When the Philadelphia Eagles announced the release of eight-year veteran wide receiver Jason Avant on Tuesday morning, it hardly came as a surprise. The re-signings of Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin all but confirmed Avant's eventual departure. A look at the cap space the Eagles saved by releasing Avant was another obvious tell.That didn't make the news of Avant's departure any less tough to see.
Avant was hardly a star in his time in Philadelphia; he was unspectacular, but very solid. He did all of the little things well, as they say: ran good routes, blocked with effort, played hard on special teams, and made spectacular "How The Heck Did He Catch That?!" catches from time to time. Avant was also known for his contributions off the field as a good locker room guy and veteran leader. Look no further than the official statements the Eagles made to show how appreciated Avant's presence was.
"There have not been any players who have represented the Philadelphia Eagles with more class and dignity than Jason Avant," said Eagles Chairman Jeffrey Lurie. "Whether it was in the locker room, on the playing field or in the community, he has always been a true professional, a role model and a winner every step of the way. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Jason and his wife Stacy, and their two daughters, nothing but the best as he continues his fine career."
Then again, leadership is a tricky matter to gauge. There's no question that everyone in the Eagles organization appreciated Avant's veteran presence. He led the team bible study. He took players under his wing and showed them the ropes, no matter if it was a big time talent such as Desean Jackson or merely an undrafted rookie free agent like Russell Shepard. He acted as a voice of reason during the Riley Cooper racial slur fallout.
The problem is that leadership comes to a point where it's not just about how much of a good guy the player is. Howie Roseman said it best in an interview at the NFL Combine two weeks ago: "Leadership comes by being able to be on field and play a great amount. [It's] hard to be a great leader [...] if you're not contributing." The harsh reality is that Avant was simply not producing on the field anymore. Consider these numbers:
Avant only caught 50% of the passes thrown his way in the slot, which ranked 32 out of 33 slot receivers. Avant was credited for 3 dropped passes. He just wasn't a reliable target. Avant was graded 89 out of 111 total receivers per PFF. His 2.3 yards-after-catch per reception ranked 103 out of the 111 receivers.
A few days ago, I wrote about the theme surrounding the Eagles' in-house moves that took place last week. The Eagles showed they are privy to take care of their own. The release of Avant may appear to send a mixed message in that regard, but I think it remains consistent with the philosophy. If you play well, you will be rewarded. If you don't meet the expected threshold, there won't be a problem in letting you go, despite how good of a guy you were to have around. The Avant release is a harsh but necessary reminder that business matters come first in the NFL. The Eagles feel they will better off with Avant, so he had to go. Saying goodbye isn't always easy, but in this case it was absolutely the right decision. Happy trails, #81.