If you followed the final days of DeSean Jackson with the Eagles closely enough—and being a sports fan in the Philadelphia area right now, it would have been impossible not to—his release on Friday should have come as no surprise.
The reasons why certainly are.
Jackson was cut loose after weeks of speculation, rumor and unending debate about his on-field contributions and how they would mesh moving forward in the second year of Chip Kelly's tenure. On field. Read that right.
There were hours upon hours of debate about whether Jackson—a 1,300-yard receiver last season—was the best fit for Kelly's system. When Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin were re-signed, the talk was almost all about Jackson.
When Darren Sproles was brought in from the New Orleans Saints, the talk was certainly about Jackson.
Jackson had over 100 yards just twice after Foles took over the starting job, catching more than five passes once in the second half of the season. Jackson caught more than five passes in five of the first eight games, only one of which was started by Foles.
So for months there was talk that the Eagles were thinking of trading Jackson. Nobody thought they would actually cut him, no matter how loud the rumors got. Finally, after weeks of staying silent, the Eagles started coming out with loose denials and "we like DeSean" reactions, specifically from Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman, seemingly in an effort to quell the stories about Jackson going to the Jets to reunite with Vick or going back to the Bay Area where he went to college in a trade.
It seemed evident that Jackson was going to stay an Eagle, for now. Until it wasn't.
According to Les Bowen of The Philadelphia Inquirer, "A source close to Jackson said Kelly told his star wideout 'don't worry about anything and keep working hard and be ready for camp.'" Jackson put up a since-removed photo of Kelly on social media with the text, "Good to Talk to BIg Chip today !! Say or hear what ya want !! The Picture speaks for itself !! Winner BirdGaNg !!"
Everything seemed fine.
A day later, Jackson put out an image with the wording, "Most of the reports that come out are hilarious!! If you listen to half of them youll be fooled !! TheMedia LOL"
Most of the reports, eh? Not all?
No. Not all of the reports are hilarious. The report that was released on Friday from NJ.com by Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez with the headline "DeSean Jackson's gang connections troubling to Eagles" was not hilarious at all. From the NJ.com story:
[S]ources close to Jackson and within the Eagles' organization say, it originally was Jackson's off-field behavior that concerned the front office. A bad attitude, an inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings and a lack of chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly were the original reasons for his fall from grace, 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.
Then, suddenly, the Eagles had even more serious concerns when they were revealed by NJ.com — Jackson's continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010.
Shortly after that story was published, the Eagles officially cut ties with Jackson. Several insiders indicated that the story was not the reason for his release, but the timing of his ouster was clearly hastened because of its publication.
In reality, it seems the Eagles had reportedly been planning on cutting Jackson for weeks, not just because of the on-field stuff everyone had been debating in the media and on sports talk radio, but in part because of these specific off-field troubles outlined in that report.
Kelly and the Eagles brass knew about all of this—and if you listen closely in the hours after his release, they knew a heck of a lot more—and wanted Jackson nowhere near the locker room in the second year of this rebuilding project.
#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
That's one of the most telling comments, per beat writer Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Eagles didn't want to deal Jackson without disclosing the reasons why they were looking to trade him. With the NFL still collectively struggling to recover from the aftereffects of the Aaron Hernandez situation, the Eagles had their own problem they couldn't just trade away.
Besides, the rest of the NFL isn't stupid. With his price tag, reputation and desire for a new contract, Jackson wasn't exactly a hot trade commodity. Add in this news, which includes a potential affiliation with noted gang members and the word "murder" showing up in news reports, and it's amazing that any team will go anywhere near Jackson right now.
And now up to 6 teams already calling on DeSean Jackson. And counting.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 28, 2014
Jackson put out a statement that expressly denied any untoward gang affiliation, saying in part, "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." (Jeff McLane, Philly.com)
If you can put aside the gang thing and the multiple murder investigations—which just sounds so ridiculous when talking about a professional football player in 2014—Jackson has had his own legal issues to deal with. According to the NJ.com report, Jackson was in trouble with the law back in 2009 after being pulled over for tinted windows, then arrested on marijuana possession before pleading guilty to disturbing the peace several months later.
According to Anthony Gargano of SportsRadio WIP in Philly, his sources told him today that Jackson was allegedly in possession of guns during that traffic stop. (For what it's worth, this hasn't been the only gun-related issue with Jackson, as his home was burglarized in January and more than $250,000 in cash and jewelry was taken in addition to his handgun.)
Obviously, an arrest from 2009 wasn't the reason Kelly wanted to part ways with Jackson, and to be fair, he is certainly not the only player to carry a weapon in his car. There is just much more to this story, and from what many of the in-the-know media in Philly keep saying (without saying), more is going to come out in the next few weeks. Gargano called these reports "just the tip of the iceberg."
However big the iceberg gets, it's already too large for Kelly to deal with. Put plainly, Jackson's friends were not welcomed members in Kelly's world, and if Jackson was going to be associated with them, he wasn't going to be with the Eagles anymore.
Andy Reid seemed to have less of an issue with Jackson's off-field situation when he was in charge of the Eagles—he did preside over a contract extension for Jackson in 2012 despite being well aware of his previous arrest and other off-field concerns—but according to Howard Eskin of WIP, who works for the Eagles as part of the team-branded radio network, Reid is not willing to take a chance on Jackson this time around.
"Absolutely not interested. And that's what he told the Eagles. That was about three weeks to a month ago," Eskin told Gargano and Rob Ellis on WIP on Friday. "Absolutely not. I can't believe that's going to change now. He knows about DeSean."
Now the rest of the league knows about DeSean, too. If many of them didn't already.
And yet, unless the rest of this impending iceberg lands Jackson in a small room similar to the one in which Hernandez currently resides, it's hard to imagine some team isn't in need of a wide receiver with Jackson's skill set and that he won't find work in the NFL again soon. Whether he should—and whether Roger Goodell will step in to decide if he can—will continue to be debated and remains to be seen.
This story will not end with Jackson's release from the Eagles. But his time in Philadelphia is definitely over.