Three days ago there were four different scenarios that could have played out with the Eagles' handling of free agents Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper:
A) Maclin stays, Cooper goes.
B) Cooper stays, Maclin goes.
C) Both Maclin and Cooper go.
D) Both Maclin and Cooper stay.
As we learned over the last few days, the answer ended up being "D." Or did it? Is there perhaps a bombshell on the horizon, in the form of "option E?"
E) Both Maclin and Cooper stay, DeSean Jackson goes.
The Eagles are not going to shop Jackson. The instant they do, they'll forfeit any negotiating advantage they may have in trying to recoup acceptable value in return. This is especially true with a personality like Jackson, who comes with a history of character concerns. However, if another team came calling, the Eagles certainly wouldn't laugh and hang up. There's an opinion among some in the Eagles organization that Jackson's personality is not a great fit with the locker room culture that Chip Kelly is trying to cultivate, and the Eagles could be open to trading him.
The Eagles' actions over the last few days back that sentiment. First, let's look at how much the Eagles are paying their wide receivers.
According to Overthecap.com, the Eagles have $24,170,000 in cap space allocated to the WR position. According to the site owner, Jason Fitzgerald, Jeremy Maclin's cap number has not yet been added in to his system, but Riley Cooper's new cap number has. Maclin's number is dependent on his "per game roster bonus," but for now we'll assume a value of $5.5 million. We'll also project that Jason Avant will be released, which will save the Eagles $3.25 million in cap space. After those updates, the Eagles will have $26,420,000 allocated to their WRs in 2014. That is the second highest total in the NFL, behind only the Dolphins, who would love to take a mulligan on the horrific contract they handed Mike Wallace, which will eat up $17,250,000 in cap space in 2014.
The Dolphins aside, the rest of the NFL isn't even close, and the Eagles' WR cap number for 2014 is almost double the league average of $13,560,537.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Eagles GM Howie Roseman spoke with reporters about Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper's impending free agency. He noted that spending too much on one position limits what you can spend on other positions. "We’re trying to figure out the whole dynamic of it," said Roseman. "You can only put a limited amount of resources at a particular position before it starts taking out from other places."
Here is the Eagles' current cap spend in 2014 at each of their positions, and how they compare with the rest of the NFL, according to Overthecap.com (*WR numbers were projected by me, not Overthecap.com).
As you can see, there are far more dollars being allocated to the offense, which is already a bit of an oddity, but even more so in the Eagles' case considering their QBs are eating up less than $2 million in cap space.
The WR position is currently 20.7% of the Eagles' total positional player spend (minus special teams players). That highly inflated number does not jibe with Roseman's strategy of keeping within a budget at each positional group, unless of course they had already made the decision to move on from Jackson when they re-signed Cooper and Maclin with an obvious sense of urgency.
Also somewhat telling was that Maclin stated that the Eagles tried to sign him for five years. "Five years" in the NFL doesn't exactly mean "five years" like it does in other sports, but a five year deal would almost certainly guarantee Maclin's roster spot for at least two years, and possibly three. The Eagles' desire to lock up Cooper and Maclin to long-term deals further illustrate a willingness to move on from Jackson.
And then there's the Jason Avant factor. According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Avant acted as a "go-between" Eagles wide receiver coach Bob Bicknell and Jackson, who often got into it, both publicly and privately. It is generally accepted that Avant will be released soon. By cutting the "go-between," the Eagles' staff would be forced to deal with Jackson directly more often than they would with Avant still in the locker room.
From an X's and O's standpoint, trading Jackson doesn't make a lot of sense. Jackson stretches the field both vertically and horizontally, and his mere presence on the field will often keep a safety shaded to his side and out of the box. That does wonders for the rushing attack, which ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing 1st downs, rushing 1st down %, and rushes of 40+ yards... and 2nd in rushing TDs and rushes of 20+ yards.
It is also worth noting that Jackson had his best season as a pro in 2013, when he caught 82 passes for 1332 yards and 9 TDs. At season's end, Jackson felt that he was "deserving" of a new deal, although he noted he was not asking for one. The Eagles could have potentially looked into restructuring Jackson's contract, which would have given him more guaranteed money (thus guaranteeing more time with Jackson on the roster), and the Eagles more cap space in 2014. But according to McLane, the Eagles were unlikely to restructure.
If the Eagles were to deal Jackson, they would be left with a pair of wide receivers who have question marks. Maclin is of course returning from a torn ACL, and there are concerns that Cooper's production last season was a product of Chip Kelly's offensive scheme.
The Eagles, however, currently only have seven draft picks. They haven't made fewer than eight picks in any draft since 2003. That is not ideal in what Steelers GM Kevin Colbert called the best draft in 30 years.
At the combine Roseman said, "You have to factor in the quality of the depth in the draft and the opportunities possibly in the draft to get good players, and where the draft is strong." Where the draft is strong is at the wide receiver position. NFL Network's Mike Mayock has said "It’s the best wide receiver class that I’ve seen in years." ESPN's Mel Kiper backed that thinking, stating “I think if you look at the wide receiver position because of the tremendous depth in that first round, you could see six to nine wide receivers go in the first round.”
DeSean Jackson will be 28 during the 2014 season. As noted above, Jackson just turned in the best season of his career, making this an inopportune time to begin forecasting his decline. However, at some point, Jackson is going to lose a step. Determining when that will happen is obviously not an exact science. However, when Jackson no longer becomes a serious threat to stretch the defense, he does not possess a versatile skill set that will easily allow him to continue to be an effective receiver when he loses his elite speed.
Through six seasons with the organization, DeSean Jackson has provided the Eagles a very good return on investment. However, there is ample evidence that would suggest that now could be the time that the Eagles try to maximize their return on the back end of his tenure with the team, especially if indeed they have tired of his personality.