Imagine for a moment, a world without social media. It may be difficult, but really try. Imagine a world with no Twitter, no Instagram, and no Facebook. A world with no hashtags, retweets, likes, and shares. A world completely devoid of any on demand internet-information or celebrity and athlete gossip. Imagine you live in this world. Next, picture the head coach of your Philadelphia Eagles stepping to the podium to address the release of the player who led his wide receivers in touchdowns last season. He has no prepared statement, instead he just says, "He didn’t have a very good year. He had an opportunity. The No. 1 guy wasn’t here. He had an opportunity to make plays, and he didn’t run his routes with discipline, he short-armed balls, he has trouble with bump and run… He did some things, you know, you can’t live with."
This kind of openness and honesty is rarely seen from a head coach. However, even though these words could be spoken by Chip Kelly, even though they could apply to DeSean Jackson (Is Jeremy Maclina No. 1?), in actuality they don’t. In actuality, these words were spoken by Buddy Ryan after he released third year pro and future Hall of Famer Cris Carter.
It’s easy to compare DeSean Jackson’s release to Terrell Owens. It’s easy to say that Jackson is the next in a line of wide receiver divas: high-maintenance, me-first players looking to pad stats and maximize their next pay day. But it’s not the best comparison. The circumstances surrounding Terrell Owens’ release are much different than the circumstances surrounding Jackson’s.
Cris Carter is a more apt comparison. In 1989 Carter stepped into a prominent role in the offense after no. 1 wide receiver Mike Quick went down with an injury. Quick was injured in a way that only Mike Quick could get injured, victimized by the Vet Stadium turf. Racing down the sideline, he jumped for a ball thrown on a rope by Randall Cunningham, snagged it with one hand, tucked it and fell to the ground. Houston Oiler free safety Jeff Donaldson rolled over him, and Quick’s foot grabbed the turf. His leg went one way, his foot another, and after a snap, he left the game with a fractured fibula. He ended up missing 10 games.
In Quick’s absence, Carter responded well: 45 catches for 605 yards and 11 touchdowns. His high touchdown to reception ratio is what prompted Buddy’s more famous quip about Carter’s release, "All he does is score touchdowns." On Buddy Ryan’s team, it wasn’t enough to do one thing really well. But at the time, in a world with no available internet and social media, this was all we knew.
But just like Desean Jackson, Cris Carter had distractions that impacted the team. In 1989 he was sentenced to three years’ probation, fined $15,000, and ordered to perform 600 hours of community service after being found guilty for lying to a grand jury in the investigation of agents who were convicted of racketeering and mail fraud. The Judge said to Carter, "I’m not going to send you to jail. You can do something for society better than anyone else I know can do." But Carter was addicted to cocaine and ecstasy. He tested positive and was warned by Ryan to get clean or be gone. Carter tested positive again, and Ryan was true to his word. Carter was given chances to turn things around, to quell the concerns of his coach and team, just like Desean Jackson has. But in both cases, it might have been the NFL Draft that provided the ultimate impetus.
The 1990 NFL Draft was said to be loaded with wide receivers and the Eagles loaded up, drafting four, including Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams. Buddy Ryan said that the 1990 draft was the beginning of the end for Carter. Similarly, many agree that the 2014 draft is high in wide receiver talent, including players such as Sammy Watkins, Odel Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Brandon Cooks, and Allen Robinson. Given what is known about Jackson’s off field affiliations, and given what is not known, the talented wide receiver pool in this year’s draft may give Chip Kelly more of what Jackson can’t provide (size, blocking, team-first attitude, etc.). And it may have provided that little extra validation.
History has not looked fondly on the Eagles and Carter’s release. But Carter doesn’t see it that way. In his Hall of Fame speech, Carter credits Ryan with turning his life around:
"The Philadelphia Eagles’ organization, they took a chance on me. Buddy Ryan drafted me, and he tried to grow me up in the league. What Buddy Ryan did was the best thing that ever happened for me when he cut me and told me I couldn't play for his football team. But he told me a story. He told me the night before he went on and talked to his wife [Joanie], and he asked his wife what he should do. And his wife told him, ‘Don't cut Cris Carter. He's going to do something special with his life.’
"So Buddy Ryan and your lovely wife, I thank you. You're going into the Hall with me tonight."
History will determine whether Kelly and Howie Roseman made the right decision to release Jackson. But if history is any indication, both team and player will make out just fine. And DeSean Jackson will have the special career he would not have had otherwise.