Corey Griffin, TheJetsBlog.comThere’s always a tipping point in the NFL , a moment when your on-field production is outweighed by something else and it’s time to cut bait. Sometimes, it’s a contract or an age issue, sometimes players just don’t fit with a coach’s vision for the future. And then there’s times when your “off-field baggage” becomes an issue.
I don’t know DeSean Jackson any more or less than I knew Aaron Hernandez. That is to say I don’t know him at all beyond his electrifying touchdowns and those times he made Giants fans cry.
But once Jackson’s name was mentioned alongside that of the former Patriots tight end Friday afternoon, in an article asserting Jackson’s alleged gang ties, it was only a matter of time before Jackson hit the waiver wire.
The Eagles had been shopping Jackson for weeks, looking to unload a player coming off a career year in the height of his prime. But after the team came up short in talks at the owners meetings, Jackson and coach Chip Kelly appeared to patch things up — until Jackson was suddenly a troublemaker with alleged gang ties and connection to multiple murders.
Hernandez has become the NFL’s Candyman, except you need only say his name once to scare the living daylights out of your fan base. And in a PR-conscious world where a former Pro Bowler is awaiting trial for murder while being connected to at least two others, NFL teams can hardly suffer the trials and tribulations that come with a player who hangs with the “wrong crowd.”
Jackson, for his part, has denied any alleged connections and PFT’s Mike Florio, along with several others, have pointed out the suspicious timing of the NJ.com article revealing Jackson’s connections. I’m not one to speak on whether they’re true or false. To be honest, Santonio Holmes’ annoying first-down gesture bothers me far more than any alleged gang sign.
The NFL is not a cookie-cutter league. It’s an industry whose workforce subsists largely of 20-somethings from underprivileged areas – areas where organized (and unorganized) crime exists and sometimes control the comings and goings of the neighborhood. I don’t pretend to know anything about living in these worlds or the connections and potential friendships that follow these players from their time as high schoolers to multi-millionaire professional athletes.
I do know, however, that there are likely players with ties or friends just as troubling as Jackson or Hernandez’s littered throughout the NFL. It’s certainly worth noting that Jackson’s connections were fit to print at a time when he had also outlived his usefulness in Philadelphia.
The truth is that troubled past or not, Jackson is still a highly-effective player and the NFL is still a business. Coaches and general managers are fired based off how many wins they have, not how many choir boys they have signed. The Jets, like any other NFL team looking to sign Jackson, should do beyond due diligence before even approaching Jackson’s agent to discuss contract specifics.
Say what you will about the type of “environment” Chip Kelly wants to create in Philly, but the No. 1 priority in Kelly’s world is winning. And until now, Jackson was part of that culture. Don’t think for a second in a post-Hernandez world the Eagles weren’t aware of Jackson’s issues or connections, especially considering, as the NJ.com article pointed out, they’d been contacted by law enforcement previously. They knew the pros and cons of paying Jackson to be a part of their plan and until now, the touchdowns and big plays outweighed any alleged warning/gang signs.
For John Idzik, he must weigh the same issues. What is Jackson like in the building? How will he impact the wide receiver group? How much realistic impact can he have in an offense where the Jets may only throw the ball 45 percent of the time? And most importantly, what is the price point at which Idzik and Jackson’s camp can come to terms?
Make no mistake, this is about money. If Jackson were making $7 million in 2014 instead of $11 million, he may still be an Eagle. But Kelly believes – and Riley Cooper proves – that his offense can make almost anyone a receiving threat.
But the Jets don’t have Chip Kelly. Thankfully, they do have Jackson’s former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who was able to use Jackson pretty efficiently during his time in Philadelphia. They also have linebackers coach Bobby April, who spent two years in Philly with Jackson and can help speak to what kind of teammate Jackson was and would be.
The Jets have the resources to determine whether Jackson would fit in their building and a very clear need for a player of Jackson’s position and ability. And there are rumblings Jackson may have to settle for a one- to two-year deal after Friday’s report, which would fit nicely into Idzik’s long-term vision for this franchise without forcing the Jets to commit long term.
No one’s going to tell you DeSean Jackson is a model citizen, but that doesn’t mean he’s the next Aaron Hernandez, either. This is a player that can help this team immediately, while giving Idzik flexibility in the draft to address other needs in higher rounds.
This isn’t about making a splash or breaking the pattern or making headlines. This is about taking a calculated risk on a dynamic player with some potential red flags. For a team who could trot out David Nelson as a starting receiver in September, it sure seems like it is worth the risk.