Two weeks ago, I wrote that Chip Kelly and the Eagles front office seemed to be dissatisfied with star wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s attitude, and it looked like they were shopping him around.
Less than three hours after my column was published, the Eagles released him outright. No trade, no compensatory pick. Just, “Good bye. It’s been real.” This was a bold, decisive step that — for better or worse — will define Chip’s term as the Eagles’ coach.
Less than an hour before that waiver, the Newark “New Jersey Star Ledger” had published an explosive story on its website, NJ.com, saying that DeSean had links to gang members, publicly threw gang signs, and was approached for interviews by Los Angeles Police Department detectives investigating two separate gang-related murders. The story also revealed a previously unknown 2009 arrest for marijuana possession and driving with tinted windows (Jackson plea-bargained down to disturbing the peace).
The NFL has been very sensitive to gang activities since Patriots’ star tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder, and people immediately began speculating that the Eagles had leaked this information to discredit DeSean on his way out the door. The timing was certainly very close, and the NJ.com story itself implied that the gang allegations were motivating the Eagles disaffection with their star WR.
Now that the dust has settled after an explosion of racially-charged controversy, it seems unlikely that the Eagles leaked anything. For one thing, the ‘Star Ledger’ came right out and said the team wasn’t the source of the gang accusations.
If you read the original story closely, it mentions an anonymous source within the Eagles’ organization, but that person only says, “They are concerned about having him around the younger players.” As we’ll see in a minute, they had a lot of non-gang reasons to be concerned.
Most FishDuck readers will remember how Chip Kelly handled troubled players at Oregon, and you know that it’s not his style (or the University’s) to leak damaging information about a player, even the ones who were dismissed from the team. On the contrary, they’re famously discreet.
At the same time, Kelly made it clear that no one was too big to be disciplined when he dismissed his starting quarterback (Jeremiah Masoli) and hyper-talented All-American sophmore CB (Cliff Harris) after each had multiple arrests of serious natures.
In fact, it’s not clear that the gang allegations had anything to do with the Eagles’ decision. Most of the “gang-related” incidents in the story were years old and known to the Eagles before they signed DeSean to a 5-year, $51 million contract in May, 2012. The only new information was Jackson publicly throwing gang signs, and those couldn’t have been more public.
Jackson threw one at Redskins’s CB DeAngelo Hall during the Eagles’ season opener on Monday Night Football last September; the others he helpfully posted to his Instagram account (along with a photo of him shooting a gun). TMZ.com ran a story about DeSean throwing gang signs back in early March, long before anyone thought the Eagles were unhappy with him.
So NJ.com didn’t exactly need a secret informant like Watergate scandal’s Deep Throat to uncover this story. They actually found an LAPD detective (Eric Crosson) willing to speak publicly, on the record.
Meanwhile, it turned out that the Eagles had been quietly trying to unload Jackson, not only this offseason, but last year too, starting around the time that Chip Kelly was hired — or possibly even earlier, after previous coach Andy Reid (and former team president Joe Banner) were fired. Reid had a kind of surrogate father/son relationship with DeSean; Jackson’s dad died of cancer in 2009, a time when Reid’s son Garrett was struggling with the drug addiction that killed him three years later. By all accounts, Jackson was difficult in the Andy years but respected his coach, who in turn protected him.
The front office, and Jackson’s teammates, did not share that bond. We have learned that right after the Eagles’ playoff loss — in which Saints CB Keenan Lewis shut down Jackson without safety help — Djax skipped his annual exit interview with the coach on the same day he told reporters he wanted more money.
This was a clear hint at another holdout like the one he pulled in 2011. No teammate spoke in Jackson’s defense after he was canned, either, other than half-hearted statements about how his offensive skills will be missed. Duh. That was never the issue.
After Washington signed Jackson as a free agent (at a 25% pay cut, but with more guaranteed money), several Eagles’ players had very nasty (anonymous) things to say about him to CBSPhilly. “You see little kids and how they cry and whine when they don’t get their way, that was D-Jax,” one said. He was described as disrespectful to Kelly, even cussing at him in front of the team; a guy who was happy if the team lost and he caught three touchdowns; and “a ‘me-guy’ with an attitude problem.”
DeSean arranged a fawning interview by Stephen A. Smith on ESPN to try to re-establish his good name. However, it didn’t go so well, despite careful choreography that included Jackson’s Urkel-glasses and Zen Buddhist demeanor. Smith focused almost exclusively on the gang red-herring and even those questions didn’t go great.
Does he associate with gang members? “Not if they are doing negative things,” Jackson said. “… I’m definitely aware and know certain gang members, but as far as me being affiliated and me being a gang member, never not have once been.” What about the alleged gang signs he flashed? “… if you see signs or if you see me in pictures with affiliated gang members or whatever the case may be, that sign I am throwing up is to connect me with me and my boys.” Uh …
Most likely, the gang stuff is phony posturing, DeSean trying to promote his “gangsta rap record label” (Seahawks CB Richard Sherman’s description, not mine). The bigger problem is his disruptive attitude on the team. Was he late for meetings, as teammates alleged? “For sure I have been late. I’m not going to lie about that.” (Kelly was famous at Oregon for his prompt and short meetings.)
In the end, according to DeSean, Kelly called him up and said the team was going to move forward without him, and that they thought it was best for everyone concerned. “I was sitting there waiting for a reason why,” Jackson said plaintively, and all I could think was “How cute! He’s never been fired before.”
Maybe this move will be best for all concerned. The Eagles won’t find one receiver to replace 1,300 yards and 82 receptions, but even before the draft they have already added Jeremy Maclin (back from injury, with career stats very similar to DeSean) and speedy Darren Sproles from the Saints, a “running back” who catches more passes than he runs with it. It may not be that hard to fill Jackson’s shoes; the Vegas over/under on yards for 2014 (according to Bovada) is 1,000.5 for DeSean, and 950 for Sproles alone.
There is no doubt that the Eagles will have a more cohesive and less selfish team with Jackson gone. The rest of the team has pretty solidly bought in to Chip’s sports science, humble blue collar culture and unconventional alignments. I’m confident that Chip is laying the groundwork for years of team success.
But DeSean will have two chances a year to get revenge on his old team, and if Chip’s spread offense can’t spread any more without Jackson’s deep threat, this may be seen as Chip’s fatal mistake. People will say his team-oriented approach is fine for college but doesn’t work with pro-caliber talents and egos.
To my eye, the real risk is Washington’s. Having given up three No. 1 draft picks for RGIII, they now desperately need that also-demanding franchise quarterback and DeSean to connect both on and off the field, despite a weak offensive line. Both of these big egos will be managed by first-year coach Jay Gruden and 27-year old first-year offensive coordinator Sean McVay. What could go wrong with that?
Because they have a new coach, the Redskins began their 2014 season this week with voluntary workouts, which had “near perfect” attendance. DeAngelo Hall, now DeSean’s best buddy, was at Disney World with his kids. While the other Redskins were working out together, DeSean was off at a private villa in some tropical paradise, posting luscious photos to Instagram with the hashtag “#private island.” Exactly.
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