The most bizarre story of the 2014 offseason came to what seemed like it’s inevitable conclusion around noon Friday when the Philadelphia Eagles released DeSean Jackson.
Go ahead and read that sentence again, but really, really remember this when you get to the “inevitable conclusion” part: DeSean Jackson is a 27-year-old wide receiver just entering his prime, and he’s fresh off of a year with 82 receptions, 1,332 receiving yards, an average of 83.2 yards per game, and nine touchdowns. Three of those numbers are career highs, and the other one (the touchdowns) ties a career high.
Even better — or worse now? — he did all of that in a new offense under wizard Chip Kelly, one in which he connected seamlessly with quarterback Nick Foles as he stretched the field with his speed. Another career high: Jackson finished 2013 with 25 receptions for 20 yards or more.
And now he’s gone because of…reasons. A few of the likely ones:
1. He’s a self-entitled jerk who’s off-field behavior is difficult to manage, and he’s habitually requesting more money.
2. He’s paid plenty, and in the opinion of the Eagles, too much. He was due $10.5 million in 2014, and by cutting him Philly saves $6.5 million against the cap.
3. He’s (reportedly, allegedly) affiliated with gangs, and he’s therefore a slimy bag of filth.
Door No. 3 there is clearly troubling, and easily the most dominant motivation to make Jackson a former Eagle. He’s fast, explosive, and several other adjectives that describe everything Kelly surely desires in a young receiver. And it was just a matter of his malcontent personality (see: reason No. 1) being managed to keep that dynamic presence on the field, it would have happened. Randy Moss was tolerated in New England until his play fell off, and Terrell Owens was even entertained in Philly during winning times.
But a grumbling sour face in the locker room is on an entirely different and lower level when that same face is associated with others connected to homicides. While both behaviors were a problem, the latter is far more concerning, and it was reported just an hour before Jackson’s release by the Newark Star-Ledger.
Gang affliction has always been a serious matter in the NFL and, well, any walk of life where people seek meaningful employment. But the league’s guard was raised by Aaron Hernandez last year, the former Patriots tight end who awaits his trial on his alleged involvement with multiple murders. So being seen in pictures with a caption supporting a gang member jailed for murder isn’t exactly a good look for Jackson.
Neither is being interviewed by police in 2011 due to suspicions that Jackson may have knowledge of that gang member’s activities on the night of said murder. His name is Theron Shakir, and he was eventually acquitted of the murder after spending a year in jail awaiting his trail. Jackson was there to celebrate his release, because it was the least he could do for a friend who’s a core member of Jaccpot records, the wide receiver’s rap group.
Authorities stressed that no hard evidence of Jackson being involved in gang crimes has ever surfaced. But for the Eagles, his affiliation alone (which also includes his personal belongings being found at a 2012 murder scene) may have been enough, especially with the emergence of Riley Cooper and the improved health of Jeremy Maclin making him expendable. Or at the very least, the move was easier to justify.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, in a statement Jackson denied that his release is tied to any gang connections:
“First I would like to thank the Eagles organization, the Eagles fans and the city of Philadelphia for my time in Philly. I would also like to thank coach Andy Reed for bringing me in. Secondly, I would like to address the misleading and unfounded reports that my release has anything to do with any affiliation that has been speculated surrounding the company I keep off of the field. 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. I work very hard on and off the field and I am a good person with good values.”
The Eagles will never publicly admit that Jackson was cut because of his poor choice in off-field companionship, and in truth it may have been a combination of all three strikes above, with gang stupidity the final hammer. But don’t think for a second that as a free agent Jackson won’t have his suitors.
The NFL is a league where the job security of head coaches and general managers often rises and falls with the outcome of each game, making desperation a very real thing. That’s how production can easily trump idiocy, and it’s why the Panthers, Jets, Chiefs, and Raiders will be placing their DeSean Jackson calls soon.
At least four teams reached out to DeSean Jackson’s agent, Joel Segal, in first 30 minutes after he was relesaed. Talks ongoing.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 28, 2014
He’ll be employed somewhere at a lesser rate, and with more questions.