ORLANDO, Fla. – Chip Kelly has his own Silver Linings Playbook, and it does not depend on DeSean Jackson.
The Eagles coach was mobbed here Wednesday, drawing the largest media crowd of the two-day, breakfast-with-coaches event, and there was one topic everyone wanted him to address: the future of the favorite receiver of Robert De Niro's character in the 2012 film about a crazed Eagles fan and his blossoming relationship with another troubled soul.
Jackson didn't appear in the movie, and he didn't appear at the Ritz Carlton either. From what Kelly said, he's not terrified that Jackson won't appear in an Eagles uniform later this year. There have been trade rumors involving the speedy receiver, who asked for a new deal after the Eagles' playoff loss to New Orleans, and Kelly didn't go too far to dispel the drama. When asked Wednesday if he wanted Jackson on the team, Kelly said: "I like DeSean. DeSean did a really nice job for us, but we are always going to do what's best for the organization."
The non-committal comments continued from there.
"When we show up on April 21, I'm going to have my first team meeting and we'll go from there," Kelly said. "Who's in that room is entirely up to them at that point in time."
Jackson, who has three years left on his deal, is a star in the NFL, but the real star in Philadelphia is Kelly's offense. So far, that star has shined: Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy have grown into two of the league's most exciting players, leading Kelly's fast-paced attack into a playoff appearance in the coach's first NFL season. The Eagles added Darren Sproles during free agency, which will stretch defenses even more (both on the field and in their cardiovascular systems). Jackson, himself a master at stretching defenses, was expected to be a key part of that. So rumors of a disconnect between the Pro Bowl receiver and the team were surprising. The question followed: Don't the Eagles need Jackson?
"I don't think our offense has ever been predicated on one player," Kelly said flatly. "It's never been about one guy."
Kelly did call Jackson this week, though the coach didn't divulge what was discussed. It was reported that Jackson then contacted teammates to say he was staying in Philadelphia. Kelly wouldn't say much about the call.
"We've had a good conversation and we're always going to do what's best for the football team," Kelly said. "But I think he knows where we are. I know where he is, so I feel very comfortable about it. But my conversations with him aren't things I think I need to have a conversation with anybody else about."
The first question about someone other than Jackson was fairly revealing: a reporter asked about Mike Vick, who is now a Jet.
"He's probably not as fast as when he first came into the league," Kelly said. "But when he first came into the league, he was the fastest guy to ever play the position. A slower version of Michael is a lot faster than maybe every other quarterback in the league with the exception of one or two. So I think they're getting a proven veteran."
Kelly's manner picked up considerably from his other responses: he spoke more loudly, clearly, and emphatically. It was far from the clipped monotone he used in speaking of Jackson.
"I think how Michael handled that situation [last season] was unbelievable," the coach said. "I don't know if I would have handled it with the poise and grace that he handled it. He was great. He was great for Nick. He was great for our team. He was a true leader in terms of being selfless."
That kind of effusive (and deserved) praise raises a question for the upcoming season: Will the Eagles have a locker-room void? Vick was a steadying presence during a time of transition and upheaval. He calmed the waters when receiver Riley Cooper was exposed for his racial slur at an offseason concert. Wide receiver Jason Avant, who was released this offseason, was a similarly strong leader on the offense. So although the Eagles will have firepower with or without Jackson, it might be a different vibe in the locker room.
That could be a challenge for Kelly, whose strategic acumen is well-documented but whose leadership ability as a pro head coach is still being tested. An unhappy wideout with a big paycheck may add to that challenge.
Winning tends to build its own chemistry, though, and the NFC East looks like it's Philadelphia's to lose. So perhaps Kelly can get by without Vick, Avant and Jackson.
He certainly won't get by without a ton of questions.
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