As long as the Washington Redskins are attempting to climb out of the NFC East basement, they will need a lot of luck. With wide receiver DeSean Jackson unexpectedly a free agent, they may have gotten some.
Amid reports criticizing Jackson’s off-field behavior and connecting him with reputed Los Angeles street gang members, the spectacularly productive Pro Bowler was released last week by the division rival Philadelphia Eagles and was scheduled to begin his visit Monday evening. Until Jackson signs a contract, the Redskins shouldn’t let him leave. Management must go all-in to add a superstar — who has no known history of gang involvement — in the prime of his career to a roster that has none. It’s as clear as the parking lots at FedEx Field before late-season games.
By signing Jackson, the Redskins should expect to improve their passing game in ways they never imagined possible. At 27, Jackson for years could provide the type of scare-the-defense deep threat the Redskins have lacked since Santana Moss worked under Joe Gibbs. A receiving corps that includes Jackson, Pierre Garçon, versatile newcomer Andre Roberts and pass-catching tight end Jordan Reed would give Coach Jay Gruden what anyone in his position wants: great options. And then there’s quarterback Robert Griffin III, who for months has strongly encouraged team officials to improve the talent around him. Acquiring an explosive playmaker would qualify as a major upgrade. For the Redskins, bringing in Jackson is a no-brainer — even with the recent questions about his character.
Eagles Coach Chip Kelly reportedly cut Jackson, a 2009 first-team all-pro selection as a punt returner, because he refused to get with Kelly’s program. Jackson missed team meetings and had an in-game shouting match with his position coach on the sideline last season. Despite having his best season — 82 catches, 1,332 yards (a 16.2-yard average) and nine touchdowns — the Eagles attempted to trade the six-year veteran but instead released him shortly after NJ.com posted a report that revealed Jackson’s ties to people reportedly affiliated with the Crips, a gang founded in Los Angeles in the late 1960s.
Jackson, born and reared in Los Angeles, released a statement saying he has never been a gang member. A detective with the Los Angeles Police Department told the Philadelphia Daily News that Jackson was not linked to gang activity in L.A. Jackson has never been charged with committing a violent crime. He has been actively involved with charities that promote literacy, among other things, and has spoken publicly about the problem of bullying.
However, Jackson also has made some boneheaded decisions on social media. He often appears to be pictured making the hand gesture associated with the Crips and poses for shots with reputed gang members. Not smart in the post-Aaron Hernandez NFL. Ever since the former New England Patriots standout tight end was indicted on a first-degree murder charge in July (he’s in prison awaiting trial), teams have been more diligent about scrutinizing the off-field relationships of players on their rosters.
Like many people from “the ’hood,” Jackson undoubtedly had acquaintances and friends who were involved in bad stuff. I know because we come from the same place. While growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, I lost buddies and classmates to the streets. When I went to college, I ended relationships with friends who moved deeper into a lifestyle I considered too dangerous.
Perhaps Jackson permits himself to be pictured with reputed gang members and flashes what appears to be a gang sign in an attempt to maintain a link with his past or simply to be considered cool. He wouldn’t be the first professional athlete to make that mistake. From now on, he’ll probably be wiser about whom he associates with and his use of Instagram and Twitter.
As for Jackson’s supposed lack of professionalism, the Redskins’ locker room is strong enough to help keep Jackson in line from a football standpoint, if that’s something that needs to be done. Behind the scenes, people within the organization say, Griffin and cornerback DeAngelo Hall are pushing for the team to make what would be its biggest roster move since four high-round picks were sent to the St. Louis Rams for the pick that was used on Griffin.
From the time he was in high school, Jackson has been considered a bit of a me-first guy. Few people who have dealt with him would dispute that he’s a tad self-absorbed. And you know what else he is? A potential game-changer for a franchise that has finished last in its division in five of the past six years.
If the Redskins were led by a savvy personnel man such as Seattle Seahawks General Manager John Schneider or San Francisco 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke — both of whom are former Redskins employees — they wouldn’t have to take risks on players with baggage such as Jackson. They would have a person at the top of the organization capable of finding those mid- and late-round draft gems that make mediocre teams good and good teams great. That’s not Bruce Allen.
With Jackson, the Redskins could transform their offense into the best in the league, accelerate their latest rebuilding project by years and become a playoff contender again only a season after finishing 3-13. That’s the kind of impact he could make — and that’s a risk worth taking.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.