D-Jax' release puts the focus on Foles

Posted: April 02, 2014

IT IS HARD to know what Chip Kelly thinks about his public reputation. He has done so little to cultivate the media that we are a fallow field at this point. We have become so used to the game and its accepted rules - coach comes in; coach whispers an occasional sweet nothing into a couple of ears; coach buys some degree of favor in anticipation of the next whisper, and on and on - that we do not know what to do. The nerve of the guy.

So when DeSean Jackson happens, we flail away. To squander an asset for no valid reason is stupid - and Chip Kelly might be a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them. So you search for the answer.

In the absence of more information, the gang stuff seems thin, at this point. If yelling at an assistant coach was a firing offense, the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be half its current size. If being a diva was a firing offense, nobody in the league would run three-wide receiver sets anymore because no roster would contain more than two. And besides - in regard to Jackson, none of this stuff is new.

The more you think about it, the more you have to believe Kelly concluded that the offense can do at least as well without Jackson for a lot less money - that a bigger receiver whom he drafts might not be able to match Jackson's speed but will make up for it against elite press coverage and in the red zone.

(So, it might just have been a money/utility calculation. Or, in other words, you can take the Joe Banner out of the organization but it is harder to take out the Joe Banner ideas, especially when he was always the smartest guy in the building.)

But back to Kelly's public reputation. Since nobody will ever tell us the whole truth, this will be about the optics in the coming months. If Jackson ends up in Washington, and ends up beating the Eagles in an important game, well, that all is obvious enough. Those stories will write themselves.

But it is likely to be more subtle than that because that is the way life usually is. With that, consider this thesis:

That the person most in charge of shaping Chip Kelly's public reputation is not Chip Kelly anymore - it is Nick Foles.

That is the reality after the release of Jackson. As long as there is not some ugly shoe about to drop concerning Jackson's off-field activities, and as long as he gets another job somewhere else in the NFL, how Foles performs without Jackson in the lineup will become the PR litmus.

The shorthand:

If Foles succeeds without Jackson, Kelly is a genius.

If Foles stumbles without Jackson, Kelly is a bum.

That isn't how things were a week ago. If Jackson were still on the roster and the season opened, the focus would be on Foles. After having a colossal first season as the Eagles' primary starter, everybody is waiting for the league to adjust. The 2014 season was to be about watching Foles adjust to those adjustments, and seeing whether he can remain as successful in his second season, and seeing whether he then can earn the big contract that will cement his position as the franchise's quarterback.

In that scenario, Kelly would have received a lot of credit if Foles succeeded - but if Foles failed, the blame would have been on Foles. People would call it a kind of sophomore starter's slump, or wonder about whether Foles had the "it" factor, whatever the hell that is. But the failure would have been completely the quarterback's - which might not be fair, but is the current NFL reality.

But not anymore. If Foles does not succeed in 2014, the blame will shift to Kelly - because he was the one who thought Jackson was replaceable; because he was the one who thought this was more about the design of the offense and less about talent of the players. It will not be seen as Foles' fault if things go badly - it will be Kelly's fault for firing DeSean and messing with a good thing.

Too simplistic? Almost certainly. But that is how it will play out now that DeSean Jackson has been sent away. In a world of broad strokes, Chip Kelly has just handed the paint brush to Nick Foles.

Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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