After spending his last three years in Washington, one of the NFL’s most exciting receivers may find himself on the move yet again. DeSean Jackson is set to become a free agent as his three-year deal with Washington expires this offseason. His free agency saga began all the way back in December, though, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the receiver had interest in returning to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jackson has established himself as one of the NFL’s premier deep threats throughout his career. He has 46 career receiving touchdowns, 20 of which are for 30 yards or more — including 11 of the 14 touchdowns he scored for Washington between 2014 and 2016. He is the NFL leader among active players in career yards per reception, averaging 17.7 yards per catch.
Injuries have hampered the veteran receiver, though. A shoulder injury sidelined him for a game in 2016, and a lingering hamstring issue had a visible effect on his acceleration, a costly hit for a receiver whose success relies on his ability to burn opposing defensive backs. He missed six games in 2015, and never played a full season in DC.
His injury history along with his age — he turned 30 at the end of last season — could keep some teams away, but one of the NFL’s most dangerous deep ball threats of the past decade will still draw a lot of interest this offseason.
Potential Landing Spots
Washington may choose to bring back Jackson for another year. He was a great complement to Pierre Garcon, and he and Kirk Cousins were on the same page for much of the season. Their offense may experience a huge overhaul this offseason, as Cousins, Garcon and Jackson may all walk away in free agency this spring. They definitely have enough cap room to bring Jackson back, at around $65 million. The question is whether they are willing to shell out for him.
He won’t get the franchise tag — if Washington uses it on anyone it will likely be Cousins. Signing an aging, injury-prone receiver to a long-term deal is a huge risk, especially with the emergence of both Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed as young up-and-coming receivers on the roster. For a team with so much depth already at the position, it may be best to let Jackson walk if he does not agree to a cheaper deal.
Jackson made his name as one of the NFL’s most electrifying receivers during his six-year tenure with the Eagles. His career in Philadelphia came to a rocky finish at the beginning of the Chip Kelly era, though. He was released by the team in 2014, only two years after signing a five-year extension. Jackson reminded the Eagles how explosive a player he could be during the team’s matchups against Washington, even mocking an Eagles touchdown celebration during a 2014 game.
The Eagles making a move for Jackson this offseason would make sense. The team is in desperate need for wide receivers, as neither Jordan Matthews nor Nelson Agholor have shown signs that they will develop into the stars they looked like they’d be out of the draft. Jackson would give the team some temporary relief at the position while they search for a long-term fix, and bring a fan favorite back to town.
Philadelphia does not have much cap space, though, and would have to clear up before it is able to sign Jackson. Jackson himself may not be motivated to come back, especially for a pay cut, after the tumultuous way his first stint with the Eagles ended.
Josina Anderson of ESPN reported Tuesday that Tampa Bay may be a probable landing spot for Jackson due to his relationship with quarterback Jameis Winston.
I’m told #Bucs could be a posb destination for impending FA WR Desean Jackson. Understanding is Jameis Winston has an existing rapport w/ DJ— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 21, 2017
Winston later told the Tampa Bay Times, “You better believe we want DeSean here. I think he would be a great asset to our team.”
The Buccaneers are a natural landing spot for Jackson. Jackson’s speed and big play ability would be a great complement to Mike Evans, who is already emerging as one of the NFL’s better receivers. He would open up the field, and allow Winston to spread the ball around more, instead of targeting Evans the 171 times he did in 2016.
The Patriots have a handful of viable receivers on their roster, but none offer the athleticism Jackson would bring to the team’s aerial attack. If Jackson makes a move to New England, he would join Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski. It would also follow with the Patriots’ trend of bringing in older deep threats — Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco, for example — to revive their career catching passes from Tom Brady.
New England already has enough invested in its receiving corps, though, and Brady has an array of options that also includes Malcolm Mitchell, who impressed as a rookie, and Hogan, who emerged as an outside threat in 2016 after signing a three-year deal with the team last year.
The Cowboys faced Jackson twice a year during his time with the Eagles and twice a year during his Washington tenure, as well. His 1,134 receiving yards in 16 games against Dallas are more than his total against other teams in his career. The Cowboys know as well as any team how dangerous he can be.
Dallas already has a strong group of receivers, though. Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley both have distinct roles in the team’s offense and Jason Witten is still around. The Cowboys could use more receiving help as Brice Butler and Terrance Williams hit free agency, but they don’t have the cap space to sign a costly veteran.
The 49ers are one of the teams with the most spending room this offseason, second to only the Cleveland Browns, and may want to make a splash to boost an underwhelming receiving corps. Jackson and Torrey Smith could join together to become one of the NFL’s scariest duos of deep threat receivers if they both can stay healthy (and if the 49ers can find someone to throw to them).
The 49ers won’t be ready to compete very soon, and Jackson most likely wants to join a team that has a chance of making a playoff run before age catches up with him.
Western Missouri has long been a graveyard for wide receiver production. Only once in the past five seasons has a Chiefs wide receiver gained more than 801 yards through the air. Combining Jackson with Tyreek Hill would give the team two dangerous deep threats who create havoc in the open field. However, Jackson’s vertical route running does not match up well with Smith’s instinct to throw shorter passes.
A reunion with Andy Reid makes it hard to completely rule out the Chiefs, but the team doesn’t have a lot of cap space to work with (especially with decisions pending on defensive cornerstones Dontari Poe and Eric Berry).
The Rams new head coach, Sean McVay, was Washington’s offensive coordinator for all three of Jackson’s seasons there. It’s also worth pointing out that Jackson is from Los Angeles.
McVay knows what the speedster can bring to an offense, and the Rams just so happen to be desperate to add talent around second-year quarterback Jared Goff. They have the cap room to do it, with a projected $38 million to work with this spring. Signing with the Rams wouldn’t get Jackson any closer to a Super Bowl, but the various connections he has there and the team’s willingness to spend big make the Rams a natural suitor.