News broke Wednesday that NFL wide receiver DeSean Jackson has signed with the Washington Redskins. The Philadelphia Eagles had released Jackson on Friday, ending the tenure of one of the most productive receivers in Eagles history. Jackson wasn’t let go for on-the-field performance. Instead, the speculation is that he was sent packing for non-football reasons.
Regardless of the motivation behind the release, Jackson will be one of the better receivers since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to switch teams between seasons, at least according to receiving Approximate Value in the preceding year. Here is every wide receiver since 1970 who accumulated at least 10 receiving AV in a season and then switched teams:
The majority of these players were not as good in their new uniforms. This is going to be true of any subset of NFL players who were preselected on the basis of a great performance, of course, and Jackson is younger than the typical player in this group. But these players also faced a complication Jackson will come to know next season: playing in a new system with new teammates.
The average receiver on the above list was 28.5 years old and posted 11.5 receiving AV in the last year with his former team. The following season, these receivers averaged 7.1 receiving AV, for a decline of 4.4 AV.
As a control group, I also looked at wide receivers who had at least 10 receiving AV in a season and didn’t change teams. Their average age in the first year was 27.5, and they put up 11.8 receiving AV. The following season, they produced 9 receiving AV on average — a decline of only 2.8 AV.
There’s probably a selective sampling effect here — teams don’t tend to let these guys go for no reason — but it doesn’t matter, because Jackson fits that trend. Whatever the reason for leaving, it’s clear that good receivers who change addresses in the offseason see more of a regression than the typical pass-catcher coming off a strong season.
Although this is no guarantee that Jackson will disappoint in 2014, the history of similar receivers says he’s unlikely to build on last season’s Pro Bowl performance. This was going to be true whether the Eagles retained him or not, but the odds of a decline increased with the move.