I’m exhausted by the DeSean Jackson talk, and you are too. The past week has been nothing but a series of arguments over how much we know about the Jackson situation, which is likely not all that much. He may be traded, he may not be, and the reasons why this is an issue are largely unknown.
Jackson is a big play threat who had a Pro Bowl year in 2013. And that year came while playing in a receiving corps that included Riley Cooper and Jason Avant. It’s not a stretch to say that Jackson could be better in 2014 with a healthy Jeremy Maclin in the starting lineup, a more developed Zach Ertz at tight end, and Darren Sproles being used in the backfield and in the slot. Having more weapons means defenses not being able to consistently double team Jackson. It would be a shame to not get the opportunity to see that, but it seems to be a very real possibility.
So the question becomes: what becomes of the Eagles offense without Jackson if he is traded? If he is traded, it’s highly likely that the Eagles use a draft pick on the wide receiver position. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume they do not. What can Chip Kelly do with the offense if you take Jackson out?
The starting wide receivers are likely Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Maclin would probably be used much in the same way that Jackson was, but probably not commanding so much attention from the safety on his side of the field. Brent Celek and Zach Ertz will start at tight end, and LeSean McCoy will play running back.
Who is used in the slot? It will probably be some combination of Maclin, Sproles, and Ertz. Maclin and Sproles are projected to get the majority of the snaps with Jackson starting out wide, but that won’t be as easy to do without him. It’s hard to imagine Damaris Johnson remaining on the roster with Sproles in the fold taking over return duties, so I’m guessing he’s out. The wide receivers on the roster behind Maclin and Cooper are likely Arrelious Benn (if he is healthy after knee surgery), Brad Smith, and Jeff Maehl. None of them really fit the mold for a slot receiver, so Kelly would have to get creative.
The team’s focus will still be on the running game, but it won’t be as easy. As stated before, Jackson’s need for safety attention was a huge component of the Eagles’ success. Losing him means allowing more safety attention in the box against the run game. Riley Cooper had a nice season, but should have done so much more considering how many one-on-one matchups he faced. He struggled to get open, and it’s a significant problem with his game.
There’s really no blueprint that gets you to the success level you would have with Jackson. That’s what makes it so confusing. The notion of trading a top receiver in his prime is baffling, especially considering the lack of demand for him with a deep draft of wide receivers on the horizon. But it’s obvious that whatever is causing these trade rumors isn’t production related. Let’s hope that the Eagles and Jackson can sort out their differences, because I can’t see a way that trading Jackson ends well for this offense.