On the surface, it looks ridiculous. The Philadelphia Eagles release a 27-year-old No. 1 wide receiver coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he had 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns. But let's remember that when Chip Kelly and his colleagues made the decision Friday to cut DeSean Jackson, they were below the surface with a view of the entire iceberg.
The point is that we don't know—and may never know—the full story. Only a few do, which is why it's impossible to come down too hard on any of the involved parties.
That'll change in the years to come. If indeed Kelly was the driving force behind the end of the Jackson era—which has been widely reported and was reiterated by Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer (h/t NFL Network) Friday—we'll eventually have an opportunity to establish whether Kelly was overreacting in autocratic fashion or if he's a genius who surgically removed a locker room disease before it had a chance to spread.
Kelly is taking a tremendous risk, which I suppose shouldn't be surprising considering his coaching strategy.
If the Eagles fail to contend in a big way in 2014 and Jackson succeeds on and off the field at his next stop, Kelly will have rolled snake eyes on the first major personnel-related gamble of his NFL coaching career.
And you know what they say about first impressions.
Only two years ago, before Kelly was in Philadelphia, general manager Howie Roseman gave Jackson a five-year, $48.5 million contract. And although questions have been asked for some time about the guy's locker room presence as well as his off-field antics, he generally managed to avoid legal trouble while delivering as the team's best receiver during the final five seasons of the Andy Reid era and the first season of Kelly's reign.
What changed? I mean, usually, dudes don't just suddenly establish gang ties in their mid- to late-20s. The only major difference between 2012 and 2014 is that Kelly is the coach, not Reid.
In a detailed report published only minutes before Jackson's release was announced by the team, NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez connected Jackson to a man who was charged with murder in relation to an incident that took place back in 2010. Court records also revealed that, in 2009, he was arrested for possession of marijuana while driving, disturbing the peace and operating a car with materials that obstruct or reduce a driver’s view. He later plead guilty to disturbing the peace as part of a plea deal that dropped the other charges.
All of that took place on Andy Reid's watch, not Kelly's.
But the whole time, Jackson was delivering on the field, earning that lucrative new contract in 2012. Rightly or wrongly, it's easier to look away when character problems aren't affecting on-field performances, which might explain why it even took Kelly a year to hit his breaking point, if even that's what happened.
Jackson was the victim of a home burglary in January, the circumstances of which have led to more questions than answers. Maybe the red flags became too prevalent.
Kelly must have felt that the bad Jackson brought to the locker room outweighed the good he brought to the field (with his big salary certainly helping to tip the scales toward the former). That's something we as fans have a hard time wrapping our heads around, but that highlights the difference between professional football and fantasy football.
There are clues that Kelly, Roseman and Co. made the right move, no matter how unpopular it is with fans. I've been surprised by how few of Jackson's teammates have come to his defense during this month-long saga. On Friday, center Jason Kelce came across as downright excited, while ESPN's Ed Werder noted that some teammates lauded the move.
And Jeremy Maclin, who has spent half a decade in the same receiving corps as Jackson, came across as indifferent when speaking with the media this week.
"Whatever happens in the organization happens in the organization," Maclin said, per Reuben Frank of CSN Philly. "This was a similar situation when the Eagles decided to part ways with T.O. That's just how the game goes sometimes."
It hasn't been completely one-sided—linebacker Mychal Kendricks had some nice things to say, via Marc Sessler of NFL.com—but when you consider how far teammates usually go to have each other's backs, it's another indication that something wasn't right with Jackson in that locker room.
But Kelly isn't in Eugene, Ore., anymore. He's no longer charged with having to mold student-athletes. This is a business and these are grown men. On paper, the Eagles are much better off with Jackson than without him. He has no pending legal issues that we know of, he denies being a gang member, per McLane, and he's coming off a healthy, productive season.
How much does character matter? What about locker room rapport? Kelly obviously believes those intangibles matter enough that he's willing to sacrifice an extremely valuable weapon on the field. That's daring for a guy who's only been on the job 15 months, but it's also commendably gutsy.
The Eagles going all-in on Maclin and Riley Cooper, both of whom were re-signed before the start of free agency. I do admire that audacity. They're betting that Kelly can make this work just fine with Maclin, Cooper and the newly acquired Darren Sproles, who has been the league's most prolific pass-catching running back the last three years.
Did the Eagles make the right move releasing DeSean Jackson?
Fans who have already decided this is a terrible move might not be considering that big picture or what's below that surface. Maybe the baggage is heavier than any of us realize. And even it it's not, it still says something that Philadelphia couldn't even find a trade partner willing to cave to Roseman's demands.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski thinks Jackson is "a toxic commodity" at this point. If that's the case, and if indeed Kelly can keep this offense rolling on all cylinders without him, then there's a chance this move is one day viewed as a stroke of genius.
But if Jackson puts up big numbers elsewhere and the Eagles continue to be stuck in a playoff victory drought that currently spans back to 2009, this is the type of move that could eventually cost Kelly his job.
There's no middle ground here. Middle ground would have been Kelly and Co. dealing with Jackson in-house, the way we assume Reid did. Now that Kelly and Roseman have acted, they'll eventually either be viewed as geniuses or as the fools who released one of the NFL's most dynamic players in the prime of his career.