There’s no doubt that the Carolina Panthers need wide receiver help as much as any team in the NFL right now, and signing Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood definitely does not solve the problem. Both of those guys are ideally quality No. 3 and 4 wide receivers, but they are currently first and second on the depth chart without other options. The Panthers will be fully expected to draft a wide receiver high in this year’s draft if they don’t add a top player to the mix, and the only way for them to add a top WR is to trade for Philadelphia Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson, who is clearly on the trade block. Despite having the best season of his career in 2013, Chip Kelly is reportedly unhappy with Jackson’s attitude, and the Eagles re-signed Riley Cooper to a long-term deal and Jeremy Maclin to a one-year pact.
It’s interesting to break down the possibility of Jackson joining the Carolina Panthers, because it does make sense when looking at his talent and the Panthers need. Steve Smith may not be a true No. 1 receiver at this stage of his career, but there’s no doubt that he’s still a very good player. The Panthers absolutely have to get somebody who can pass as a WR1, and it would be disappointing for Dave Gettleman to walk out of the offseason without a legitimate replacement. He thought Smith was too expensive, but he still has to find somebody who can at least pass off as a WR1 (Smith “passed off” as one last season).
But the same concerns that Gettleman seemed to have with Smith (cost and character concerns, with the latter sounding like a load of crap to me) will be there with Jackson, and he’s both more expensive and more of a “headcase” than Smitty. I always think that people throw around the word “headcase” too quickly, and I don’t see that kind of label being applicable for either player; oftentimes I think it’s just an exaggerated crutch that some teams use to justify tossing a player who was sent packing for other reasons.
I used to be one of Jackson’s biggest critics back when he was younger, but he really changed my mind last season. Before 2013, I never viewed Jackson as a true No. 1 receiver, because he was simply too inconsistent to deserve that kind of praise. Even though he’s always been incredibly fast, agile, and explosive, he was also drop prone and a poor route-runner. But in 2013, Jackson finally looked like a No. 1 receiver, and he caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards in what was easily the best season of his career. He got open with much more consistency, and he was able to balance his big-play ability with a better sense of awareness.
Anytime you add a guy who has the speed and athleticism to take it to the house on any play, then you’ve added a game-changer on the offensive side of the ball. Almost everything that Ted Ginn Jr. could do after the catch appears in Jackson’s game, and he’s obviously a much better player than Ginn Jr. He isn’t as experienced or as good of a route-runner as Smith, but he’s a better player than the current Baltimore Ravens WR2 due to his physical tools. 1,332 receiving yards, nine touchdowns, and an average of 16.2 yards per reception are three big numbers that Jackson posted last season that would be huge additions to the Panthers offense, and it’s that kind of mouth-watering production that could be a huge boost to the Panthers offense.
Cam Newton showed an immense amount of growth last season, and I though promoted offensive coordinator Mike Shula was a vastly underrated part of the steps Newton took forward last season. Shula worked with Newton for two seasons as his QBs coach, and he helped simplify the offense greatly last season. Instead of forcing Newton to try and win with his physical tools, Shula toned him down by getting him to be more patient and develop his mental tools by simply making the smart, easy throw to the open guy in space. It’s going to be harder to do that without Smith, but Jackson’s elite downfield speed and other physical gifts can help Newton let loose a bit more, because the maturation he showed last year will allow him to do a better job of utilizing his tools in a smarter, more effective way; deep shots and “wow” throws are about risk management.
There is no question that Newton could really show off his incredible talent with an incredibly talented No. 1 receiver like DeSean Jackson on the roster, but I highly doubt a deal gets done. First of all, I’m not sure the Panthers will want to part away with a high draft pick, even if players are almost always undervalued when they are traded for picks. Not only is Gettleman a great drafter who values picks, but I don’t think he wants to go for someone who could be perceived as a character concern. Even though the Panthers could really use a top-notch WR1, I do wonder if Gettleman would rather go in a different direction, or even snag “his guy” in the draft. There are some great WRs in this draft class who aren’t as risky to trust with being a WR1 as wideouts normally are, but the Panthers have so many other needs to fill that drafting a wideout might not be the best option.
The biggest reason, though, why a deal sending DeSean Jackson from the Eagles to the Panthers doesn’t seem feasible is Jackson’s price tag. He doesn’t have any guaranteed money, but he made comments early in the offseason about how he felt he deserved a re-worked deal with the Eagles that would pay him some guaranteed cash after his big 2013 season. I doubt the Eagles were pleased with that, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Gettleman wouldn’t agree to this request. I mean, Jackson’s base salary is at $10.5 million, and he’s still going to make $9.75 million in 2015 and 2016. That’s pricey even for a player of his caliber, but it goes beyond just the Panthers comfort-level with his cost. According to Over The Cap, the Carolina Panthers have just $5.7 million, so there’s just about no way they can take on Jackson’s salary. Even if they could find a way to creatively manage funds and bring him aboard, I doubt they would go to the effort to do it. I think it’s fun to ponder the chances of Jackson landing with the Panthers due to the massive upgrade he would give to a team that definitely need a high-end wideout, but talent and need are trumped by significant cap issues and Gettleman’s perceived beliefs.