Is this about the Eagles' freeing themselves from the $12.75 million salary-cap hit attached to Jackson's contract this year? Is this about Jackson's waiting less than 48 hours after the Eagles' season ended to announce his belief that he deserved a new contract and more money? Is this about his tete-a-tete on the Metrodome sideline with wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell, or his always-interesting Twitter and Instagram accounts?
(New York Jets owner Woody Johnson admitted to reporters Sunday that his team had interest in acquiring Jackson - this, after Jackson posted a succession of photos that featured him with Michael Vick, who signed with the Jets on Friday. Subtle, guys. Very subtle.)
At the risk of ducking a juicy, gossipy column angle, I'd suggest that even if Jackson weren't weighed down by all of this baggage, the Eagles would still be trying to rid themselves of him - and they'd be right to. If nothing else, Chip Kelly looks ahead. He searches for trends, pays attention to them, tries to exploit them to his and his team's advantage. And Jackson, for all his skill and speed and accomplishments, doesn't fit where the NFL is going.
Here's why: the Seattle Seahawks.
Ahead of this year's Super Bowl, the Wall Street Journal published two stories that testified to the proactive nature of the Seahawks' success on defense. The first story pointed out that the Seahawks, as an integral facet of their defensive scheme, led the NFL in pass-interference penalties. The second noted that Seattle had four defensive backs who had been wide receivers earlier in their football careers - Richard Sherman among them. No other team had as many.
Taken together, the two articles laid bare the Seahawks' innovative approach in building their secondary: They sought out bigger cornerbacks and safeties who, because of their backgrounds as receivers, might cover better because they could understand and anticipate opponents' route combinations. More, these defensive backs could manhandle opposing receivers, in effect daring officials to call pass interference or defensive holding on every play and banking that the officials wouldn't. Ask Peyton Manning whether this approach worked.
On Feb. 20, less than three weeks after the Seahawks crushed Manning and the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was inside Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL combine, going gaga over this year's draft class of wide receivers. In retrospect, one needed only to listen to Roseman that day, then peruse the heights and weights of several wide receiver prospects, to know that the Eagles have been thinking about jettisoning the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Jackson for a while.
Clemson's Sammy Watkins: 6-1, 211 pounds.
Texas A&M's Mike Evans: 6-5, 231 pounds.
Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin: 6-5, 240 pounds.
Penn State's Allen Robinson: 6-2, 220 pounds.
If Jackson departs, the Eagles' smallest starting wide receiver or tight end would be Jeremy Maclin, who is 6-0 and 195 pounds. Riley Cooper is 6-3, 222. Zach Ertz is 6-5, 250. Brent Celek is 6-4, 255. The common thread is clear. Kelly will take his chances having wee little LeSean McCoy or Darren Sproles match up against a slower linebacker, but on the outside, it's different. On the outside, size matters.
Remember, too, the development of the Eagles' offense under Kelly. Once Nick Foles earned the starting quarterback job, the dimension that Vick - or any mobile quarterback, for that matter - might bring to the system was gone.
Foles can't break down a defense's coverage assignments by running the read-option or escaping a pass rush. His strengths lie in his ability to throw with accuracy and timing into tiny windows of space. It's no wonder, then, that Jackson's production fell off once Foles became the starter. Jackson may have been the NFL's most dangerous deep threat once Vick got outside the pocket, but with Foles as the Eagles' triggerman, he struggled more often to get open.
The traits that held Jackson back aren't changing, either. He's neither tall enough nor physical enough to counteract the Seahawks' strategy - a strategy that other teams are likely to copy - so it doesn't make much sense to devote so many resources, financial or otherwise, to him.
This isn't just about demanding a new contract or arguing with a coach or being a "distraction." This is about where the NFL is heading. Chip Kelly is trying to get there first, and when he does, DeSean Jackson will be somewhere else.