Eagles release wide receiver Jason Avant

Posted: March 06, 2014

ASKED YESTERDAY whether he had anything he wanted to say to Eagles fans at the end of his 8-year tenure as the team's working-class hero, Jason Avant emailed this reply:

"I just want them to know that I played the game with them on my mind. Also that I will miss them and the city. I will always be a Philadelphia guy. I wish them the best. Hopefully, I showed them that being a good person supersedes being a good athlete."

Avant might have showed them a little bit more than that along the way, making the most amazing one-handed sideline catch many of us have ever seen in 2012 at Tampa, or concussing himself while throwing the block that sprang DeSean Jackson for the "walkoff" punt-return touchdown at the Giants in 2010. But among his stronger attributes is humility.

Others had plenty to say on his behalf yesterday, when the Birds' logjam at wide receiver combined with Avant's $3.96 million salary-cap number this season (and his pending $1 million roster bonus) to end the Eagles career of a man who stands 11th on the franchise's all-time list, with 297 catches, but who was one of the top handful of team leaders through some turbulent times.

Quarterback Michael Vick tweeted that Avant "has been a great player and an even better teammate over the years." Vick and Avant played key roles in bringing the locker room back together around Riley Cooper, following Cooper's video-captured use of the "N-word" at a Kenny Chesney concert last summer. It's a strange quirk of the game that Cooper will be part of the team this season, but Avant definitely will not and Vick is virtually certain to leave in free agency.

"There have not been any players who have represented the Philadelphia Eagles with more class and dignity than Jason Avant," team chairman Jeffrey Lurie's statement said. "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."

General manager Howie Roseman said: "There's no question that releasing a player like Jason is one of the toughest parts of the job. It's a tough day when you have to say goodbye to 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."

Coach Chip Kelly said: "In the year I spent with Jason, he was unbelievable in terms of his work ethic and his selfless nature. 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 arrived as a fourth-round rookie from Michigan in 2006, and his catch total went up every year until this past season, when Avant dropped from 2012's 53 catches for 648 yards to 38 for 447. Avant, a key third-down escape valve for Vick, seemed much less so for Nick Foles.

The Eagles have DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Cooper returning, and the upcoming draft is said to be especially deep at receiver. Roseman recently spoke elliptically about how it's hard to be an effective leader if you don't play a key role on the field. Eaglescap.com estimated the team would gain about $2.755 million in salary-cap room with the release, giving the Birds about $24 million under the new $133 million cap.

Avant, who turns 31 in April, has talked of having sold drugs as a 12-year-old in Chicago, a past he overcame with the help of a strong commitment to religion that started in college.

Teammates and reporters will remember him leading the parade to the JUGS machine after practice, sweat from his shaved head glistening as he worked tirelessly at his craft, pulling younger receivers along who might have preferred to hit the locker room.

Former Eagles defensive tackle Antonio Dixon once said Avant was "like the dad of the team."

Avant was quoted in the Eagles' postseason media guide this year on playing the slot: "You go over the middle, you're going to have to pay a tax. You can do business there, but you're going to get taxed. And that tax is getting hit. You get used to it."

Any thoughts of the Eagles putting together an offer for transition-tagged Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds disappeared yesterday, when Worilds signed the 1-year transition contract for $9.75 million. Now that he has signed, Worilds is off the market. Had he not signed, a team could have made an offer, subject to the Steelers' matching. They would have gotten no compensation had he left . . . Tight end James Casey's $3.985 million salary might put him in a similar situation to Jason Avant, but Casey is younger, at 29, and the upcoming draft isn't as deep at tight end as at wideout.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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