Jason Avant, Receiver/Mentor, Returns to Philadelphia
Jason Avant spent his first eight seasons with the Eagles. The Panthers signed him this spring to help young players like Kelvin Benjamin.
The receiver who took over Steve Smith's locker this fall was never expected to replace the best player in Panthers' history.
During Jason Avant's first eight NFL seasons — all spent with the Eagles — the most receptions he had in a year was 53. Smith caught more than that during 10 of his 13 seasons in Carolina.
The most receiving yards Avant had in a year was 679. Smith has 711 yards in just nine games with the Ravens.
Avant has 13 receiving touchdowns in his career. Smith has 71.
The biggest reason the Panthers signed Avant was they hoped he could help with something Smith was never great at — mentoring the team's young receivers.
“I think having those types of minds in the locker room when you’re a rookie gives you an advantage," Kelvin Benjamin, this year's first-round draft pick said. "He knows pretty much every coverage. He’s seen all scenarios.”
Smith knows all that stuff, too, but patience with younger players was never his best virtue. Avant comes nowhere close to giving the Panthers as much on the field as Smith did, but he does act as a better teacher in the locker room.
"He's taught me a lot on the field, off the field. Small things like just keeping your body healthy," Benjamin said. "As a rookie, you don’t know much about taking care of your body for the long run."
One of the maintenance secrets Benjamin has picked up from Avant — acupuncture.
“I heard him talking about it, so I just started doing it,” Benjamin revealed.
Before he started handing out advice to young Panthers, the 31-year-old Avant helped quell a potentially toxic situation with the Eagles last year.
Receiver Riley Cooper, who was caught on video using a racial slur, nearly became a pariah in Philadelphia. But Avant was one of the veteran players who subdued the rising tension.
“I was there to say, ‘Look, we have to forgive him. When we’re around our friends, people say some stuff that’s not the most politically correct. If we had a camera looking at everybody, what would they see?’ Avant recalled this week. "Once I said that, guys began to back off a little bit and started to open up their heart for forgiveness."
The Eagles ended up winning the NFC East last year, but Avant was not a good fit for head coach Chip Kelly's up-tempo system. Plus, he was making too much money. So in March, the Eagles released Avant and saved $3.25 million toward their salary cap.
"It just didn't make sense for them financially to keep me to do some of the things I was doing," Avant admitted to Philadelphia media on a conference call this week. "I would have looked at it and said, 'Look, to catch bubble (screens) and to block, we can get a rookie to do that for a lesser price.' That's just a smart move.”
A month after he was cut, Avant landed on his feet in Carolina. His production has been limited, but that was to be expected. Through nine games, Avant has 20 receptions for 193 yards and a touchdown.
Now he faces what could be an emotional roller coaster. When the Panthers play the Eagles Monday night, he will be in an opposite locker room, coming out of a different tunnel, playing the team that employed him for nearly a decade.
“I know there’s going to be certain emotions that come out when you see some familiar faces, some old teammates," Avant said. "I’m going to try my best to focus on what I have to do at hand and try to stay focused and try to let that stuff come out after the game.”
Avant and Smith are different players and different people. Avant probably won't score two touchdowns against his former team like Smith did in Week 4. But it's also unlikely Avant will call a Philadelphia radio station sometime next week to vent about how his time with the Eagles ended.
"Every player wants to play in one city for their whole career, but I understood the business side of it," Avant said. "I'm happy they're doing well — I just hope they don't do well this week."