipping meetings and whining about his payday to the press – we just don’t know. 1st year headcoach Jay Gruden will have to learn how to manage him when he gets temperamental – and we simply don’t know how that will go.
Also, Jackson’s 1332 yards last season was a career high – in previous years he’s been banged up a bit, and has had bouts of wild inconsistency in production. How much of that was a QB problem? How much of his recent production was a result of Chip Kelly?
And that’s a risk Kelly is taking on his side as well. If Jackson succeeds in Washington and the Eagles offense falls off a bit – how will Kelly be viewed by the Front Office? Wining is everything, and if they don’t win – will letting Jackson go be a part of the criticism’s against him? Almost certainly.
IN FANTASY FOOTBALL
WR DeSean Jackson: I expect Jackson’s #’s to come down a bit from last season, but I think that was fair to assume in any case since it was a career high year for him. Beyond that, it’s tough to forecast – certainly he will fill a similar role in Washington that he did in Philly – he’ll be the deep threat on a team that desperately needs one. Good news here for Jackson’s fantasy value is that I anticipate Jay Gruden going downfield with passing more than Mike Shanahan did – it just fits Gruden’s profile and now he has the downfield weapon to exploit that. Fantasy Football players will have to watch preseason to see if we’ll get a hint of Jackson’s new situation – but there’s no serious need to bump him up or down in value at this point.
QB Robert Griffin III – RG3 has to be excited by this move, and IMO he’s the only clear fantasy winner in this situation. Gruden will want him to throw more this season – and instead of being just Garcon and a bunch of dudes – Jackson gives him another prime weapon. Robert was probably due for a bounceback year as it was, because he’s now more recovered from his knee injury than he was in 2013 – but having a legitimate deep threat will now take the pressure off him a little more. It may even open up more running room for him, since teams will be less inclined to walk a safety down into the box on non-obvious passing downs.
WR Pierre Garcon - I think Pierre is, from a talent perspective, still the best WR on the Redskins’ roster – and this is a complicated case. He won’t be getting the same amount of targets with Jackson there, so it’s unlikely he’ll come close to the 113 receptions (which led the NFL) that he had last season. On the other hand Garcon will no longer have the entire opposing defense making him a priority – and this may help him improve on his TD total ( 5 in 2013). Also, as Garcon tends to suffer nicks and bruises at a higher rate than average – hopefully this will keep him healthier throughout all 16 games. In PPR leagues his value may suffer a little from what he was projected to be in 2014 before this deal, but RG3 loves looking his way – and he still has fantasy WR1 potential.
WR Andre Roberts – Roberts is probably the Redskins player hurt most by the deal. And it’s unfortunate as he had an opportunity to play inside and outside on offense before the deal, and now it looks like mainly slot work for him. As a Redskins fan I love the idea of Garcon, Jackson, and Roberts working together – but as a fantasy owner of Roberts in a dynasty league I feel a little deflated that Roberts won’t get the volume of chances he probably should. WR3 or WR4 in fantasy now feels like the right place for him – instead of WR2 high WR3 that I previously had him tracking at.
TE Jordan Reed – Reed was target option #2 for RG3 last season and you have to think that changes now. Reed, who has proven a little fragile thanks to a severe concussion last season that put him on the shelf for over 5 games, has never really gone multiple games without being banged up somehow. He remains a risk/reward TE choice – flirting with top 5 TE numbers when healthy, but this season it’s safer to assume with added options for RG3 that his ceiling may be a little lower – like top 10 TE and that’s IF healthy.
WR Leonard Hankerson/Santana Moss – one or both of these guys may not make the club now. Moss is a veteran leader, but is clearly at the stage where that’s his biggest asset to a team. Potential perhaps to be clutch on 3rd down – but from a fantasy perspective worthless if he remains in Washington. Hankerson, is a little more difficult – he’s much younger, fits a possession WR mold the Skins could use, but he’s currently recovering from a torn ACL and won’t be ready til mid-preseason at best. He’d also suffered a serious knee injury 2 seasons ago, and has never really developed sure hands. He could be a useful NFL player – but he may even get IR’d for 2014 – and if you’re a dynasty owner of him right now it may be time to give up his roster spot if you need the room.
WR Jeremey Maclin/Riley Cooper – Well we were wondering if Maclin coming back from his 2013 season ending injury would impact Cooper’s targets. With Jackson gone now, there should be plenty of targets for both of these guys – if Maclin’s recovery goes according to plan. It’s safe to assume in a high volume passing attack these guys are both high end WR2 plays that have chances to become WR1′s. Cooper was a Foles favorite last season, so he may have the early edge on targets here.
QB Nick Foles -There’s a lot we don’t know about Nick Foles – can he repeat his excellent 2013 level of decision making? Will defenses around the league “catch up” a little to Chip Kelly and Foles tendencies? What wrinkles will Foles be able to insert with another year of experience in Kelly’s system? And now what will Foles do without his leading WR from last season? I have a feeling he’ll be ok…but there is a risk of an adjustment period and Foles not reaching the stats of 2013. Regardless I think it’s safe to draft Foles as your QB1 – just don’t overpay for him because he very well could fall out of the top 6 or 7.
RB Darren Sproles - We know McCoy will get his carries and catches, but there had been some debate (listen to our offseason podcasts) over how much usage Darren Sproles will get. That’s still an unknown, but with an unproven group trying to be Wr3 – it’s possible we see Sproles split out as a WR more – possibly even to compliment increased uses of the TE’s Ertz and Celek. I think Kelly will find some very creative ways to generate that third passing threat – and Sproles has to be on the list. Track comments about him over the preseason – wait and watch.
The Rest of the Eagles WR’s: On the Philly side this is to me where it gets interesting. Your top 2 WR’s are Riley Cooper who has had exactly one year of proven worth, and Jeremy Maclin who has an injury history. You’ve lost the deep/speed threat on your offense, and out of the remaining guys on the depth chart WR Damarias Johnson and Brad Smith seem to be the most promising. This is an important spot as even the 4th or 5th option in a Chip Kelly offense could bring fantasy depth to your team. Personally I can see the team getting a cheap veteran like resigning WR Jason Avant, and then drafting a speed style WR in the mid rounds of the 2014 draft. Whatever happens keep an eye on it there’s some great fantasy potential here – particularly if Cooper or Maclin stumble.
There is a lot to think about with this signing as it was clearly one of the biggest moves of the 2014 offseason. There aren’t many clear answers right now to some of the biggest questions – will DeSean behave himself? How will Philly replace his speed and production? What does this mean for DeSean’s production?
For fantasy you will have to monitor everything in preseason, as with any other player – but remember in uncertainty comes opportunity. We’ll update these players and more as the offseason rolls on.