When the Philadelphia Eagles released DeSean Jackson last week, my initial reaction was to think he must have really been a pain in the you-know-what. I mean, a team doesn’t just randomly cut a guy who had 82 receptions and 1,332 yards with a team leading nine reception touchdowns, right? Players in their prime who are 27 years old and generate 1,000+ yards per year don’t grow on trees. Come on, are you serious?
In just his first season, the Kelly led Eagles won the NFC East, scored more points than all but three other teams, and had the second ranked offense in the league. Much of that production was due to the outstanding play of DeSean Jackson. On paper, DeSean is perfect for head coach Chip Kelly’s offense. Kelly loves to spread defenses out and exploit mismatches. Jackson’s speed forces opponents to give him extra attention, thus drawing defenders away from his teammates. Why in the world would you want to mess with that type of chemistry?
The Jackson release is a proof point for me at a couple of different levels. One, while General Manager Howie Roseman may have the ultimate say in who plays for the Eagles, Chip Kelly certainly has substantial decision making power in molding his roster. Kelly sent a clear message releasing Jackson in that no individual player is so invaluable that he can’t be cut. If the team will let go of its best wide receiver in his prime, no other player is safe.
The second proof point the Jackson departure tells me is that Chip Kelly is confident in his other receiving options. I’m not naïve enough to believe that either wide receivers Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper will individually replace Jackson’s production, but they do have the potential together. Maclin of course had the knee injury, and it is unknown whether or not he will return with the same effectiveness he had prior to that setback. But, the team clearly believes he will return to his 800 reception yards per season average prior to 2013 since they rewarded him with a new contract this offseason.
Riley Cooper’s 47 catches with 835 yards and eight touch downs was good for second on the team. He is not the speed burning receiving threat Jackson is, but he’s big and strong, is an effective blocker, and can win the ball in the air. Number three on the Eagles offense in receptions was LeSean McCoy with 539 yards and two scores. McCoy is always a danger coming out of the backfield with his explosive run after catch potential.