Eagles stunningly cut Jackson loose

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER DeSean Jackson warms up before the 2013 season opener against the Washington Redskins.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER DeSean Jackson warms up before the 2013 season opener against the Washington Redskins.
Posted: March 30, 2014

DID THE EAGLES act responsibly yesterday, in moving to protect their locker room, their brand, and the team-first culture coach Chip Kelly is trying to build? Or did they panic, reacting to innuendo and conjecture, needlessly weakening a team on the verge of serious Super Bowl contention?

We might not know the answer until the 2014 season is over. If that season ends with DeSean Jackson making his fourth Pro Bowl, in a new city, having engendered no further hint of off-the-field troubles, the conclusion will be that the Birds panicked.

If more revelations surface, in the wake of an NJ.com report alleging Jackson has "ties" to Crips gang members, and if Kelly's offense turns out to be just as productive without Jackson, the move will look prudent.

When the Eagles released their game-breaking receiver yesterday at 12:45 p.m., about 40 minutes after the NJ.com story was posted, there were plenty of hints that the team was in a hurry to dissociate itself from him, that it thought more revelations might be forthcoming. The team announced the move in a terse, one-paragraph statement:

"After careful consideration over this offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles have decided to part ways with DeSean Jackson. The team informed him of his release today."

Those 25 words ended a 4-week drama over Jackson's fate with the Eagles. The bottom line seemed to be that the team had been trying to trade Jackson - over concerns with his approach to his job and concerns with his associations, sources have said. The Eagles decided the NJ.com story ended any hope of the getting anything for him. Best to move on.

Of course, the timing of the release could not have been engineered to make Jackson look worse; it seemed to be a direct reaction to the breaking news about Jackson and the Crips, even if, as people close to the situation maintain, it wasn't that simple.

This, it turns out, was what Kelly meant Wednesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., when he said the Eagles would do "what's best for the organization." Wednesday turned out to be the day the Eagles are said to have been asked to respond to NJ.com's investigation. The move makes even more mysterious what Kelly and Jackson discussed Monday night, that apparently left Jackson thinking he was going to be an Eagle in 2014.

The organization declined yesterday to make team chairman Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman or Kelly available. But at some point, they will have to answer questions.

Among those is, why did the team allegedly not follow up with Los Angeles police Det. Eric Crosson, who told NJ.com he called the Eagles in 2011 about Jackson's association with Theron Shakir, a murder suspect in gang-related shooting? (Shakir later was tried and acquitted.)

And, how much did the team know about Jackson's alleged sketchy associations before it extended his contract for 5 years and $48 million in 2012?

Lots of people, including the Eagles, knew there were Instagram photos of Jackson flashing Crips signs long before the NJ.com story appeared. He is hardly the first celebrity to do this. The Daily News has asked Eagles officials about Jackson and gang signs in the past and gotten a noncommittal shrug. This matter got some attention when people noticed that Jackson's rap label was christened "Jaccpot" - the cc instead of ck spelling being Crips terminology - and Jackson released a rap video in which he appeared with Snoop Dogg, an alleged former Crip.

The NJ.com story does not allege Jackson has committed any gang-related crime; it details his association with Shakir and notes that a 2012 LA homicide took place outside a building "that was owned or leased by a member of Jackson's family." The Daily News has since learned it was rented by Jackson's sister.

It's an open question how seriously any of this would be taken if former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, rumored to have gang ties, wasn't awaiting trial on murder charges. Former Eagles receiver Donté Stallworth tweeted yesterday that "the situation surrounding Aaron Hernandez has changed things. If teams THINK you're affiliated, then you're already guilty."

Quite a few people, NFL players and otherwise, from South Los Angeles have "ties" to members of the Crips, a gang with an estimated 35,000 members. In fact, an LAPD official made that point, when contacted by the Daily News yesterday.

An NFL source who was involved in the Eagles' decision to draft Jackson 49th overall in 2008 - after he was projected to go much higher - said the team had concerns about Jackson's prima-donna tendencies being encouraged by his father, Bill Jackson, and assorted hangers-on. But the source said there was no evidence of any gang involvement then. (The NJ.com story said DeSean's associations started to change in the wake of the his father's death from pancreatic cancer in 2009.)

A friend of Jackson who said he was with the wideout yesterday said the player who caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards last season was "upset about being tied to gangs when he's not." The friend called Jackson "a great guy with a big heart who helps out too many people."

Jackson later released a statement that read:

"First I would like to thank the Eagles organization, the Eagles fans and the city of Philadelphia for my time in Philly. I would also like to thank coach Andy [Reid] for bringing me in.

"Secondly, I would like to address the misleading and unfounded reports that my release has anything to do with any affiliation that has been speculated surrounding the company I keep off of the field. I would like to make it very clear that I am not and never have been part of any gang. I am not a gang member and to speculate and assume that I am involved in such activity off the field is reckless and irresponsible.

"I work very hard on and off the field and I am a good person with good values. I am proud of the accomplishments that I have made both on and off the field. I have worked tirelessly to give back to my community and have a positive impact on those in need.

"It is unfortunate that I now have to defend myself and my intentions. These reports are irresponsible and just not true. I look forward to working hard for my new team. God Bless."

Several teams were said to have contacted Jackson's agent, Joel Segal, in the first hours after his release, including the Kansas City Chiefs, Reid's current team.

As the Eagles considered trading Jackson, it seemed odd how hard it was to find a current teammate who was at all upset by the notion of shedding No. 10, who stands fourth in receiving yards in franchise history, after only six seasons. That trend continued yesterday. Center Jason Kelce tweeted good-luck wishes to Jackson, but Kelce also tweeted: "We just made an extremely unpopular decision, but I couldn't be more excited and happy about where this organization is going."

It's been an open secret that, while Jackson wasn't disruptive in the locker room, he generally had little to do with his teammates, preferring to hang out with old friends from LA.

The Eagles absorb a $6 million salary-cap charge from cutting Jackson, but they gain space - he would have counted $12.75 million against this year's cap. There was no guaranteed money left in Jackson's deal (you have to wonder, in hindsight, about why the team might have set it up that way), so he will not get paid again until he signs elsewhere. Jackson has a $400,000 grievance pending from former agent Drew Rosenhaus, over what Rosenhaus said were unpaid loans.

The Eagles' loss of their passing game's most dynamic weapon, without compensation, would seem to ensure that they must take a wide receiver early in the May draft, despite their recent focus on always taking the best player available, regardless of position.

Daily News staff writer David Gambacorta contributed to this report.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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