Former Eagles WR DeSean Jackson signed with rival Washington because of course he did. About 43 seconds after Jackson’s release from Philadelphia, all signs pointed straight down I-95 to the nation’s capital, where The Offseason of Living Cautiously was preempted for a glorious sequel of Spring Champs from executive producer Dan Snyder.
What was sizing up to be a relatively ho-hum but solid offseason of quiet signings (Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts, ex-Cowboy pass rusher Jason Hatcher, former Steelers Safety Ryan Clark…) suddenly turned on a dime, much like the electrifying Jackson himself. And just as fast as he once shocked the Giants with that walk-off punt return TD, he was in the DMV hanging out with D’Angelo Hall, Pierre Garcon, and D.C. rapper/ambassador Wale.
There was talk that other teams were interested. Sudden superstars don’t usually fall out of the sky a month into free agency. Places like Cleveland, Buffalo, and Oakland could (and would) likely offer longer-term contracts for more money. The 49ers had extended an invite but made it known they were only interested in Jackson at a certain price. You had to figure that if DeSean Jackson left the Washington visit without signing, he would quickly choose between winning for less money in San Francisco or a big payday to play in Oakland.
You also had to figure he wasn’t leaving Washington without a deal.
Dan Snyder is like the killer in horror movies who never dies. Just when you think he’s gone, after years of ceding control of football operations to Mike Shanahan and now GM Bruce Allen, you figure maybe he’s really gone for good… and he comes back. But instead of a hockey mask and a chainsaw, he’s wielding a briefcase full of cash and a pen. (And maybe some warm coats. And he can probably help you get a backhoe.)
DeSean Jackson is obviously an excellent player, one of the most explosive receivers in the league and still in his prime and coming off a career year at the hands of QB Nick Foles. Despite the various red flags around him, Jackson seems less likely to bust than, say, the other big money WR signing this offseason, ex-Bronco Eric Decker landing with the Jets. ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha says Jackson-to-Washington is “risky at best” but Chadiha was the same guy who once wrote that Pete Carroll would regret taking the Seahawks job.
This should be closer to Clinton Portis than Donavan McNabb as far as how it plays out on the field in Washington. But it will be a home run in the Change The Subject sweepstakes that has Snyder throwing money, er, launching foundations to benefit Native Americans. Even before the Change The Name chorus swelled to deafening levels, the “Change The Subject” game used to just be called Spring Champs (which was a form of Change The Subject, as it was designed to “win” free agency after losing “actual football games” the previous fall).
Whether you call this game Change The Subject or Spring Champs, it’s always played with shiny toys. And a speedy game-breaking wide receiver fresh off a Pro Bowl season with a divisional rival is about as bright as it gets. This Mr. Free Agent Goes to Washington story line is an old one, going back to classics like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, starring an aging Bruce Smith in the story of a man going from Buffalo to Canton. Unfortunately, his scenes in Washington resembled Danny Glover being “too old for this shit.” The list of Snyder Spring Champ All-Stars is deep with Hall of Famers like Smith and Deion Sanders as well as not-so-lethal weapons like Adam Archuleta and colossal failures like Albert Haynesworth (who just happens to be the last 27-year-old Pro Bowler coming off a career year who got kicked to the curb; not a great omen). There were curious cases like WR Brandon Lloyd who played like a typical overpaid stiff in Burgundy & Gold, but somehow went on to lead the league with 1448 yards receiving (on a team that fired its coach and had Kyle Orton at the helm in Denver) once he left D.C. and cleansed himself of that Snyder stink.
In this year’s reboot, Mr. Jackson Goes To Washington adds the plot twist of “questionable character red flags.” So, which is more questionable… DeSean’s character or the red flags? Mike Tanier wrote a great column for Sports On Earth illustrating how ridiculous and ignorant most of the “gang ties” conversation has been. Most believe the gang story in “Post-Hernandez” NFL era was a convenient excuse for Philly to cut one of their best players for not having the right attitude and level of effort to match his huge salary.
It certainly says something that his former coach Andy Reid didn’t try to lure Jackson to the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Bengals didn’t make a play for his services despite Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis knowing Jackson’s family very well. And maybe the most obvious red flag was the Eagles green light letting Jackson go in the first place.
There’s a chance this 15 minutes of infamy will motivate DeSean Jackson to prove all the doubters and haters wrong and mature into the perennial Pro Browler he obviously has the talent to be. There’s a 100% chance that one if not both of the Philly-Washington games will land in prime-time schedule slots as must-see TV. Maybe Dan Snyder returning in his sign-the-stars role will make a few people forget about his other villainous persona as the billionaire NFL owner with a racial slur nickname and culturally degrading logo for his team.
Only time and the games on the field will really determine if Snyder and his Washington NFL team are cursed (by either the R-name, a la building on sacred burial grounds, or simply Snyder’s bad karma, or their own lousy football operations) or if perhaps Robert Griffin III is that transcendent star who can succeed under and perhaps in spite of this ownership. If so, he’ll need the help of other guys who are good at football. And, whatever the risks and costs, the one thing we know for sure right now is that DeSean Jackson is really good at playing football.
Washington certainly could have landed a cheaper and younger WR threat in the draft. But if Washington knew how to draft well, maybe they wouldn’t have taken WR Devin Thomas 15 slots ahead of DeSean Jackson in the 2008 draft. (Not to mention TE Fred “Cheech” Davis one pick ahead of DJax and another bust with WR Malcolm Kelly two picks after Philly drafted Jackson.) Perhaps they wouldn’t be so desperate for talent at any costs if they were being run by top GMs like the 49ers Trent Baalke or the Seahawks John Schneider (ironically, they were both once employed in Washington). And while they’d still have the #2 pick in this years draft if they hadn’t given it up to get RG3, would Jackson have wanted to come to Dysfunction City if not for the presence of a talent like Griffin under center?
“It’s going down!! Burgundy & Gold,” Jackson tweeted when the deal was done. We’ll see if it leads D.C. to greener pastures or if Jackson’s true colors will eventually lead to another pink slip from Snyder’s Redskins.
For now, while the name (and game) remains the same, the subject has been changed back to the Spring Champs.