After weeks of uncertainty and reports that he was on the trading block, wide receiver DeSean Jackson was released by the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday.
The Eagles announced the move succinctly with a tweet.
After careful consideration this offseason, Eagles decide to part ways with DeSean Jackson. The team informed him of his release today.— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) March 28, 2014
Not long after Coach Chip Kelly called to tell him of his release, Jackson responded with an Instagram video and a tweet with the words “Steady GRind Mode God Got the Plan !! Not Me ..”
The move comes shortly after publication of an NJ.com story that details the team’s concerns about Jackson’s purported involvement with gangs. Jackson denied any such involvement, telling ESPN’s Adam Schefter in a statement Schefter posted on Facebook:
“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 [former Eagles] coach Andy Reed [sic] 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. I am proud of the accomplishments that I have made both on and off the field. I have worked tirelessly to give back to my community and have a positive impact on those in need. It is unfortunate that I now have to defend myself and my intentions. These reports are irresponsible and just not true . I look forward to working hard for my new team. God Bless.”
Until Friday’s NJ.com story, there were only whispers and wonder about why the team would want to release Jackson, a 27-year-old playmaker who was coming off his best season. Kelly did nothing to clear up the mystery, declining to give his player a vote of confidence earlier this week. “I like DeSean,” Kelly told reporters at the NFL’s annual meeting Wednesday. “DeSean did a nice job for us (last season). But we’re always going to do what’s best for the organization. I’ve talked to DeSean. We had a good conversation. He knows where we are, and I know where he is.”
The release comes at a time when the league is paying close attention to players’ off-the-field activities as Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots’ former tight end, awaits trial on a murder charge. Teams and the NFL use former law-enforcement officers and former FBI agents to keep tabs on players and NJ.com reporters Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez laid out the alleged problems with Jackson:
A bad attitude, an inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings and a lack of chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly are the reasons, 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.
Now the Eagles have even more serious concerns — Jackson’s continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010.
Ever since New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with first-degree murder last summer, NFL franchises have been reevaluating how closely they needed to watch their players away from the field. And what Eagles executives see in Jackson, a six-year veteran, is apparently a potential blight on the brand and a bad influence in the locker room.
As a source within the Eagles organization, who requested anonymity, put it: “They are concerned about having him around the younger players.”
Former Eagles teammates reacted quickly on Twitter, with Jason Kelce tweeting:
We just made an extremely unpopular decision, but I couldn’t be more excited and happy with where this organization is going!! #FlyEaglesFly— Jason Kelce (@Jkelce) March 28, 2014
Good luck with whatever team you end up with DeseanJackson10!— Jason Kelce (@Jkelce) March 28, 2014
You have to believe that Chip and the organization believe that D Jack was too much of a distraction to keep. But it’s tough to see him go!— Brian Westbrook (@36westbrook) March 28, 2014
Jeremy Maclin, at a charity event Thursday night, was asked if he wants Jackson back and he replied, “I want to win games,” Maclin replied (via Philly.com), “and obviously DeSean is a very talented player. So I want to win games.”
Andy Reid, Jackson’s former coach in Philly, had “nothing but good things to say about the kid” when he was asked about him Tuesday at the annual meeting. “I did draft him. I had a great relationship with him. When his father passed away, that was a hard thing for him to go through at a young age. They were best friends,” Reid said. “I’ve experienced life things with him, so I would tell you he was great for me when I was there.”
Reid, like everyone else, said he wasn’t sure why the Eagles wanted to part with him. “I don’t know what’s real and what’s not real. I haven’t looked into it either way. I’ve stayed away; I don’t really care about that, so I don’t know what’s real and what’s not real. I’m happy that he had a great year. I’m happy that Chip had a great year with him and that’s where it stops for me.”
This story will continue to play out, as teams consider whether to sign him. Already there’s a considerable market for him, with Schefter reporting that four teams had expressed interest in the moments after his release.