Eagles end Avant era, reluctantly

Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)

Usually, the release of an eight-year veteran who never made a Pro Bowl or set any memorable records happens without a lot of ceremony, but when the Eagles said goodbye to Jason Avant today, they did so with accolades from team chairman Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and coach Chip Kelly.

Avant, who turns 31 next month, finishes his Eagles career ranked 11th in franchise history with 297 catches, but on a short list of key team leaders over the past decade, he would rank near the top.

“There have not been any players who have represented the Philadelphia Eagles with more class and dignity than Jason Avant,” Lurie's statement said. “Whether it was in the locker room, on the playing field or in the community, he has always been a true professional, a role model and a winner every step of the way. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Jason and his wife Stacy, and their two daughters, nothing but the best as he continues his fine career.”

Roseman said: “There’s no question that releasing a player like Jason is one of the toughest parts of the job. It’s a tough day when you have to say goodbye to player who you have so much respect for. I can’t thank him enough for the leadership, the big plays and the positive impression he made on so many of his teammates.”

“In the year I spent with Jason, he was unbelievable in terms of his work ethic and his selfless nature,” said Kelly. “He was a great teammate. We know he will have a chance to sign with another team and by releasing him now, he will have a full offseason to make the necessary adjustments. I had a chance to speak with him today and he handled himself like the true professional he is.”

Fans will remember Avant for the impossible onehanded catch at Tampa Bay in 2012, and the key block he threw -- sustaining a concussion -- to help spring DeSean Jackson for that walkoff punt return touchdown in 2010 at the Giants.

Avant arrived as a fourth-round rookie from Michigan in 2006, and his catch total went up every year until this past season, when Avant dropped from 2012's 53 catches for 648 yards to 38 for 447. Avant was a key third-down escape valve for Michael Vick, seemed much less so for Nick Foles.

The Eagles have DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper returning, and the upcoming draft is said to be especially deep at receiver. Avant was due a $1 million roster bonus soon, and his cap number for 2014 was $3.96 million. Roseman recently spoke elliptically about how it's hard to be an effective leader if you don't play a key role on the field.

Avant has talked of having sold drugs as a youngster in Chicago, a past he overcame with the help of a strong commitment to religion that started in college.

Teammates and reporters will remember him leading the parade to the JUGS machine after practice, sweat from his shaved head glistening as he worked tirelessly at his craft, pulling younger receivers along who might have preferred to hit the locker room.

Avant was quoted in the Eagles' postseason media guide this year on playing the slot: "You go over the middle, you're going to have to pay a tax. You can do business there, but you're going to get taxed. And that tax is getting hit. You get used to it."