Holler: Hernandez era hurts Jackson

The NFL has had a long history of trends and eras, and the Aaron Hernandez era isn't something owners want to be affiliated with. Teams have put up with bad work ethic from stars in the past, but this time the added element of association with gang members appeared to be too much.

There are certain "eras" of the NFL that alter the landscape of the game. They aren't always obvious, but they're there if you know your history. They don't last in the long-term, but, in the short-term they can have a huge impact.

Unfortunately, it would appear that we are currently in the Aaron Hernandez Era in one respect. Hernandez, who could end up spending the rest of his life in jail, had a lot of screaming red flags attached to his elite talent. With the benefit of hindsight, Hernandez has ushered in an era that will, in the short-term, be the standard by which "sames and similars" will be judged,

DeSean Jackson is the first "person of interest" to be a victim of this current era.

Eras in the NFL aren't always positives. The resurgence of taking quarterbacks high in the draft and, if needed, giving up a franchise-building slew of draft picks (the RG3 Era is a new phenomenon that will likely be short-lived as well) was one marker. But it's a positive era.

Negative eras ruled the world in the mid-1990s and it had a long-term ripple effect.

The Warren Sapp Era started in 1995. Sapp was expected to go with the first pick in the draft. Tony Dungy, who coached Sapp for the majority of his career, told Viking Update at the time that, if he had a louder voice in the war room, he would like to see the team trade up from No. 11 to as high as it would take to draft Sapp.

The Vikings didn't trade up and Sapp was still there at No. 11. The Vikings passed and took defensive end Derrick Alexander. Tampa Bay took Sapp with the next pick.

Why did Sapp fall from No. 1 to No. 12, leaving Dungy disappointed? An internal league memo was sent out on draft day saying that Sapp had tested positive for marijuana at the Combine – at a level that couldn't be dismissed as casual second-hand contact.

Add to that the fact he played for The U (Miami) and the entire team was viewed by the NFL as a collection of questionable characters, it made sense in the era it happened – not so much with taking Alexander, but passing on Sapp made sense. Those who know the history of The U, they were Public Enemy No. 1 with the NFL police. The notorious Luther Campbell, the front man for the oft-banned rap group 2 Live Crew, was a fixture around the Hurricane football program while Sapp was a player and the NFL was leery of the unsavory affiliations and shockingly high residual cash flow.

The Sapp era lasted just one year. Once everyone saw what Sapp could do, the other 11 teams, including the Vikings, were kicking themselves. Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug. In NFL terms, quite the opposite. It was the first time a blue-chip draft pick was "outed" as being a player who knew the consequences of peeing in a cup at the Combine and couldn't stay away from weed.

As most of these eras are, the Sapp Era was short-lived. It not only got replaced. It got erased.

The Lawrence Phillips Era began in 1996. Who? That's the general consensus about that era, much like the ill-fated JaMarcus Russell era.

Phillips was a star running back at Nebraska and was a coveted draft pick in 1996 … except for one thing.

Phillips had a laundry list of off-field red flags that included a domestic abuse arrest in which he dragged his girlfriend out of a house and banged her head off a mailbox. It wasn't his first arrest. It wouldn't be his last. His transgressions was so horrific, some teams took him completely off their draft boards. Thanks, but no.

Eleven NFL franchises were willing to pass on Sapp. Tampa Bay had him fall into its lap and happily said, "Yes, please." But when Phillips was drafted sixth by the St. Louis Rams, compassionate head coach Dick Vermeil met Phillips outside the prison he was being released from for a good cry. He was going to get a second chance.

He got a third chance. A fourth chance. Some would argue even a fifth chance. When Phillips failed, a scouting system that, thanks to digital technology and the growth of the Internet, was exploding beyond comprehension, it was big. Thanks to technological advancements, a scouting staff could watch pretty much every college snap a player took to make a judgment.

The new component of drafting was the private detective.

Off-field questions became a front-burner concern. How did Randy Moss land to the Vikings in 1998? It was the era. Sapp got teams nervous. Phillips got teams terrified. Moss was angry most of his career because he felt monumentally disrespected – a chip that never left his shoulder. But, in his era, it was business as business was being run at the time.

The Eagles' decision to release wide receiver DeSean Jackson, according to anonymous insiders, is the first victim of the Hernandez Era.

The instant word that emanated as the result of Jackson's release was that the Eagles franchise was inwardly concerned about paying money to a guy with gang affiliations. If it was any other franchise, it might make sense. The Vikings got rid of Moss and Percy Harvin because the value of a wide receiver was different from that of a quarterback, running back or left tackle to an offense. You could lose a game-changer at wide receiver. It's happened too many times to be denied.

But these are the Eagles. They jumped on Michael Vick, who did prison time for dog fighting. They re-signed wide receiver Riley Cooper, despite video evidence of him dropping the N-bomb multiple times. This isn't the Vienna Boys Choir. These are the Raiders without the commitment to mediocrity.

But in the current climate of the Hernandez Era – and Jackson was being paid about $10 million a year for three more years – you cut and run.

Is Jackson a punk? The evidence says yes. The official reason given for his release was that he was often late to meetings and his effort in practice wasn't always at its best. However, in his first year in Chip Kelly's offense, he had the most productive season of his career. He got it done on the field. Yet, as things currently stand, he is branded by the company he apparently keeps.

Sadly, barring someone breaking the streak, we're currently still operating in the Hernandez Era. It may take another Randy Moss to break the current era.

It's hard to deny Jackson's big-play ability. It's also hard to deny that he is in his prime earning years at a time when he was released by the team that was only two years into his second contract.

The Hernandez Era may last longer than most. He set a bar nobody wants to replicate. Jackson may be the first victim of the current culture.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

Viking Update Top Stories