After six up-and-down seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, wide receiver DeSean Jackson will be taking his talents elsewhere. The team released the three-time Pro Bowl wideout on Friday, according to the Eagles' official Twitter feed:
After careful consideration this offseason, Eagles decide to part ways with DeSean Jackson. The team informed him of his release today.— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) March 28, 2014
Jackson released the following statement after being let go, via Adam Schefter of ESPN:
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 Reed 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
Jackson also posted a video of himself on Instragram training shortly after the decision was announced:
Jackson is coming off the best year of his NFL career, as he set or matched career highs in receptions (82), receiving yards (1,332) and receiving touchdowns (nine) in head coach Chip Kelly's high-octane offense.
Although Jackson seemed like a perfect fit in Kelly's system with his blazing speed and ability to make plays down the field, the Eagles clearly felt he was expendable. The money left on Jackson's deal likely played a big part in the release, per Albert Breer of NFL Network:
The Eagles will carry $6 million in dead money after releasing DeSean Jackson. Saves them $6.75 million in cap space for 2014.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 28, 2014
According to Derrick Gunn of CSNPhilly.com, the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots emerged as interested parties for a potential trade, with a third-round pick being the minimum asking price.
League source has told me eagles are listening to offers for desean jackson.. patriots and niners have inquired. #Eaglestalk— Derrick Gunn (@TheRealDGunnCSN) March 18, 2014
While that's a small price to pay on the surface, Jackson is set to make roughly $30 million over the next three years, per Gunn, so dropping him gives the Eagles much more salary-cap flexibility moving forward.
Despite Gunn's report, ESPN's Ed Werder reported that the Eagles were initially in a feeling-out phase when it came to shopping Jackson:
I'm told by two teams Eagles would likely target if DeSean Jackson traded say they haven't been contacted. Interested but no discussions yet— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) March 19, 2014
Ultimately, though, the team opted to simply cut ties.
Jackson was having trouble with the new regime in Philadelphia, and his connections to alleged gang activity in California had been a concern for the Eagles' management as well, according to a report from Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com:
Yet the Eagles' apparent interest in jettisoning Jackson likely has little to do with his performance on the field or a big-money contract that could squeeze the team's salary cap. Rather, sources close to Jackson and within the Eagles' organization say, it's Jackson's off-field behavior that concerns the front office. A bad attitude, an inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings and a lack of chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly are the reasons, sources told NJ.com. And when the Eagles looked more deeply into why Jackson was missing meetings, they found that his friends were becoming a more powerful—and negative—influence in his life.
Now the Eagles have even more serious concerns—Jackson's continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010.
Shorr-Parks added more details on Friday:
DeSean Jackson was cutting meetings to hang out with friends, a source confirmed. Relationship with Kelly was also a big concern. #Eagles— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) March 28, 2014
Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Enquirer did a nice job summing up the situation:
#Eagles have been shopping DeSean Jackson since March 1. Didn't feel appropriate dealing him to other teams not knowing full story.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) March 28, 2014
Schefter followed up with a statement from a longtime acquaintance of Jackson:
Text from person not financially connected to DJax: "Known DeSean since he was born. Over 25 years DeSean is NOT affiliated w any La gangs."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 28, 2014
Finally, Philadelphia Daily News reporter David Gambacorta reports that a LAPD detective said Jackson was not involved in gang violence:
"It's kind of like 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,' " LAPD Homicide Det. Chris Barling told the Daily News yesterday.
"When people grow up in neighborhoods where you have gang involvement, you don't have to look too far before you find a connection to a connection," he said.
"Now, how sinister that connection is, our position is that's for others to judge."
From a pure talent perspective, Jackson can match up with essentially any receiver in the league. His production with the Eagles was somewhat inconsistent due largely to turnover at the quarterback position, but there were also questions about his desire and work ethic.
Jackson seemed fully committed in 2013, though, and the results were spectacular. However, his volatile attitude had made some observers skeptical. Count Lou Musto of SNY among Jackson's critics:
If you're a team in need of an underperforming wideout with a big mouth and poor attitude, the Eagles are taking offers for DeSean Jackson.— Lou Musto (@LouisMusto) March 18, 2014
Regardless of Jackson's demeanor, the Eagles will definitely have to adjust their offense without him. Fortunately for Philly, the team has depth at wide receiver with both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin ready to step up.
Cooper became a go-to guy in Kelly's offense last year, while Maclin missed the entire season due to injury. Maclin is an X-factor in some respects, but he has the ability to be a top receiver, provided he returns to full health.
Kelly toyed with the media in reference to the pecking order among wide receivers on Philadelphia's roster, according to Zach Berman of Philly.com:
"(Jackson is) a priority at wide receiver before Maclin, behind Cooper, or is it Cooper before Maclin, or Maclin before Cooper?" Kelly said. "I'll check what you write and tell you how I feel about it."
What was the biggest factor in DeSean Jackson's release?
The absence of Jackson definitely shakes things up for the Eagles offensively, but it could very well be viewed as a great move down the line. If Philly uses the money saved to improve the defense over the next couple of years, it could become a championship-caliber team.
Eagles fans are going to follow Jackson's progress very closely; if the wide receiver produces in his new home and the wideouts still in Philly struggle, things could get tough for Kelly and his coaching staff.
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