As a star receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, the speedy DeSean Jackson made a career of creating separation from defenders.
Now, it’s the Eagles who have created separation, releasing him this week amid reports his off-field issues outweighed his considerable playmaking talent. As of Saturday evening, Jackson was a man without a team, although Oakland Raiders fans, for one, started a grass-roots Twitter campaign to woo him.
Just another twist in an unusually eventful and sometimes strange off-season, in which some of the NFL’s bigger names have relocated to new teams.
A look at 10 of the other notable developments in free agency:
Coach Bruce Arians and General Manager Steve Keim are continuing their refashioning of the Arizona Cardinals, who won eight of their final 10 games last season, including the only win by a visiting team at Seattle. They fortified their offensive line by grabbing former Oakland tackle Jared Veldheer, got another deep threat in receiver Ted Ginn, and became even more athletic in the defensive backfield by adding Antonio Cromartie to a secondary that already had Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. The NFC West is a much different place than it was a few years back, when Seattle won the division with a losing record.
Quarterbacks Michael Vick and Mark Sanchez will pass each other on I-95, with Vick going from Philadelphia to the New York Jets, and Sanchez from the Jets to the Eagles. That means former USC standouts Sanchez and Matt Barkley will be battling for the backup job behind Nick Foles. If there was any doubt about the overall confidence the Jets have in Geno Smith, their second-round pick and 16-game starter last season, the Vick signing clears that up. Their starting job is up for grabs.
One of the stranger stories of the off-season was the saga of St. Louis offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, who agreed to a five-year deal with Oakland, reportedly worth $42.5 million with $21 million guaranteed. But after failing his physical with the Raiders — there was speculation they flunked him after experiencing buyer’s remorse on the deal — he promptly returned to St. Louis and accepted a far more modest deal, reportedly averaging $6 million per year.
Two of the NFC North’s premier pass rushers changed teams, but both stayed in the division. Minnesota’s Jared Allen went to Chicago, filling the void left by Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, who’s headed to Green Bay. Allen, who has had some monster years, recorded a respectable 111/2 sacks last season and looked as if he might be headed to Seattle. Instead, he’ll bolster a Bears defensive front that had already added Lamarr Houston, Oakland’s best defensive lineman last season. The challenge for the prolific Peppers (118 1/2 career sacks) is making the switch to a 3-4 defense . . . at 3-4 years old.
Denver knows the Peyton Manning window won’t be open forever, so the Broncos are loading up for another Super Bowl run. They added former Dallas star DeMarcus Ware to their defensive line, and bumped up their secondary with cornerback Aqib Talib (New England) and safety T.J. Ward (Cleveland). Those moves will fortify a defense that was an Achilles’ heel last season. Manning won’t have receiver Eric Decker, who bolted to the Jets, but the Broncos got Emmanuel Sanders from Pittsburgh to help pick up the slack. A bonus: It originally looked as if Sanders was going to sign with AFC West rival Kansas City, so if he pans out . . .
Two years ago, New Orleans surrendered more yards than any defense in history. The Saints made a dramatic turnaround under new coordinator Rob Ryan last season, finishing with a No. 4 ranking. They went from allowing an average of 440.1 yards per game to 305.7. Their defensive upgrade continued this off-season with the addition of playmaking safety Jairus Byrd, a Buffalo star. The Saints now have rising star Kenny Vacarro and Byrd on the back end of their secondary, and consider what a couple of outstanding safeties meant to Seattle last season.
Vick and Sanchez aren’t the only quarterbacks who will be wearing unfamiliar jerseys this season. Several onetime starters are in new places. Brandon Weeden has gone from Cleveland to Dallas, where he’ll back up Tony Romo. Josh McCown, who played so well in the place of injured Jay Cutler last season, is heading from Chicago to Tampa Bay. In 2011, Jacksonville took Blaine Gabbert in the first round, 25 spots ahead of where San Francisco took Colin Kaepernick in the second. Now, Gabbert will play behind Kaepernick for the 49ers. And Matt Schaub heads from Houston to Oakland.
Silver and gray
No more salary-cap jail for the Raiders, who entered free agency with their wallet stuffed to wheel and deal. They didn’t fight to keep their best players on the offensive (Veldheer) and defensive (Houston) lines, though, and rolled the dice on three onetime standouts who could be past their prime: Schaub, defensive end Justin Tuck and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Tuck had 11 sacks last season, and Jones-Drew has been beset by injuries since leading the league in rushing in 2011. Schaub took a Jake Delhomme-like plunge last season, and urgently needs to whip a career U-turn.
One of the early off-season winners looks to be Tampa Bay, which did some serious bargain shopping and picked up cornerback Alterraun Verner (Tennessee), defensive end Michael Johnson (Cincinnati), center Evan Dietrich-Smith (Green Bay), defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (Seattle) and quarterback McCown. That’s an impressive collection of underrated talent. Darrelle Revis is gone, but if Verner can play as well as he played for the Titans, that won’t sting much.
Turning the corner
It’s out with the combustible Talib and in with the steadier Revis for New England, who replaced one standout cornerback with another. The Patriots also added former Seahawks corner Brandon Browner, who’s suspended for the first four games. They have yet to add much star power to quarterback Tom Brady’s supporting cast — they got receiver Brandon LaFell from Carolina — but they kept Julian Edelman, and Brady always seems to make the best of what he has.