He made the catch, somehow, no matter how contorted his body became. Jason Avant made the play when called upon. And then the image is of Avant dusting himself off, pointing upward to give thanks and then trotting back to the huddle. Thanks for the great moments, Jason.
In the ever-changing world of the NFL, tough decisions are made. Popular players who are leaders and who give everything they have know the business part of this league is always there, always present. So it was on Tuesday when the Eagles announced the release of Avant, an Eagle since 2006 who played in 116 games, caught 297 passes (11th-most in team history) for 3,636 yards (13th most in Eagles history) and made some of the most spectacular catches you've ever seen.
The fact is, though, that Avant's numbers dipped in 2013, all the way to 38 catches for 447 yards. The 38 receptions was Avant's lowest since the 2008 campaign, and with the increase in production from the tight ends and the recent signings of wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, it became a question as to where and how Avant would fit in the rotation.
As it turns out, Avant is now able to get a jump on finding another job prior to free agency opening on March 11. He is free to sign with any team before the market opens for free agency.
"In the year I spent with Jason, he was unbelievable in terms of his work ethic and his selfless nature," said head coach Chip Kelly. "He was a great teammate. We know he will have a chance to sign with another team and by releasing him now, he will have a full offseason to make the necessary adjustments. I had a chance to speak with him today and he handled himself like the true professional he is."
Avant goes down in this book as one of the Eagles to cherish. Not just for what he is as a football player – a fourth-round draft pick who has neither extraordinary speed nor unusual size, but who just played outstanding football for eight seasons here – but for what he is as a man. Avant emerged from a dark childhood rife with gangs, drugs and violence to devote his life to Jesus Christ. He lives the Word every day and exudes a goodness that lights up a room. There are few who have graced any Eagles locker room with the depth of goodness and devotion of Avant. Good luck to him in his NFL future and his future off the field.
In the meantime, the Eagles have set themselves up with good wide receiver depth. The Eagles have Maclin, Cooper, DeSean Jackson, Arrelious Benn, Joe Anderson, B.J. Cunningham, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy and Brad Smith on the current roster. That's 11 receivers for five or six positions, and the Eagles will certainly keep their eyes open for upgrades, as they do at every position.
Don't forget about the tight ends here. Kelly integrated his group of Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey last season into the passing game, and the talent here is obvious and growing. The tight ends, needless to say, are going to be very much involved in the offense again in 2014.
Who steps up and plays the slot? There is depth here, and the tight ends are versatile and have shown they can move around the formation. The Eagles like the receivers to have multiplicity in their games, and Kelly knows a whole lot better than anyone the pieces he has in place and what he ultimately wants. Depth at wide receiver is critical for an offense that wants to play at a fast pace and wear defenses down with variable personnel packages and fresh legs.
On this day, though, there is a twinge of sadness that the business of the NFL claimed one of the good guys. The images of Jason Avant, though, transcend the present. He put everyone on the line in his time with the Eagles, an effort that was appreciated and cherished by all who love the team.