When a report emerged from CSN Philly's Derrick Gunn that the Eagles were "seeking at least a third-round pick and potentially more" in exchange for DeSean Jackson, the instant reaction was that the Eagles would be the victims of highway robbery if indeed a deal containing that compensation transpired.
However, a 3rd round pick may actually be optimistic.
As a player, Jackson is unquestionably worth more to the Eagles than a 3rd round pick. He had his best season in 2013 and was the Eagles’ most productive receiver:
Jackson didn't just lead the team in the above receiving categories. He had 30 more catches, 497 more yards, 12 more receptions of 20+ yards, and 27 more receptions for first downs than any other player on the team. He was also a key factor in LeSean McCoy's rushing title last season, as the threat of getting beaten over the top by Jackson did not allow opposing defenses to stack the box to take away the Eagles' rushing attack. A 3rd round pick as compensation for the Eagles' best and most explosive receiver seems laughable. And it is.
However, the value of DeSean Jackson to the Eagles and what teams will give up for him are two completely different things.
In 2013, there were 73 underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft. That was a record high. In 2014, there are over 100 underclassmen who declared for the draft. As a result, it is bloated with talent, as Steelers GM Kevin Colbert called it the deepest draft in 30 years.
Because of the bloated talent pool in this year's draft, teams are going to guard their picks like my dog guards the leftovers of a T-bone steak. When pondering a trade for DeSean Jackson, they are going to focus on the negatives, and there are plenty of them:
Jackson was productive in 2013, but can he do that in my offense?
The Eagles had a historic offense in 2013, setting many team and individual records:
Single-Season Records – Team
• Points – 442 (previous record was 439 in 2010)
• Total Net Yards – 6676, (previous record was 6386 in 2011)
• Touchdowns – 53, (previous record was 50 set in 1948)
• Passing Yards – 4406 (previous record was 4380 set in 2009)
• Fewest Turnovers – 19 (previous record was 22 set in 2003 and 2004)
Single-Season Records – Individual
• Rushing Yards – 1,607 by LeSean McCoy (previous record was 1,512 by Wilbert Montgomery in 1979)
• Scrimmage Yards – 2,146 by LeSean McCoy (previous record was 2,104 by Brian Westbrook in 2007)
• QB Rating – 119.2 by Nick Foles (previous record was 104.7 by Donovan McNabb in 2004)
• Completion % - 64.04 by Nick Foles (previous record was 63.96 by Donovan McNabb in 2004)
• INT% - 0.63 by Nick Foles (previous record was 1.5% by Donovan McNabb in 2007)
DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Riley Cooper all had their best seasons as pros in Chip Kelly's offense. Nick Foles also did incredibly unexpected things as captain of the ship.
Foles' and Cooper's seasons come with asterisks in the eyes of some, as their production is often attributed to Chip Kelly's offense. That same thinking does not apply to Jackson or McCoy, and it's understandable why. Jackson and McCoy have shown in the past that they are game-breaking players, while Foles' and Cooper's successes were new.
But the argument can certainly be made that Jackson was just as much a beneficiary of Kelly's offense as anyone. Here is Jackson's "per game production" in his first 5 years in the league, and what it was in 2013:
GM's around the league will have to ask themselves if they're going to get a player who will put up 1300 yards and 9 TDs in their offenses. The conclusion that most of them will come to is "probably not."
How much does Jackson have left in the tank?
Jackson just turned 27 in December, so it may seem ridiculous to start predicting that he'll flame out anytime soon. Certainly, nobody is projecting Jackson to suddenly go into some sort of immediate sharp decline. However, Jackson's shelf life is likely going to be shorter than other star wide receivers around the league because of his style of play. Jackson's value is his elite speed. He has always been a player who has amazing straight-line speed, but not necessarily elite quickness in small areas.
He has also never been one to catch a lot of balls in traffic, or break tackles once he has the ball in his hands. Once that elite speed is gone, what's left? One significant injury to one of Jackson's legs could seal his career if it causes him to lose a step, when other receivers can make themselves into different kinds of effective players.
Deep WR draft vs. Jackson's cost
As mentioned above, the 2014 draft is bloated with talent. But beyond that, WR is considered to be the most talented and deepest position in the "best draft in 30 years." Yesterday, we listed the top 10 WRs in this draft class. If you're a GM looking at this WR class, you might be inclined think there's a good chance you can draft a WR in the 3rd round that you might otherwise get in the 2nd round of an ordinary draft. Would you rather have a 21 year old kid with no baggage who you can assimilate into your offense and have for the long haul? Or would you rather have a player who will be 28 during the season next year who is either a few seasons or one bad injury away from losing his best attribute (elite speed)?
While this wasn't exactly the most intriguing free agent WR pool in recent memory, it was definitely a buyer's market. Here are the top 12 earners in free agency from the WR position so far:
The soft market for WRs during free agency could be a sign that teams don't want to overpay for a free agent WR when they can just draft a rookie and pay him far less.
DeSean Jackson is going to make $30 million in base salary over the next three years, which puts him at $2.75 million per season ahead of the highest paid player on the above free agent list. Of course, he's better than any player on the list above, but none of them required their new teams to give up an extremely valuable draft pick.
For the purpose of comparison, the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft, which is where the Eagles are slated to pick in 2014, was CB Desmond Trufant of the Atlanta Falcons. Trufant signed a 4 year deal worth $8.165 million. The very first pick in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft was TE Travis Kelce of the Chiefs. Kelce signed a 4 year deal worth $3.126 million.
In his 6 year career DeSean Jackson has missed 9 games. That's more than ideal, but certainly not enough to label a player "injury prone." However, NFL personnel people tend to be "body type snobs," in that many of them can't get past the fact that a player has a diminutive frame. While it may be unfair to label Jackson as a durability concern based on his history, you can bet that his small frame will factor into other teams' thinking from a durability standpoint.
Unknown character concerns
It's public knowledge by now that Jackson has complained about his contract on multiple occasions, he has butted heads with assistant coaches, his social media presence is a nuisance, he was suspended for a crucial game in 2011 by Andy Reid, and while he was a victim of a home burglary, the circumstances are suspicious. Are those things enough to be motivated enough to move on from a talented player? No, probably not. GMs around the league may already know if there are any additional nonpublic issues surrounding Jackson, but if they don't, you can bet they're wary of what the Eagles could be hiding.
If I were running a team that was trying to build, I probably wouldn't have any interest at all in Jackson at his current salary, at any draft pick cost. But even if I were running a Super Bowl contender and I had the cap space, the sum of all of the above would scare me off from dealing a 3rd round pick for him. Furthermore, whatever the Seahawks gave up for Percy Harvin (a 1, a 3, and a 7) wouldn't factor into my thinking for a second. What's good for the Seahawks doesn't necessarily make any other similar situation good for me.
So the conclusion seems pretty simple from the Eagles' perspective if they can only get a 3, or worse... Don't trade him.
...unless of course the Eagles already decided a month ago to move on from Jackson no matter what, and there's growing evidence that that is the case.
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