One of the most underrated and intriguing roster battles of the offseason in Philadelphia could take place at the Wide Receiver position. While the highly publicized Quarterback battle will inevitably steal the show, a Quarterback is only as good as the weapons around him (just ask Sam Bradford). Unless you are the great Tom Brady and can win while throwing to the likes of Troy Brown and David Givens like the patriots teams of the past, you must have viable weapons in order to win in today’s NFL. With a stable of very talented options and only about 5-6 spots available Chip Kelly will certainly have some difficult decisions to make. With so many questions being asked about the type of offense Chip Kelly will run, the more pertinent question may be, "What weapons will he need to run his style of offense"?
It has become popular belief among much of the Philadelphia fan base that the "definites" to make the roster at the Wide Receiver position are Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant. While the concept of job security may be applicable to Jackson and Maclin, Jason Avant may have a tougher time making this team than most people think....
Jason Avant has become a fan favorite in Philadelphia since being drafted out of Michigan in the 4th round of the 2006 NFL draft, and with good reason. Avant has become one of the NFL’s most reliable slot receivers, and his 53 receptions in 2012 were a career high. When it comes to moving the chains few are better in the NFL, and his hands are some of the best in the business. Combine all of that with a hard working blue collar attitude and what’s not to love? So how could Jason Avant possibly be catching passes for any organization other than the Eagles in 2013? Let’s evaluate how and why this could happen:
1) Lack of Versatility and Athleticism - If there is one thing that the Wes Welker situation has taught us it’s this: There is a clear and distinct difference in the way teams evaluate outside Wide Receivers and slot Wide Receivers. Chip Kelly has made it abundantly clear that he values versatility and athleticism, and the Eagles 2013 draft class is a testament to this philosophy. Examples of this can be seen in Lane Johnson (LT, RT), Zach Ertz (TE/H-back), Benny Logan (DT, 3-4 DE), Joe Kruger (OLB, DE), etc. For all that Jason Avant does well, he has some pretty substantial physical limitations. Being only 6’0 tall and lacking elite speed or quickness it is not difficult to see why Jason Avant has been relegated to Slot duty his entire career. Avant is not a receiver who can move to the outside if needed, and in an offense that values creating mismatches and moving pieces around this could be a potential hindrance. The Eagles may be better served with an option that offers more versatility and explosiveness such as Arrelious Benn, who can play in the slot and also has experience as a number 2 receiver on the outside when he was with Tampa Bay. The Eagles also have Tight Ends James Casey and Zach Ertz who are both H-backs, or what is referred to as a "move tight end". Both players have the flexibility to line up in different positions including the slot. The interchangeability that these options offer open up the possibilities at the slot receiver position and gives the Eagles the flexibility to also move Desean Jackson around and create mismatches for him, similar to the way Chip Kelly used De’Anthony Thomas at Oregon.
2) He Does Not Put Up Points - In his 7 NFL seasons the highest number of touchdowns that Avant has scored in a season is 3, and he has a career total of 10 touchdowns. Let’s put that in perspective: Wes Welker, widely considered the NFL’s best slot receiver, has only 1 season with less than 3 touchdowns since becoming a full time starter with the Patriots in 2007. and has 38 TDs in the same time it has taken Avant to get 10. Don’t get me wrong - Comparing any slot receiver's numbers, or even most outside receiver's numbers for that matter, with the ridiculous statistics that Welker has put up is unfair considering he was playing with a future hall of famer in Tom Brady and is now with another in Peyton Manning. That being said the comparison effectively illustrates the fact that Avant, as good as he is, is not a point producer. Avant’s lack of measurables will always limit his Yards After the Catch, and his ability to get behind defenses which are key components to being a point producer in the NFL.
3) There Are Younger and Cheaper Options - The NFL is a business first and foremost and history tells us that teams will always be on the lookout for younger players who can do the job for less money. Not to beat a dead horse, but again Wes Welker is a perfect example. In the midst of a dispute involving a contract extension during the 2012 season the Patriots began to phase Wes Welker out of the offense early on and replace him with Julian Edelman. Did anyone seriously think the Patriots were counting on Edelman to be better or even as good as Welker? No way! It was all a power play to show that they can move on with younger and cheaper options. Avant’s cap hit for the 2013 season is $2,710,000, and that number goes up to $3,960,000 next season. That is a lot to pay to a limited slot receiver on the wrong side of 30. In comparison Avant’s possible replacement Arrelious Benn has a cap hit of $830,000 in 2013 and is an expiring contract. Not only can Benn be more of an explosive factor, but he can do it for approximately $2 million less this year and at age 24 he offers more long term upside. With Avant’s ability there should be a potential trade market for him to go to a team that needs a reliable yet unspectacular slot receiver and that would save the Eagles from eating $1,420,000 in dead money if they cut him. Even if they do decide to just part ways with Avant they certainly have the cap space to take the hit for one year.
I am in no way saying that Avant is a bad player. Far from it. He is a valuable piece that can be a contributor in the right role. That being said the Eagles are headed in a new direction are are looking to get younger and more explosive on offense - 2 words that do not at all define Jason Avant. Going into his 8th year we know the kind of player Avant is. He is not going to all of the wake up one day and become an explosive playmaker and at this point he will only decline with age, so those expecting that his production to skyrocket in Chip Kelly’s offense may be mistaken. I am a big Avant fan and I like what he has brought to the Eagles organization during his time in Philly, but with the new offensive system and philosophy it may be in the Eagle's best interest to take advantage of the talent and depth they have at the Wide Receiver position and allow Avant to continue his career elsewhere.