In a stunning personnel move, the Philadelphia Eagles released star wideout DeSean Jackson on Friday, giving up on arguably its most electrifying talent just hours after a published media report claimed the team was concerned over the player's ties to alleged gang members.
"After careful consideration this offseason, [the] Eagles decide to part ways with DeSean Jackson," the team announced in a statement. "The team informed him of his release [Friday]."
In 2013, under new coach Chip Kelly's innovative offense, Jackson put together his best season in the NFL. He produced 1,332 yard receiving, nine touchdowns and an impressive 60 first downs. He was named to his third Pro Bowl in his sixth NFL season, all with Philly. He was in the middle of a five-year, $48.5 million contract.
Jackson was part of trade speculation of late, however, and talk that he and Kelly were not getting along.
Jackson, in a statement, first thanked the Eagles, the team's fans and former coach Andy Reid (no mention of Kelly) and then denied any gang ties.
The statement read, in part:
"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."
NJ.com reported Jackson was questioned, but not charged, by Los Angeles police during an investigation of a 2010 murder that police determined was gang related. LAPD detectives also attempted to interview him over why some documents belonging to Jackson, including a car title, were found in conjunction with a 2012 murder.
The LAPD reiterated Friday that Jackson was never considered a suspect in either murder. The agency sought to speak to him for informational purposes in building a case.
Jackson grew up in Los Angeles and attended Poly High School in Long Beach. He played college ball at Cal in the Bay Area.
The Eagles have given no official reason for the release, but if it isn't over concerns of his connections back in L.A., then they should. If this is just a coach-player disagreement, then Jackson deserves to have his reputation as a person backed.
Otherwise, the outright cutting of such a high-level player – the Eagles get no compensation for him – so soon after an explosive media story will be seen as a ripple effect from the 2013 murder charges against former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. NFL teams looked into Hernandez's ties to gang members in his native Connecticut. However, until last summer's murder charge, there were no major legal problems to scare clubs away. Hernandez is currently in jail, awaiting trial. He has pled not guilty.
Fair or not, that's where the immediate speculation on Jackson landed.
This could also be the downside of young people's heavy usage of social media to chronicle all parts of their life. NJ.com published a number of Instagram photos of Jackson with Theron Shakir, a rapper who was charged with the murder of a 14-year-old, although later acquitted of all charges. A co-defendant was convicted and is serving 15 years to life. In another photo (below), the website believes Jackson was making a gang sign for the Crips.
What's real and what are just harmless photos is anyone's guess at this point. Such visuals and proof of a connection with someone charged in a gang murder likely wouldn't have existed – or certainly been public – a decade ago. That's modern life.
The reason for the release could be anything. Still, the timing is curious. Philly could've dumped him last month and potentially freed up cap space prior to the start of free agency. Or it could've continued to seek a trade partner in the run up to May's NFL draft. There was nothing notable about Friday on the NFL calendar.
Now he's just gone. The team, perhaps expecting such a move, did acquire Darren Sproles, a game-breaking running back, this month by shipping a fifth-round draft pick to New Orleans.
In the past, talent has almost always outweighed potential headaches in the NFL. If Jackson is connected with a street gang from his hometown, he certainly isn't the first to play pro football. Nor will he be the last.
Until players were getting arrested or their off-field behavior was affecting on-field performance, teams just pushed ahead.
Now the question is whether any other team will pick up Jackson, who can undoubtedly help them win football games.
ESPN reported that at least six teams have already spoken to his agent, Joel Segal. And in an intensely competitive sport, it seems impossible to think Jackson wouldn't hook on somewhere soon. He could be a game-breaking talent in any number of offenses.
Jackson's only arrest, according to NJ.com, came in 2009 when he was pulled over for illegally tinted windows and police found marijuana in the car. He pled guilty in 2010 for disturbing the peace as the marijuana charge was dropped. Otherwise he's done community outreach work and shown a passion for spreading an anti-bullying message.
So are a relatively clean slate and a world of ability enough to remain in the NFL? Or is the Eagles apparent eagerness to run far from their star player a sign of some kind of new day in the league?
Or is this just Chip Kelly willing to get rid of even a great player who isn't on the same page with him?
There are too many unanswered questions to know at this point. But out of nowhere, the Eagles just threw out an impressive offensive weapon. No explanation yet given, or perhaps ever coming.
If this isn't as nefarious as the speculation however, then the team owes it to Jackson to say so.