Why the Eagles Released DeSean Jackson: A Look into Roster Engineering

By Scott Crabtree

DeSean Jackson looks on toward an uncertain future after his release by the Eagles.

The Eagles recently cut DeSean Jackson; you may have heard about this on the radio or ESPN or maybe one of your friends on a popular social network complained about the move in all-caps. Media people have been speculating that DeSean was a locker-room cancer, and that he had gang affiliations, and that is what led him to being cut. These reasons probably played a factor, but a big reason was likely tied to Jackson’s skill set. Jackson is by all accounts a great football player, and there aren’t many other players in the league with his type of explosiveness. And therein lies the problem, DeSean was too special.

Chip Kelly always said that while he runs a system, he would tailor that system to maximize the strengths and hide the weaknesses of his players. By maximizing Jackson’s strengths over the past year, the offense relied on DeSean to keep the safeties deep. However, this meant that if DeSean ever got hurt, the team wouldn’t be able to replace his production. Chip wants a lot of the same types of players, and Jackson is such a unique talent that Chip wouldn’t have been able to just plug in a back-up without losing a ton of what his offense was built around.

Chip Kelly thinks of his team as a system, and that drives the moves that he makes in roster construction. We can approximate the system of a football team to that of a manufacturing plant. In manufacturing, having workers with specialized skills can be very beneficial, but they are generally limited in how they can contribute. These employees command higher salaries and are increasingly rare. In order to minimize the need for highly specialized employees, companies have begun standardizing processes and cross-training employees. This creates workforce flexibility, and the effects of losing any employee are mitigated by having numerous other options to pick up their slack.  DeSean is that special, expensive employee that is going out of style.

A good comparison for this was Seattle’s defense last season, specifically their cornerbacks.  All of the corners on their roster were built the same way, and had similar skills. Every one of the corners was tall and long.  So when Brandon Browner went out last year, Seattle plugged in another big CB, Byron Maxwell, and continued their dominance. Chip wants to do the same thing with his offense. Simply put, Jackson’s preternatural speed made him irreplaceable, which ultimately forced the Eagles to try to replace him.

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