DeSean Jackson’s controversial release from the Philadelphia Eagles is coming under investigation from the NFL Players Association.
According to Michael David Smith of NBC’s Pro Football Talk, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said that his organization plans to determine whether or not the Eagles smeared Jackson's name in the press prior to cutting him from the roster.
During an appearance on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show, Smith praised the beleaguered wide receiver’s character and said that Jackson’s release and treatment in the media is something the NFLPA will delve into, as per Smith:
We’ve been in touch with DeSean, and first and foremost he is a tremendous football player and great young man. On the issue of how he was released, whether or not there were comments or leaks from the team, misinformation to the media coming from the team, that’s something that we’re going to look at. We’ve always been aggressive about protecting the integrity of our players.
Smith pointed out that there is precedent for this situation, comparing it to the saga that quarterback Josh Freeman went through during and after his release from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Smith:
We went into a deep investigation that’s continuing about Josh Freeman, and the comments that we believe came from team management or the coaches, and that’s an investigation that’s ongoing and we’re going to aggressively pursue it. If we believe that someone at the team did something impermissible we’re going to be seeking significant discipline against those individuals. We look at that situation as similar to this one.
The Eagles had been attempting to trade Jackson since the beginning of March and were reportedly concerned about his off-field behavior, according to Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer:
#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
Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez of NJ.com penned a piece about Jackson’s alleged gang affiliations and reported that Jackson was skipping team-related meetings to hang out with his friends:
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
Philadelphia ultimately decided to cut ties with Jackson on March 28, explaining the decision in a terse, two-paragraph press release via the organization’s official website:
After careful consideration during this off-season, the Philadelphia Eagles have decided to part ways with DeSean Jackson. The team informed him of his release today.
Jackson, 27, was drafted by the Eagles in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He recorded 356 catches for 6,117 yards in his six seasons with the team.
The Eagles never explicitly mentioned the gang connections as a reason for releasing Jackson on the heels of his best NFL season to date. However, it appears quite clear that the reports of these affiliations and his release are not coincidental.
Many began refuting Jackson's gang affiliations almost immediately, with ESPN's Adam Schefter passing along a text he received from someone who knows the receiver well:
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
It is the NFLPA’s job to protect players in these situations and ensure that Jackson’s character and integrity was not tarnished by any actions of his former employer.
While Jackson may have taken a public relations hit, it did not take him long to catch on with a new franchise. The six-year veteran out of California signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Washington Redskins, one of Philadelphia’s NFC East rivals, on Tuesday evening.
Regardless, the NFLPA is wise to conduct this investigation. The union always must attempt to shield its players and ensure that teams are not damaging reputations via misinformation, leaks and other unscrupulous practices.
Should this investigation find the Eagles guilty of slandering Jackson, expect the NFL to come down hard on the club. The league office must not tolerate this sort of practice, and strict, swift punishment should be exacted on those who are caught engaging in it.
While Jackson has landed on his feet, this situation has a chance to set precedent around the NFL and could deter other organizations from attempting to defame players they wish to rid themselves of.