Eagles can't explain away Jackson move

Football logo on the roundball court: Volunteers at Prince Hall Elementary. The Birds helped build a play structure and will be putting in a turf field.
Football logo on the roundball court: Volunteers at Prince Hall Elementary. The Birds helped build a play structure and will be putting in a turf field. (COURTNEY MARABELLA / Staff)
Posted: April 30, 2014

So it was purely a football decision, the release of DeSean Jackson, Chip Kelly explained Monday, exactly a month after a similar explanation would have sounded hollow.

It still does, but at this point, or at least until some revelatory information about Jackson's sudden release surfaces, the only pertinent question to ask is: Was it the right decision?

That answer won't come immediately, and it may take years. But on paper, and even on the football field, it made the Eagles weaker.

But this was a long-term decision, Kelly's line in the sand. And while the coach, the owner, and the general manager agreed on the reason for his release, it's been clear for some time that Jackson at the least didn't fit in with Kelly's culture and vision for the future.

Kelly may have earned the power to run the Eagles as he sees fit after a 10-6, NFC East-winning first season, but he has not earned the benefit of the doubt, as owner Jeffrey Lurie said.

He has, however, earned the right to make bold decisions on offense, especially after his unit finished last season second in the league in yards and fourth in points with two very different quarterbacks.

And there is plenty of merit to the argument that Jackson's production can be replaced by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, running back Darren Sproles, and a yet-to-be-drafted receiver.

"We know where we're going," Kelly said, "and we understand the direction we're going in as an offensive team and we're excited about our future."

What was more problematic was the Eagles' lack of a coherent explanation for announcing the release of Jackson less than an hour after NJ.com posted a story detailing some of the receiver's connections to reputed gang members.

Kelly said the Eagles, upon returning from the NFL owners meetings without a trade partner, made the decision to release the 27-year-old Pro Bowl player. That was March 26, the same day they learned of the NJ.com story.

But they waited two days before announcing the decision and its coming on the heels of the story was clearly designed to soften the reaction from irate fans.

The Eagles issued a short statement then but offered no explanation. Kelly said Monday he didn't talk about receiver Jason Avant or safety Patrick Chung when they were released in March, so why would he with Jackson?

But the majority of fans understood those decisions, and in Chung's case, they were pleading for it.

There were differing opinions within the organization on how Jackson's release should have been handled, sources said. Some thought it would have been best to talk immediately rather than let it fester as it has.

On Monday, Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman said the Eagles did Jackson a favor cutting him at that time, allowing him to negotiate with 31 other teams.

But what they did, essentially, was allow him to negotiate with one team, since most of the other teams had already spent their money in free agency or were scared off by the hasty way the Eagles dropped him.

Jackson had done foolish things on the field, let his contract situation affect his play, missed meetings, and got into altercations with coaching assistants - and those were only the known incidents.

He still landed on his feet with the Redskins, signing a three-year contract for $24 million with $16 million guaranteed.

But then Jackson missed the first week of Redskins workouts. While the rest of his new teammates were getting to know new coach Jay Gruden, Jackson was on an island posting Instagram photos from his vacation.

Kelly, though, insisted that Jackson's off-field behavior had nothing to do with their parting.

Kelly shrugged off the decision as something that just happens to some star players in today's NFL, alluding to the Buccaneers, Bears, and Cowboys divorcing Darrelle Revis, Julius Peppers, and DeMarcus Ware. But those teams didn't have as much salary-cap space as the Eagles and those players aren't 27-years-olds seemingly in the prime of their careers.

Lurie said that Kelly looks beyond statistics and to playoff production. Jackson caught three passes for 53 yards in the playoff loss to New Orleans. In the final two regular-season games, Jackson was held to seven catches for 57 yards.

"People covered him," Kelly said of Jackson's decline. But in the team's 14th game, against the Vikings, Jackson caught 10 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. He also dogged it after Nick Foles threw an interception and got into a sideline argument with receivers coach Bob Bicknell.

Kelly can describe his decision as a football one because - as one of his assistants remarked on Monday - "Aren't all decisions in the NFL 'purely football' decisions?"

And the verdict on this one will be decided on the gridiron.


jmclane@phillynews.com

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