It will take more than a couple of pen strokes to replace Avant in the locker room and on the practice field. The 30-year-old Avant, who was released by the Eagles on Tuesday, was the go-to guy for younger players seeking personal advice, the organizer of team Bible studies and the standard-setter for doing extra work after practice.
“There have not been any players who have represented the Philadelphia Eagles with more class and dignity than Jason Avant,” Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement released by the team. “Whether it was in the locker room, on the playing field or in the community, he has always been a true professional, a role model and a winner every step of the way. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Jason and his wife Stacy and their two daughters nothing but the best as he continues his fine career.”
Coach Chip Kelly marveled after the snow-globe game against Detroit that Avant came to him on the sideline and asked not for more passes to be thrown his way, but for Kelly to run the ball toward Avant’s side.
“Jason is on the sideline asking me, 'Can we run the ball my way?'" Kelly said. "I don't know how many wide receivers in this league are asking to have the ball run their way, but I think that's kind of a testament to the team we have right now."
Avant was also the guy who took young receivers and tight ends over to the JUGS Gun after practice to work on catching passes. Rookie Zach Ertz worked with Avant during the season, and Ertz wound up getting some of the playing time that was going to Avant earlier in the season.
But Kelly has said many times that a big part of leadership is being productive on the field. Avant, who caught at least 50 passes in the previous three seasons, caught just 38 balls for 447 yards and two touchdowns in 2013.
Some of that is because Kelly asked Avant to block, but clearly the Eagles are excited about what Maclin, Cooper and DeSean Jackson can do in the same three-receiver sets Kelly used so often last season.
Avant’s release was an unfortunate part of the business side of football. He was due a $1 million roster bonus on March 15, and seemed to know he would not be getting it.
“This is a business as well,” Avant said back on Jan. 6. “There are contract issues. There are so many moving parts. You want everyone to come back, but it’s just not the truth. That’s just the National Football League. To Eagles fans: I’ve had a ball here, no matter what the outcome is.”
The outcome is known now. It was inevitable, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to like it.
“There’s no question that releasing a player like Jason is one of the toughest parts of the job,” GM Howie Roseman said in the team’s official statement. “It’s a tough day when you have to say goodbye to a player who you have so much respect for. I can’t thank him enough for the leadership, the big plays and the positive impression he made on so many of his teammates.”