Regardless of the specific words or actions that get a football player in trouble with his team, the ultimate decision regarding the player’s future often hinge on factors other than the bright line of right vs. wrong. As noted yesterday, football teams (and plenty of other sports teams) have for years employed a double standard when it comes to discipline. The better the player, the more likely the team will accept an apology and/or enable an excuse. The worse the player, the more likely he ends up being thrown overboard to set an example of things that can’t and won’t be tolerated.
For DeSean Jackson, whose idiotic at very best and deliberately anti-Semitic at worst social-media post has justifiably gotten him in hot water with the Eagles, the potential football impact of cutting him as a result of his behavior includes a potential financial impact. As Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on Tuesday, the decision on DeSean’s future ultimately could hinge on whether the Eagles can escape $4.8 million in guaranteed salary for 2020.
That’s not speculation or analysis from Schefter; someone with the Eagles undoubtedly told him that, if the Eagles can avoid owing him $4.8 million for 2020, they’ll be more likely to cut him in response to his actions.
The fact that Jackson hasn’t already been cut suggests that the Eagles aren’t confident that Jackson’s decision to post a highlighted passage of a supposed Hitler quote justifies wiping nearly $5 million in fully-guaranteed pay off the books. And for good reason. PFT has obtained the relevant language from Jackson’s contract that would extinguish the guaranteed salary, and the Eagles have far from a slam-dunk case to void the payment.
A suspension by the league or the team would cancel the guarantee, but a suspension for a social-media post unrelated to the league or the team would be hard to defend. At best, the broad and vague catch-all provision under the Personal Conduct Policy could apply. It encompasses behavior that “undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL personnel.” However, this is a league policy. The NFL’s statement on the issue made it clear that the team, not the league, will be handling the situation.
A suspension imposed by the Eagles for conduct detrimental to the team would be difficult to defend, given that the Eagles set a precedent in 2013 when not suspending receiver Riley Cooper, who was caught on camera using a racial slur.
Another portion of Jackson’s contract potentially applies, when it comes to possibly invalidating his guaranteed pay: “Player makes any public comment (including, but not limited to, any newspaper, magazine, television station, radio station, Internet, via social media) or takes action that Club reasonably determines, in its sole discretion, (i) breaches a material obligation of loyalty to Club and/or (ii) materially undermines the public’s respect for or is criticizing of Club, Player’s teammates, Club’s ownership, Club coaches, Club management, any of Club’s operations or policies, or the NFL.” But that’s a broad and arguably vague provision, and Jackson would argue (especially with $4.8 million hanging in the balance) that the conduct has no specific relevance to the team.
So it’s likely that the Eagles can’t shake free of the $4.8 million obligation to Jackson. Unless they can find someone to assume that payment along with another $1.4 million in base salary via trade, the Eagles best approach as a business proposition would be to find a way to move forward with Jackson on the roster.
That’s not an excuse or justification for what he did. The point is that these issues become complicated by other factors. If Jackson was an undrafted free agent at the bottom of the roster, he’d already be gone. Given his skills and his contract, for now it looks like he’s going to stay.