Analysis  

 

DeSean Jackson to Washington Redskins: A Daniel Snyder coup

The Washington Redskins just raided a division rival's top playmaker, signing Philadelphia Eagles castoff DeSean Jackson five days after the explosive receiver hit the market, and all across the football-watching world -- and throughout the mean streets of social media, where Twitta Gangstas regulate, 140 characters at a time -- cynics are shaking their heads.

Jackson, they say, is a divisive punk who, according to a recent NJ.com article, has alleged "gang connections."

They proclaim that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who has a sordid history of reaching for high-profile free agents, surely must have whiffed again.

And here's my personal favorite: People are complaining that Jackson, who reportedly received $24 million over three years (with $16 million guaranteed), was "overpaid," as if their own bank account balances were affected.

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Call me a simpleton -- trust me, I've heard worse ... in the past 60 seconds ... and I've probably already retweeted it -- but I see this as a glorious day for the 'Skins, a franchise in desperate need of one after last season's tumultuous train wreck.

To summarize: The 2012 NFC East champions just pried from the 2013 NFC East champs a 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowler coming off an 82-catch, 1,332-yard, nine-touchdown season, without having to surrender any compensation.

At the risk of being accused of celebrating prematurely -- always a touchy subject when it comes to Jackson -- Snyder should be taking a victory lap around Redskins Park right about now, with fans high-fiving him along the fence.

Conversely, supporters of struggling franchises with cap space who could have used a player like Jackson (yes, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders, I'm talking to you) should be questioning why their owners didn't make a similarly aggressive push.

And if you're an Eagles fan, well, you'd better be really confident that Chip Kelly, still basking in the afterglow of a 10-6 record and one-and-done playoff performance from his first season as an NFL coach, is as smart as he seems to think he is.

Certainly, I can understand why Kelly might not want to coach Jackson. Though DeSean, like me, attended the world's greatest academic institution, and I've thus watched him do wondrous things on a football field for the past decade, there are times when he can be a pain in the butt. On Wednesday, I asked one man who has coached Jackson in Philadelphia to rate that on a scale from one to 10, and he replied, "10 -- just like his (uniform) number."

At Cal and in Philly, Jackson earned his MeSean nickname. He was suspended by former Eagles coach Andy Reid for missing a meeting in 2011. Last year, there were reports of similar attendance issues, as well as a high-profile sideline blowup with receivers coach Bob Bicknell.

Then again, Kelly must really not want Jackson around: The Eagles, who'd signed Jackson to a five-year, $48.5 million contract in 2012, took a $6.25 million cap hit for 2014 when they decided to release him after failing to execute a trade.

As Seattle Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman adroitly pointed out in his MMQB.com column Wednesday, it's tough not to juxtapose that decision with February's re-signing of another, less accomplished Eagles receiver, Riley Cooper, to a five-year, $25 million deal. Cooper embarrassed the organization last summer when a video surfaced of him spewing a racial epithet at a security guard during a Kenny Chesney concert, one that compelled Chesney himself to issue a statement calling it "hateful beyond words."

Yet, while Cooper was rewarded, Jackson was rejected -- and smeared, if you believe that the timing of the NJ.com article was suspiciously tied to the team's decision to cut him.

If Jackson turns out to be such an off-the-field liability that his career implodes, the Eagles will look like visionaries. If his greatest sin turns out to be that he's a high-maintenance diva at a position that attracts such personalities -- and if he keeps producing at his current level -- well, there won't be a lot of brotherly love coming Kelly's way.

Right now, of course, Kelly doesn't care. He made a successful transition from the college level, securing the crown of a weak division by eking out a victory over the Tony Romo-less Cowboys in the final game of the 2013 regular season. The world is his oyster, and his system reigns supreme.

Kelly surely believes he'll find other playmakers (like the recently acquired Darren Sproles) who'll mitigate the loss of Jackson, and that his fast-paced offense will continue to thrive. Yet, whenever I see a coach so beholden to a system, I worry that a reality check is coming his way.

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No system is so brilliant that, in the 21st-century NFL, it renders personnel irrelevant -- or even just semi-relevant. Yes, X's and O's absolutely play a part in a team's success, and there is a lot to be said for coaching philosophy. However, more often than not, games are won and lost by highly specialized athletes displaying maniacal devotion to the task at hand, and there are only so many of these all-in game-changers to go around.

Jackson is one of those players -- and he's only 27. If motivation was an issue in the past, it shouldn't be in 2014. He arrives in Washington having just been humbled, in the form of his outright release from a division rival. His mission, for the foreseeable future, should be to make the Eagles (and everyone else who doubted him) pay, the way Wes Welker did to the Patriots last year.

In that sense, I think Jackson is a lot like Jared Allen (who landed with the Bears), Steve Smith (Ravens), DeMarcus Ware (Broncos), Darrelle Revis (Patriots) and several other proud veterans who were deemed expendable by their former teams after 2013 -- he's poised to channel that kick in the butt and find his inner Maximus, à la Ronnie Lott with the Raiders in 1991.

Speaking of the Raiders, whose fervent fans launched a Twitter campaign to bring Jackson "home" to Oakland ... General manager Reggie McKenzie clearly wasn't feeling their excitement. Otherwise, he -- still armed with ample cap space and under immense pressure to improve the team's 8-24 showing under his watch -- would have put on a full-court press to get a deal done once Jackson became free. Or, possibly, he'd have preempted the Redskins by trading for Jackson, as he did in prying quarterback Matt Schaub from the Texans last month.

Similarly, while the Browns reportedly were hot for Jackson, they obviously didn't come hard -- or hard enough. It was the Redskins who swooped in, lured Jackson down I-95 and closed the deal before he left town, and for that, Snyder and GM Bruce Allen deserve much credit.

Sure, Snyder has plenty of faults, and he is rightfully flogged for some of his past free-agent overreaches, most notably in the form of Albert Haynesworth. But you can't question his commitment to winning, and there's something to be said for being proactive when a unique opportunity (i.e., the chance to acquire a 27-year-old playmaker in his prime without having to give up players or picks in return) presents itself.

Yeah, Snyder had to shell out some cash, but if you're one of those people whining that Jackson was too costly, I have a question: What's it to you?

Trust me, Snyder can afford it. So can every NFL owner. All of their franchises appreciate at a ridiculous rate and they divvy up lucrative television contracts that ensure healthy profits. It's a beautiful thing. Just go with it. They've all got the scratch; some owners, like Snyder, also have the will. And for that, Redskins fans should be grateful.

NFL Exposure

DeSean Jackson through the years

Take a look at the best shots of DeSean Jackson.

Ah, but what about cap dollars, a far more pertinent concern for fans? Yes, the cap is real, and there are times when mismanaging it can negatively impact a team's fortunes, in the present and in the future. Here's a dirty little secret, however: For the most part, those observers who fret over a team's salary-cap choices are semi-delusional.

For one thing, as I recently pointed out while paraphrasing Welker's former coach, cap concerns are for losers. Winners find a way to make the cap work, and they refrain from whining about it when their team struggles. Snyder's team, after all, celebrated a division title during a span in which it was docked $36 million in cap space over two years. On Wednesday, he and Allen managed to seize the moment and score an elite skill player capable of energizing new coach Jay Gruden's offense.

For the maligned Snyder, it's time to drop the football (after crossing the goal line) and do a touchdown dance, no matter how many naysayers are shaking their heads in scorn.

Hey, it's a free country, and it's cool if we disagree. If you're a Twitta Gangsta -- or someone with Twitta Gangsta connections -- you might hate this move, and I hear you loud and clear.

If you're a Redskins fan, however, you should be giving your team's owner a resounding round of applause.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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