A Case For Trading DeSean Jackson

Fueled by the recent signings of Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, and buzz over the 2014 WR Draft Class, speculation of DeSean Jackson’s future in Philadelphia has been rapidly spreading.

DeSean will be entering the 2014 Season having posted career highs in Receptions (82), Yards (1332), and Touchdowns (9). He will also be the 5th highest paid WR in the NFL this season, costing the Eagles an expensive $12.75M against the salary cap in 2014. DeSean is due $36.75M in total over the next three seasons if he were to remain in an Eagles uniform through 2016.

DeSean wasn’t the only one to flourish in Chip Kelly’s Offense, however. Riley Cooper, entering 2013 as a Special Teamer and backup WR, was the “Next Man In” when Jeremy Maclin suffered a season ending ACL injury during the preseason. Cooper was a key weapon for Nick Foles and posted career highs in Receptions (47), Yards (835), and Touchdowns (8). His upgrade to the starting lineup and breakout season couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time, as Cooper was on the final year of his contract, making only $673K in 2013. Choosing to re-sign with the Eagles instead of testing the free-agency market, Cooper recently agreed to a five-year deal worth $22.5M. Cooper’s deal will only cost the Eagles a modest $1.8M against the cap in 2014, just a fraction of DeSean’s $12.75M.

Jeremy Maclin also signed with the Eagles, forgoing the free agency market. Despite being offered a five-year contract from the Eagles Front Office, Maclin decided to take a gamble on himself by choosing to sign a one-year deal for $5.75M. Maclin is banking on the fact that a long-term deal would be more lucrative following a year of production in Kelly’s Offense and a clean bill of health. The four-year starter comes at a discount to the Eagles due to his ACL injury during the pre-season of last year, the second of his career.

The Eagles organization is currently spending $25.46M at the WR position in 2014, which ranks as the 2nd highest in the NFL. Despite the big spending at the WR position, a case can be made that Kelly’s Offense doesn’t require big spending for big production. Big play opportunities and Offensive efficiency are the byproducts of a scheme built around spreading the field, creating mismatches, and causing confusion for the Defense. Those elements in 2013 powered the Eagles Offense, setting single-season franchise records in Points, Total Net Yards, Touchdowns, Passing Yards, and Fewest Turnovers.

While the boost in productivity from Kelly’s Offense is evident, the thought of trading DeSean has enraged fans, Eagles writers/bloggers, and local sports radio hosts. The thought of losing a key component of the Offense is unthinkable to many. Those voicing their outrage believe DeSean was the key to the Offense’s success, due to his big play potential and ability to draw double-teams from Safeties.

Both are fair points. DeSean can take any touch he gets to the house. He can be downright electrifying at times. Who can forget Miracle of the Meadowlands II?

“And it’s a line-drive kick…Jackson bobbles it, and now has to try to recover…DeSean Jackson! Gets a BLOCK! ARE YOU KIDDING?! DeSean Jackson! Still not in, and now in for the Touchdown, no flags…Un-believable! No time left, Eagles win.” – Joe Buck

His ability to beat defenses with his speed over the top often commands double coverage from a Safety. Cooper certainly benefited from one-on-one coverage throughout the season caused by the attention given to DeSean. But why is there an assumption that DeSean is the only player capable of commanding double coverage from a Safety?

A WR expected to be available for the Eagles with the 22nd pick overall in the 1st Round of the 2014 NFL Draft is Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt. Matthews became the All-time SEC career leader in receptions (364) and yards (4,950), was the first SEC player with 90 receptions or more in back-to-back seasons, was the first player in conference history to record 100 receptions in one season, and recorded a 4.46 40-Yard Dash at the NFL Combine. His speed is driven from a 6’3” 212lbs frame and is coupled with 33 ¼” Arms and a 35½” Vertical Leap. Matthews has drawn comparisons to Green Bay Packer, Jordy Nelson. With size and speed, Matthews would certainly be capable of commanding a Safety on deep routes.

Aside from significantly upgrading size at the WR position, and adding an additional Red Zone weapon for Nick Foles, selecting Matthews with the 22nd pick overall in this years Draft would only cost the Eagles approximately $1.5M against the salary cap in 2014, compare that with DeSean’s $12.75M. With a potential franchise QB still taking snaps under his Rookie Contract salary, wouldn’t it be wise to explore options where the salary cap can be reduced, and the personnel can be upgraded at the same time.

Finding a trade suitor for DeSean could be difficult due to the size of his contract, however orchestrating a trade would free up the $12.75M in salary cap space for 2014, and rid the organization of a $36.75M burden through 2016. A trade would presumably allow the Eagles to acquire a top-to-mid round selection in this year’s Draft, which could be integral in building a Super Bowl contending Defense.

A potential trade suitor for the Eagles might be Carolina. This week Carolina released Steve Smith, their previous #1 WR who has signed with Baltimore. Smith is similar in stature and skillset to DeSean, listed at 5’9” 185lbs. Free-agency has also left Carolina without Brandon LaFell, who has signed with New England, Ted Ginn Jr., who has signed with Arizona, and Domenik Hixon, who has signed with Chicago. The departure of Smith, LaFell, Ginn Jr., and Hixon leaves Carolina without their top 4 WR’s from their 2013 Depth Chart. It’s safe to say Carolina will be looking to rebuild their WR corps heading into the 2014 season, and DeSean may be exactly what they’re looking for to pair up with Cam Newton.

No matter how the case may be presented, many people cannot imagine replacing DeSean, and point to his compensation as proof of his value. I would suggest that the arrival of Chip Kelly and his Offense has made DeSean overvalued in relation to his compensation. Allow me to offer a statistical approach calculated by Football Outsiders to support my opinion.

Football Outsiders ranks WR’s according to DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. DYAR gives a value on plays where a WR has made a reception, compared to a replacement level WR, adjusted for situation and opponent, and then translated into yardage.

Let’s compare DeSean’s Football Outsider’s DYAR rank before and after the arrival of Chip Kelly to determine if DeSean’s production in 2013 is more of the same, or a byproduct of a high production Offense. Let’s first take a look at DeSean’s DYAR rankings prior to the arrival of Chip Kelly:

Prior to Playing in Chip Kelly Offense:

2008 – DYAR Rank: 56th

2009 – DYAR Rank: 20th

2010 – DYAR Rank: 46th

2011 – DYAR Rank: 39th

2012 – DYAR Rank: 72nd

Do these rankings look like a WR who should be paid Top 5 money? Let’s take a look at what happened once DeSean played in Chip Kelly’s Offense in 2013.

While Playing in Chip Kelly Offense:

2013 – DYAR Rank: 7th

That’s a big jump from a previous high of 20th in 2009, and an average ranking of 46th in the five years prior, isn’t it? If DeSean weren’t replaceable, wouldn’t statistics based on performance levels in comparison to an Average WR indicate that? It wasn’t until DeSean played in Kelly’s Offense that he demonstrated a DYAR ranking cracking the top 20.

The truth is, Kelly’s Offense will be successful with or without DeSean. While at Oregon, Kelly made Jeff Maehl a star. Maehl had 77 Receptions, 1,076 Yards, and 12 TD in 2010. His 2010 production at Oregon surpasses any single year DeSean had while playing at Cal, which was also in the Pac-10, like Oregon. My point is not that Maehl is a better WR than DeSean, because he’s not, my point is that Kelly’s Offense is largely responsible for the production created from it. If the Eagles draft a WR from this draft class, he’ll become a star, and you’ll soon forget the days you thought DeSean held the keys to the Eagles success.

Don’t be afraid to part ways with DeSean Jackson, it might actually bring us closer to a Super Bowl than you think.