Since being released by the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the week, DeSean Jackson's name has been tied to nearly every team in the NFL. In most cases, its wishful thinking posted by bloggers and beat reporters alike, trying to get their story out first on the off-chance their team signs the troubled wide receiver. In some cases, however, there's something behind the rumors.
In the case of the Cleveland Browns, it's most likely the former.
However, that's not to say there isn't some legitimacy to the "DJax to Brownstown" wishes. There's a handful of reasons why Jackson might make sense in Orange and Brown. Let's look at some of them:
Josh Gordon needs help.
Cleveland desperately needs another threat in their wide receiver corps. Josh Gordon, while being an athletic anomaly, can't do it all on his own. And with Greg Little across from Gordon, that's exactly what Gordon would have to be doing. Adding a viable receiving threat across from Gordon should certainly be on GM Ray Farmer's "To Do" List.
Whether Jackson could handle being the Robin to Gordon's Batman is certainly a point of concern. Jackson's ego may or may not be able to handle being second fiddle to anyone, especially if the losses start piling up.
However, the thought of a WR corps featuring Gordon and Jackson is enough to make any coach (and journalist's) mouth salivate.
Cleveland has the cap space.
The Browns entered this NFL offseason ranked 1st in cap space, with just over $40 million available. Cleveland, recognizing this surplus, made many moves in this Free Agency period, signing RB Ben Tate, SS Donte Whitner, WR Andrew Hawkins, LB Karlos Dansby, OG Paul McQuistan and TE Jim Dray, as well as transition tagging C Alex Mack. However, even with these acquisitions, the Browns still find themselves with more than enough cap space to bring in another solid veteran contract. Signing Jackson, coupled with a few cost-effective salary dumpings in the 2015 offseason, will leave the Browns with enough room to resign CB Joe Haden as well as the entirety of the defensive line.
It would be a move the former regimes wouldn't have made.
This may be the biggest driving factor in the whole decision in the minds of some fans. Extrapolating based off prior history, previous Cleveland regimes wouldn't have made this move. For years, Browns fans have been hearing the terms "high-quality players" and "locker room leaders" to describe the questionable FA acquisitions. Cleveland has been bargain-barrel shopping, scraping the bottom of the bin for talent that's either been previously unrecognized or completely washed up. To be fair, this has resulted in some solid finds, namely WR Josh Gordon, TE Jordan Cameron and FS Tashaun Gipson.
It still remains to be seen whether or not these guys go the way of Peyton Hillis or find sustained success in Cleveland.
DeSean Jackson certainly isn't a bargain barrel acquisition. He's a big name player with big time talent who also happens to come with a big time price tag, both in money and in risk. He's a player who previous regimes would rationalize not signing by saying "he's not worth the contract" or "the production doesn't match the price tag". These are certainly viable opinions, but they are just that - opinions. Granted, the opinions of Cleveland's higher-ups matter much more than the opinions of us lowly peons, but that still doesn't make them any less wrong.
Jackson's value to Cleveland might be measured in more than just statistics, however, especially if the Browns decide to go with a rookie QB early in the draft. Having not only one, but two, legitimate receiving threats for opposing defenses to respect can certainly help temper a rookie's learning curve.
As it is, defenses will have to respect the deep threat to whatever side of the field Gordon lines up on. Chances are, whoever QB's the Browns will see a lot of combo and double coverage to Gordon's side, which can open up the passing game for both the #2 and slot receivers.
Now, what if opposing defenses had to respect the deep ball on both sides of the field? It's certainly a thought worth contemplating.
Now, many fans will take offense to this, and for good reason. Jackson does bring with him some troubles, namely his current affiliation to gang members. Whether or not these affiliations are viable is immaterial, the fact that these allegations were brought about has proven to be more than enough to tarnish his reputation. To those that worry about the risk involved in signing Jackson, I propose this:
Jackson has been suspended half as many times as both Joe Haden and Josh Gordon.
Many will say that the aforementioned problems for the Browns can be filled by acquiring Clemson WR Sammy Watkins with Cleveland's #4 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. This is true. Watkins is thought to be a bigger and more talented version of DeSean Jackson. Watkins possesses the deep field presence as well as the shifty open-field moves that Cleveland is lacking at this juncture. The Browns would be well off taking Watkins at #4.
But what if they don't? What if Watkins is gone? What if the Browns FO have their sights set on one of the top ranked QB's? What then?
Acquiring a solid, proven, young NFL talent through FA means Cleveland can instead use one of their first round picks on another hole. Perhaps at QB. Or ILB. Or another corner to pair across from Joe Haden.
Building for the future doesn't mean you can forget about the present. That's something prior regimes failed to realize.