COMMENTARY | It's been a long road for inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson from second round pick in 2006 to defensive captain and heart and soul of the Cleveland Browns' locker room. For the better part of a decade he's been one of the few consistent bright spots in an otherwise gloomy chapter of Browns history.
Now 30 - he'll be 31 for most of the 2014 season - Jackson is wondering whether he'll see his biggest paycheck go unwritten. Jackson is due a roster bonus of over $4 million, and there is endless speculation trying to connect dots between president Joe Banner's reputation as a ruthless money manager and the likelihood that Jackson stays in Cleveland in 2014. The fact that the middle of the field was badly abused by opponents' passing games certainly didn't help Jackson's case, but a large part of that was his counterpart Craig Robertson's inability to stick with his assignments, getting torched in coverage multiple times each game.
The running game was a different story, however. Behind a newly effective defensive line, Jackson excelled as a run stopper, showing that his age hasn't reduced his ability to shut down even great running backs like Adrian Peterson. He shows great ability to read the offense and plug the holes that need to be filled, disrupting the running back's ability to cut upfield. Despite hitting the dreaded 30 mark in age, Jackson still shows the ability to play from sideline to sideline and is a playmaker in the open field.
The most talked about attribute of Jackson's, though, is his leadership and drive to succeed. He is highly respected by both players and coaches in the locker room, and is a fantastic leader on the field. He pushes himself and his teammates to be better, providing a voice that sometimes coaches simply can't.
With almost any other team, it would be shocking to see a player like Jackson released, but this front office has shown no qualms about making surprising moves. It's understandable that football is a business, but that cuts both ways. Just like in business, in football it's expected that loyal and productive players are treated with a respect that matches their merits; otherwise it's hard to attract such players to the team in the future. Cutting Jackson would likely send a message - accurate or not - that this front office cares more about the bottom line than creating a respected winning program. It's hard to imagine such a move encouraging pending free agents Alex Mack and T.J. Ward that this is a team worth re-signing with.
When it comes down to it, cutting D'Qwell Jackson creates one more hole in a roster that has enough as it is, particularly if Mack, Ward, or both are allowed to walk this offseason as well. With expansive cap space, the Browns can easily afford to retain Jackson and keep both Ward and Mack if they so choose, while still leaving room to sign all their draft picks and even dabble in free agency again this year.
D'Qwell Jackson has stuck by the Browns for his whole career, enduring devastating injuries and a miserable lack of team success. Despite that, he is still dedicated to helping this team become a winner. He is still solid on the field, and his influence and leadership off the field are immeasurable. Cutting a player like that over a roster bonus that, barring injury, he will absolutely earn is both bad football and bad business.
Ryan Hurley currently lives in Cincinnati and has been a fan of Cleveland sports for 23 years.
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