SPORTO: The Tao Of DeSean

BY MIKE WALSH One complaint about Andy Reid and the Eagles during the Donovan McNabb era was that Reid never provided McNabb with the quality wide receivers needed to win a Super Bowl. That’s a legitimate complaint as Eagles fans and McNabb suffered through season after season with sub par receivers like Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, Greg Lewis, L J Smith, Kevin Curtis, Freddie Mitchell, and Reggie Brown.

Of course, 2004 was the exception when the Eagles signed Terrell Owens. Owens went on to have one of the best years for a wide receiver in Eagles history. Not coincidentally, McNabb had his best year, and the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, during the next year Owens realized the Eagles had given him a poor contract, the Eagles wouldn’t re-negotiate, so the Eagles and Owens self-destructed in 2005.

It was odd that a team who finally had a good WR wouldn’t pay him like one, while the team continued to pay a player like Jevon Kearse, a defensive end they had signed in 2004 to an exorbitant contract, even though Kearse’s performance was pedestrian at best. A team that does not pay good players and overpays average ones is one that does not win Super Bowls, especially in the age of a salary cap, as we’ve seen with the Eagles and Reid. And the Eagles have continued to make mistakes with WRs, most recently with DeSean Jackson.

Consider Donte Stallworth. He came to the Eagles in 2006, had a good year (even though he missed four games with an injury), but the Eagles to not re-sign him. Instead, the Eagles signed a WR by the name of Kevin Curtis to a $32 million six-year contract. Curtis actually had fewer receiving yards and fewer touchdowns than Stallworth in 2006, but the Eagles went with a lesser player and paid him a ton of money. Curtis subsequently had one decent season, 2007, got hurt the following year, and has hardly played since.

Later in 2006, the Eagles signed Reggie Brown to a five-year $27 million contract extension. In 2007, Brown had a very good year and his future looked bright. But in 2008 and 2009, Brown’s productivity inexplicably lapsed, and he is now out of the game.

In 2008, the Eagles luck with wide receivers started to change. In the 2nd round they drafted DeSean Jackson. In the four years since, Jackson has amassed over 4,000 receiving yards, 1,200 punt return yards, 25 touchdowns, and been selected for a couple Pro Bowls. You’d think that the Eagles would recognize that they have a gifted player who helps them win games and would want to keep him. Instead, the Eagles have played hard ball with Jackson on his contract. Rather than sign him to a contract extension commiserate with those stats, the Eagles have made Jackson play out the very inexpensive 2nd round rookie contract he signed in 2008 — four years for $3 million.

Now you might point out that the Eagles are simply being prudent for not paying any more to Jackson than his rookie contract stipulates. Other teams have done the same with star players, including Tennessee with Chris Johnson and Chicago with Matt Forte. I would argue that the prudent thing is to pay the most productive WR they’ve had since Reid has been in Philadelphia to a contract that is equitable with his production. Otherwise, they risk pissing him off and losing him to free agency. In fact, it’s obvious that they’ve already pissed him off. It’s just a matter of whether they’ll lose Jackson over it.

The Eagles’ hardball approach definitely messed with Jackson’s head in 2011. His touchdowns were down, his punt returns were less than scintillating, and he was one of the league leaders in dropped passes. He went through a few games where he didn’t seem to contribute at all, and he was even suspended for a game for missing a team meeting. You might remember that the Eagles lost that home game to the lame Arizona Cardinals and missed the playoffs by one game, so Reid might want to reconsider his suspensions in the future. That brilliant move almost cost him his job.

Obviously, DeSean is not perfect, and he is not the best receiver in the game. But the Eagles gave Michael Vick a six-year $100 million contract based on 10 good games in 2010, and they can’t give DeSean a contract at half that based on four productive, exciting years? Don’t they realize that it’s players like him that sell out stadiums and generate big TV ratings?

They gave Vince Young $4 million for one year, and Young’s performance at QB was so inadequate that the Eagles will most likely release him. They gave Steve Smith $4 million this past year, and he had a total of 11 catches. They renegotiated Todd Pinkston’s rookie contract back in 2003 and gave $18 million for 5 years. So let me get this straight: the Eagles paid Pinkston several times more than they have paid Jackson, yet Pinkston had lower total stats in his six years with the Eagles than Jackson had in his first four. No wonder DeSean is unhappy.

You’d think that after dramatically overpaying so many below-average players that the Eagles would be happy to lock up a productive player with a decent contract. At least it wouldn’t be a waste of money. What makes this situation even more maddening and illogical is that the Eagles total for player salaries has not gone up at all the last couple of years. So they have the money to pay DeSean Jackson.

The Eagles are at risk of losing their best WR since Terrell Owens. With their history of questionable personnel moves, I wouldn’t be surprised if they screwed up this situation too.

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