A few weeks ago, I wrote my first article for BGN, calling into question Avant's current production in lieu of his surrounding receivers. A main theme which I pushed for was the possibility of upgrading the 3rd receiver position. To summarize, I stated that although Avant had demonstrated decent production, with the receivers he was surrounded by, one had to wonder if that production could be better. Was Avant's production due to his sticky hands and precise route running, or a byproduct of his stellar surrounding corps? Maybe a little bit of both? I argued for the latter, and therefore hoped that the FO at least experimented with that slot position. After the draft, we can see that the Eagles FO did address the 3rd WR; while not automatically upgrading the position, they at least made it more interesting, and a spot to watch this offseason. I definitely think it is possible that Avant could definitely end the season as low as 5th on the depth chart. However, here are the reasons that I do not think it would be wise to cut Avant anytime soon.
To start, I must defend what I assume to be the point of most contention mentioned above. I think that, although he will certainly not begin the season so low, there is a CHANCE that Avant ends up 5th on the WR depth chart. This is of course assuming that at least some of his production to date has been due the Eagles' two outside receivers taking the tops off the defense. The two players which I could see beating him out , if not nominally then at least in terms of production, are:
Mr. McNutt is, essentially, a bigger Jason Avant. To show what I mean...
What to take from this video:
-McNutt's route running is already quite precise
-While there are a few drops in this video, there are also quite a few spectacular grabs. If he can cut down on his drops, I think he could rival Avant in this category.
-Watch 2:08 to see what I mean about his ability to play underneath routes while Maclin and Jackson draw safeties. Picture that play without the safety dropping down.
Before everyone Na Brown's me, I want to defend myself. To do so...
What to take from this video:
-Akpla is an athlete. Although I highly doubt he will get the blown coverages and general lower-tier talent that is apparent in this video, I do think he will be able to exploit underneath matchups in the NFL. Look at 3:20; THAT is what we need from our slot receiver. I think that the situation he is put in (Maclin/Jackson on the outside) will fit perfectly with his skill set.
-To see what I mean about his fit with our current outside talents, picture 4:20 without the safety help
So now that I have attempted to defend my wild assertions, let's talk about why Avant should not be cut this year or next year no matter what production these two WRs achieve. (I would even hesitate about the third year; however, I hate to make crystal ball arguments)
-I am not high on anyone behind him
Riley Cooper has McNutt's measurables, but that is about it. If McNutt plays to the extent that I anticipate, he will essentially make Cooper irrelevant.
Same goes for Chad Hall vs. Akpla
-Salary cap hit will be around 2.8 in '12, 2.1 in '13
While not a disaster, it is certainly enough to be relevant if added to all other factors.
And most importantly...
-THE QUINTIN MIKELL FACTOR
Let's rewind a few years back, to the summer of 2010. The Eagles had just lost another first-round playoff game, and were looking at another defense crippled by talent holes at a key skill position. While in 2009 it was FS, in 2010 it was CB. The Eagles attempted an almost unprecedented overhaul, of which I will not bore you with the details. By the end, tremendously skilled players were added at almost every position that even remotely needed an upgrade, save one. SS. Mr. Quintin Mikell. Mikell was let go for many of the same reasons that we are now questioning the value of Avant; getting older, frugality concerns, and a sentiment that the player was upgradeable in some way. Mikell was allowed to leave for the Rams, and a talented yet raw rookie was brought in to replace him. The natural progression of a 2nd year player as well as a (perceived) smart FA signing was thought to be adequate backup.
However, what the FO forget to consider was that all these new additions would need a unifying force; a well-respected veteran presence in the locker room. While the DL was anchored by such a presence (T.Cole), the defensive backs all year never seemed to be unified. Communication on the back end of the defense seemed to break down at times, and head-scratching (read: infuriating) defensive play often gifted teams winnable games.
And so, we come full circle to Avant. If life for the Eagles turns out the way I have envisioned, the Eagles will have some new additions to an already volatile WR corps, thanks to DeSean drama last year. The team will need a unifying force to keep everyone on the same page. The FO made the mistake of underestimating the value of this player last year; one would hope that they would learn from their mistakes and not do so again.