Chip Kelly’s decision – and don’t be mistaken, this was
Kelly’s call – to release wide receiver DeSean Jackson ended weeks’ worth of
tension and debate among Philadelphia Eagles fans. What it started was a new
debate, one that will decide Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia.
For weeks, the Eagles were trying to trade Jackson, an
explosive playmaker whose off-field choices were starting to bleed into the
locker room. The final straw came on Friday, when Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com
posted a story detailing Jackson’s troubling links to members of a Los Angeles
street gang. Within an hour of that story hitting the website, the Eagles cut
Looking at this in purely football terms, Kelly could
rightly be accused of losing his mind. Jackson is fresh off the best season of
his six in the NFL, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.
Although the Eagles re-signed wideouts Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, and
added pass-catching threat Darren Sproles, Jackson remains more of a
game-changing threat than any of them.
Further, cutting Jackson leaves the Eagles with $6 million
in “dead” money against their salary cap, anathema to an organization that
prides itself on cap management.
So why did Kelly and the Eagles take this nearly
unprecedented step? Let’s look at three players: Cooper, Michael Vick and
Last summer, Kelly was confronted with the first major issue
of his rookie year as an NFL head coach. A video showing an allegedly
intoxicated Cooper using the N-word at a concert hit the Internet, threatening
the harmony of the locker room. The Eagles weathered that storm with a
combination of veteran leadership shown by Vick and receiver Jason Avant and
Cooper’s contrite apology.
Keeping Cooper and releasing Jackson seems contradictory.
But the opposite moves demonstrate a singular pattern with Kelly. Cooper kept
his mouth shut and his nose clean after last summer’s controversy.
Jackson, on the other hand, continued to flirt with
disaster. His squabbles with wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell, which boiled
over into a sidelines screaming match during last season’s loss to Minnesota,
would only get worse this year since the team cut Avant, who served as a
mediator between the two.
But couldn’t the Eagles put up with that? After all, they
signed the notorious Vick in 2009 after he was released from federal prison for
his role in a dogfighting ring. Couldn’t they manage a productive player who
gets a little mouthy with his position coach, something that happens every
Sunday in the NFL?
Vick rewrote his history as a player who relied on raw
ability and shunned the mental aspect of the game during his time with the
Eagles. For the first time in his career, he applied himself off the field,
stayed away from the elements that got him into trouble in the first place and
became a respected leader.
Jackson, on the other hand, has a history of missed meetings
and questions about his work ethic. He even was suspended for a 2011 game by
then-coach Andy Reid. Jackson sulked at times that season over his contract
situation, one that was resolved with a new deal before the 2012 season.
Although that contract had three more seasons to run, Jackson said after the
Eagles’ playoff loss in January that he thought he deserved a new deal.
In many ways, Jackson was repeating some of the diva
characteristics of Owens, who helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl in 2004
but ruined the team a year later with his selfish antics. Although that was
nearly a decade ago, Kelly certainly had to think of that lost season.
Kelly demands a loyalty and dedication from his players that
can be seen as extreme even by NFL standards. To meet the demands of his
fast-paced offense, which can leave the defense on the field for long
stretches, Kelly has his players drinking customized smoothies and tries to get
them to sleep 10 hours a night, fine for geriatrics but unusual for young men
with a dollar in their pockets and a thirst for social living.
Some of Jackson’s social choices – photos with gang members,
supposedly flashing the sign of the Crips gang, posting Instagram pictures of
himself at a gun range – were certainly questionable. In this age where a star
on a Super Bowl team (New England tight end Aaron Hernandez) faces murder
charges, NFL teams are on heightened alert about the social connection of their
But the Eagles certainly knew that Jackson, who grew up in
the gang-scarred city of Compton, just outside Los Angeles, ran with a rough
crowd. That’s why he slipped to the second round of the 2008 draft.
Shorr-Parks’ report should not have come as any surprise to the Eagles.
Cutting him within an hour of that story becoming public
gave the Eagles convenient cover. And it wouldn’t be surprising if more
unsavory news filters out.
But Chip Kelly cut DeSean Jackson for one simple reason – he
didn’t think Jackson would get with the program. Kelly obviously believes his
system is bigger than one player. For better or worse, we will find out.