It appears DeSean Jackson will have no shortage of suitors as an unrestricted free agent. (Jed Jacobsohn/SI)
It's unusual for a highly talented player in the prime of his career, who is still under contract, to be released to the open market. But that's what happened Friday, when the Philadelphia Eaglesreleased receiver DeSean Jackson for multiple reasons -- between his current contract, possible off-field issues and recent reports of gang involvement (which Jackson has refuted), Jackson proved to be too much maintenance for the Eagles' taste. Of course, that doesn't mean that other teams will feel similarly -- when you have roster holes and a player of Jackson's talent is set free, it's going to be intriguing. Here are a few of Jackson's most likely landing spots, based on interest and need.
In our Mock GM post published Thursday, Chris Burke and I hypothesized that a trade from the Eagles to the Browns might be best for all involved when it came to Jackson's future. Cleveland has more salary cap space than any other team in the league, so no matter what Jackson can get on the open market, the Browns can top it if they so choose. In addition, the need for a second receiver to pair with Josh Gordon is obvious, and Jackson would be a perfect fit with his ability to dominate man coverage at multiple levels. There's no indication that such a move has been discussed beyond the cursory interest level, but it makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways.
There are two things we know about Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll -- they'll turn every stone to improve their team, and they will take risks on players with "interesting" pasts. They took a shot on Marshawn Lynch in 2010, and Lynch rewarded the team by becoming the heart of the franchise. Lynch played with Jackson at Cal, and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane has Cal ties as well. The Seahawks need a speed receiver with Golden Tate moving on to the Lions and Percy Harvin's injury status as a constant variable. This is a team with a fairly strong locker room, which could help. And if Jackson is looking to sign with a winner and will take a "prove-it" deal to do so, there are few better options.
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The Raiders have been spackling their roster with veterans throughout free agency, perhaps because it's going to be tough to get guys in their prime to buy into the Raider Way until the Raider Way starts to win again. In situations like that, calculated risks are a must. Jackson would be a perfect get because he is in his prime, and he's going to have a lot to prove. According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, the Raiders were not interested in trading a draft pick for Jackson when that option was on the table, but you assume they would be interested now that he's on the open market.
"As long as he’s a really good player that we think is really going to elevate our team," general manager Reggie McKenzie said of big-name players in general at the recent owners' meetings. "I mean, big money, name is not the major issue. It’s what else he can bring to the table.
"Production is going to be a lot [of the equation]; but there’s many other characteristics that fall into that."
The Raiders are in a bit of a pickle when it comes to overall talent, and they'd have to be thought of as one team willing to go out on a limb.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, no doubt still reeling from the loss of his three most productive receivers to the free agency process, wasted no time in praising Jackson as a potential asset to his team.
"We'd be interested," Rivera told USA Today's Jim Corbett on Friday morning. "He's an intriguing player and we'll take a look at him. ... I just got word and this is surprising to hear. He's an explosive player who has great vertical speed and is strong going to the ball."
The Panthers don't have a lot of cap space, leading many to believe that they'd try to replace Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn in the draft, but one never knows.
"It depends on the numbers,'' Rivera concluded. "You have to negotiate around the numbers. We'll see what happens. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of days.''
New York Jets
Rumors of various strengths have implied that the Jets tried to float a deal in which Jackson would switch one green jersey for another in exchange for a mid-round pick. General manager John Idzik's conservative approach this offseason -- the signing of former Broncos receiver Eric Decker aside -- leaves the team with more than $28 million in cap space and a lot of holes in the passing offense. The recent signing of Michael Vick as a potential short-term starter could augur well for a reunion -- Vick and Jackson played together in Philly from 2009 through '13, Jackson's talent played a major part in Vick's professional revival and Vick has had nothing but good things to say about his former teammate.
"If it does happen for DeSean, it's something that he has to embrace, something he may have to learn from, depending on whether he wants to leave or not," Vick told ESPN Radio on Tuesday. "Regardless, I'm going to support him. He's always been a great friend of mine and a great football player. And I think highly of him. I give him my utmost support ... I know DeSean's very dynamic and the entire league loves what he brings to the table. But maybe we see something that [Eagles head coach] Chip [Kelly] doesn't see."
We'll see if Vick tries to talk Rex Ryan into seeing it, or if the Jets already see it without any help.
San Francisco 49ers
While the 49ers are in clear need of a speed receiver, and were rumored to be interested in Jackson's services before the release, general manager Trent Baalke threw cold water on that idea at the owners' meetings.
"Never say never, but history usually repeats itself, right?" Baalke said, when a possible trade for Jackson was brought up. "So historically the answer to that would be no, but we always reserve the right to do what's in the best interest of the 49ers."
Baalke also talked about off-field aspects, which makes one wonder -- yet again -- how much Jackson's history will factor into his future value, no matter how talented he is.
"There's a lot of thought that goes into every decision. One key thing we focus on is, 'What is this decision going to do to our locker room?' That's a big part of the decision-making process. We spend a lot of time looking at that, talking through it, thinking about it and making sure that the move we make isn't counterproductive to winning. Because that's the ultimate goal -- to win."