Less than three weeks after raiding archrival Dallas for defensive end Jason Hatcher, Washington could be on the verge of adding another veteran NFC standout in DeSean Jackson, the three-time Pro Bowl receiver/return man who often tormented the Redskins for Philadelphia the past five seasons.
Jackson’s speed and playmaking ability make him attractive, not just to the Redskins, but to several NFL franchises, particularly Oakland, which has much more salary cap room than Washington and is much closer to home for the 27-year-old Long Beach, Cal. native.
So why would the Eagles, fresh off a surprise NFC East title, choose to re-sign the less productive Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin and cut Jackson, who’s coming off a career year with 82 catches, nine for touchdowns, and 1,332 receiving yards? After all, Cooper was in hot water last summer after using the N-word in an altercation at a concert and Maclin missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL. And Jackson still counts $6.25 million against Philadelphia’s salary cap, only $4.25 million less than if he were on the team this season.
Reportedly, Jackson, who was arrested on a marijuana possession charge in 2009, didn’t mesh well with new coach Chip Kelly off the field and showed up late to meetings. NJ.com reported that the Eagles were also worried about Jackson’s possible involvement with gangs, an allegation that he denies. So did a Los Angeles Police detective to The Philadelphia Daily News as it pertained to a pair of gang-related homicides.
“I would like to address the misleading and unfounded reports that my release has anything to do with any affiliation that has been speculated surrounding the company I keep off of the field,” Jackson wrote in a statement issued after he was waived by the Eagles last Friday. “I would like to make it very clear that I am not and never have been part of any gang … to speculate and assume that I am involved in such activity off the field is reckless and irresponsible. I work very hard on and off the field and I am a good person with good values. … I have worked tirelessly to give back to my community and have a positive impact on those in need. It is unfortunate that I now have to defend myself and my intentions.”
The Redskins have certainly had trouble defending Jackson over the years. In 2009, his second season, Jackson touched the ball nine times against Washington as a receiver, runner and punt returner. He scored three touchdowns – one on a 67-yard run – while totaling 237 yards.
In 2010, Jackson’s 88-yard touchdown catch on the opening play – shortly after his pre-game shoving match with safety LaRon Landry — jump-started the Eagles to a 35-0 lead en route to a 59-28 romp on “Monday Night Football” that greatly embarrassed Washington owner Dan Snyder hours after he announced the contract extension for former Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb. In 2011, Jackson produced 132 yards and a touchdown on seven catches against the Redskins. Last season, he accounted for 186 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches as Philadelphia swept Washington.
With record-breaking Pierre Garcon the only Redskins receiver to top 45 catches, 500 yards and three touchdown grabs in 2013 and with its return game the NFL’s worst last year, Washington could certainly use a talent like Jackson despite having signed the similar if less-proven Andre Roberts, formerly with Arizona, earlier this month. Leonard Hankerson, who has been unable to stay healthy or be consistent during his three seasons, can’t be counted on for 2014. Nor can former No. 1 receiver Santana Moss, who’ll be 35 in June. And speedy Aldrick Robinson has just 29 career catches, 52 fewer than Hankerson.
Former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was a stickler for character, suspending malcontent mega-millions defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and benching McNabb after feuding with the six-time Pro Bowl passer.
Shanahan’s replacement, Jay Gruden, played in the more free-spirited Arena League and coached in the even more outlaw XFL before working as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, the NFL’s home for wayward youth (see Jones, Pac Man and Henry, Chris).
General manager Bruce Allen, who gained control of Washington’s player personnel after Shanahan’s ouster, was raised by late Hall of Fame coach George Allen — who loved such rebellious veterans as Deacon Jones and John Riggins — and got his start in the NFL with the ultimate renegade franchise, the late Al Davis’ Raiders.
And after last season’s franchise-worst plunge to 3-13 after the surprise 10-6 season that produced their first NFC East title in 13 years in 2012, the Redskins might well steal Davis’ “Just Win, Baby” motto.
The question is whether Jackson would be willing to accept a back-loaded contract for the chance to show up Kelly and the Eagles twice a year. Oakland won’t play Philadelphia until 2017. Buffalo and the New York Jets, who are apparently also interested in Jackson, meet the Eagles in 2015 and then not again until 2019. The Raiders and Bills also haven’t made the playoffs during Jackson’s career.
The Redskins were burned when they acquired the 33-year-old McNabb from the Eagles in 2010. They succeeded when they traded for Philadelphia’s soon-to-be 30-year-old quarterback Sonny Jurgensen in 1964. Which effect would signing ex-Eagle Jackson have? If I’m Snyder, Allen and Gruden, I make the move despite the ongoing needs at safety and right tackle.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.