DeSean Jackson FAQ: What the Eagles Were Thinking and Where We Go From Here

On Friday afternoon, the Philadelphia Eagles announced the release of wide receiver DeSean Jackson with a terse two-sentence press release. Can a move simultaneously be totally expected and wildly surprising? There certainly didn’t seem to be much chatter around moving on from Jackson after the season ended, but rumors had been surrounding Jackson’s future with the team for weeks, with reports even suggesting that the team decided to move on from Jackson sometime in February. It’s a decision that raises a lot of questions, so let’s try to run through them all to make sense of why the Eagles cut Jackson and whether they were right to do so.

Why did the Eagles cut DeSean Jackson?

Damn, you just get straight to the hard questions, huh? No how’s vacation? Fine. There are three reasons why the Eagles might have cut Jackson, and I suspect each of them were to some extent involved in the decision. They each have their flaws, which makes it difficult to imagine that any one of them would serve as the sole reason for Philly making this move on that day. This has little to do with Jackson’s play on the field.

1. The Eagles didn’t want to pay Jackson. Jackson was entering the third year of a five-year, $48.5 million deal that was heavily back-loaded. The contract had a signing bonus of just $10 million and guaranteed him $15 million. He was set to count for $12.8 million on Philly’s 2014 cap. The Eagles do not lack for cap space, but by cutting Jackson, they do save $6.8 million this year and wipe off hits of $12 million and $10.5 million for 2015 and 2016, respectively.

So Jackson’s deal really ends up playing out as a two-year, $18 million contract. He had already publicly clamored for a new contract in January, so it’s not difficult to imagine that there might have been some push from Jackson’s camp behind the scenes to try to rip up his deal.

If the Eagles wanted to get rid of Jackson, why did they wait until the end of March, after teams had already spent most of their cap space in free agency? Jackson would have attracted more attention earlier this month, especially with a relatively low-ceiling crop of wideouts available in the market. Trading Jackson then would have also allowed the Eagles to set their budget accordingly and possibly make a move to defray his absence with a veteran.

2. Chip Kelly thought Jackson set a bad example for the young players on the roster. Reports suggest as much. You know all the speculatory adjective blanks here. Me-first. Diva. Selfish. When the writing’s on the wall, right or wrong, those are the words that come up.

Is that really new behavior from Jackson, though? Has he really acted any differently than he has in the past? That sort of attitude has been the book on Jackson for most of his career, and it didn’t stop the Eagles from re-signing him two years ago, nor did it stop him from making the Pro Bowl this past season. All those adjectives might very well be true, but I’m still waiting to hear a play-by-play guy shout, “The me-first diva hauls in the pass for a touchdown!” Jackson’s never been my favorite player, but he was good enough to overcome whatever personality flaws he had a year ago, which is why you didn’t hear anybody in Philadelphia complaining last season.

3. A report linked Jackson to off-field gang activity on Friday. The Eagles cut Jackson less than an hour after this report hit the Internet, so it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t, at the very least, some kind of factor.

Wait, DeSean Jackson’s in the Crips?

That appears to be the national takeaway/talking point, but the evidence is flimsy. Here are the arguments from that aforementioned piece:

• A “purported member of the Crips,” Theron Shakir, was charged with murder in Los Angeles for a crime that occurred in late 2010. Shakir was a rapper who recorded for Jackson’s label. Los Angeles police called Jackson in 2011 to interview him about the case and noted that Jackson was cooperative, and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office told that Jackson was neither a part of the case nor a witness. Jackson also had photos with Shakir on his Instagram taken before the trial and after Shakir’s eventual acquittal, photos he deleted after Friday’s story.

• Another “gang-related” killing took place in 2012 outside a business owned or leased by an unspecified member of Jackson’s family. Inside, the police found documents related to Jackson, including a gun permit and a car title. Los Angeles police attempted to contact Jackson, but were unable to reach him. An LAPD detective noted that Jackson was never considered a suspect in the case.

• The detective from those cases noted that Jackson has thrown up Crip gang signs while playing, most notably against Washington in September.

• Jackson’s choice of monicker possibly has Crip implications. The record label he founded is named Jaccpot Records and his Instagram handle is jaccpot10. As the article notes, “Crips avoid putting a ‘C’ next to a ‘K’ because in gangspeak, that stands for ‘Crip Killer.'” The detective asked Jackson about that, and Jackson reportedly told him that he chose to call his label Jaccpot Records because a domain for Jackpot Records was not available. There are also several previous and existing labels that go by the name of Jackpot Records, including the current Portland-based outfit that has re-released albums by the likes of Jandek. I just wanted to include Jandek in a story about DeSean Jackson, sorry.

• Upon investigating Jackson further, found that he had been arrested in 2009. The previously unreported incident saw Jackson stopped on a traffic violation before cops noticed that there was marijuana in the vehicle. Jackson was charged with possession and for having illegally tinted windows, charges that were dropped when Jackson pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace.

So that’s what has the national media conversation comparing Jackson to Aaron Hernandez? The Patriots waited to release Hernandez until after he had been arrested and then eventually charged with first-degree murder. Murder! The only crime Jackson’s been formally linked to is possession of marijuana. It helps when, say, writers write up Jackson’s house being robbed of $250,000 in cash, jewelry, and guns as a sign of “… his periodic unusual behavior.” (Note: police recently revised the amount stolen to $20,000.) All that this coverage uncovers, based on the evidence, is that Jackson is immature and is probably still a little too close with some bad apples from home.

And he’s hardly the first athlete to be linked to some level of affection for gangs; J.R. Smith shut down his Twitter after reporters started asking him why he was replacing the c’s in his tweets with k’s, and Paul Pierce was fined $25,000 by the NBA in 2008 for flashing what might have been a Piru Blood sign at Al Horford. Pierce and GM Danny Ainge claimed that Pierce’s signal was actually a hand signal indicating “blood, sweat, and tears.” Given that the NBA still fined him, maybe Ainge should have said that Pierce had some domain name troubles. I mean, I used to have a reference to Stone Temple Pilots in my AOL screen name in the mid-’90s and I’m sure I’ve thrown up the Roc a few hundred times, but I’m not in the Illuminati and I’m not about to go take out Chester Bennington, either, you know? Jackson, as you might expect, issued a statement denying any gang affiliation after the release.

Did the Eagles leak that story to help push through Jackson’s release?

That’s certainly not out of the question, especially given how quickly they acted after it came out. The whole timeline surrounding the release doesn’t make much sense. A March 5 report noted that Jackson was “one false step” away from being released, which general manager Howie Roseman responded to by jokingly asking what such a false step might entail.

Rumors continued to flare, but two weeks later, reports suggested that Kelly had called Jackson to let him know that he wasn’t being traded, and on March 25, Jackson apparently contacted teammates to tell them he was staying with the team. The next day, Kelly delivered a telling quote: “I like DeSean, but we are going to do what’s best for the team.” Two days later, the Eagles released Jackson without as much as a press conference or a quote from anybody involved with the organization, quite possibly to protect themselves against possible slander charges. Speaking of which, it’s surprising that the NFLPA hasn’t been more publicly aggressive in defending Jackson.

The Eagles might have been better off leaking positive reports about Jackson’s future (or just telling Jackson nice things to leak on their behalf) during that time to try to keep his trade value up — trade value that, to be fair, was always going to be difficult to create given Jackson’s salary. And once the gang report came out, there wasn’t going to be any trade.

Since everybody else gets to throw out barely founded speculation, let me throw this out, too: I believe that if DeSean Jackson were making $550,000 a year with the same attitude and if the same story about his possible gang ties came out, the Eagles would not have released him. If Jackson were immaculate in the locker room and had no such rumored affiliations, it would have been more difficult for the Eagles to justify cutting their best receiver, but they probably still would have ended up doing it anyway. The Eagles might know more about Jackson than they’re letting on, but my suspicion is that this is more about the money than it is about conduct. After all, this is the same organization that held on to Riley Cooper before re-signing him in February.

Will the Eagles miss Jackson?

Less than you’d think. One of the hallmarks of Chip Kelly’s system at Oregon was its effectiveness while swapping playmakers out of the lineup. Kelly started three different quarterbacks during his four years without skipping a beat. There’s no guarantee he can be as aggressive in changing his personnel at the professional level, of course, but he certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt after what he did with Nick Foles a year ago.

The return of Jeremy Maclin on a one-year deal (torn ACL last offseason) will help offset the absence, and it’s likely that the Eagles will draft a wide receiver, especially given this year’s draft class. There are 15 wide receivers among Scouts Inc.’s top 100 prospects, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Eagles use one of their first three picks (22, 54, or 86) to help replace Jackson. Given Kelly’s known affection for tall athletes, it would stand to reason that they might target Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin or Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief. They will probably pick too late to have a shot at Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, although they could try to trade up for him.

With that all said, there were times last year when Jackson was the only player who could seem to get himself open for the Eagles, especially when teams had success jamming Philly’s receivers at the line. Kelly definitely prefers to have bigger receivers who can get around that problem, but one quote of his stands out: “One-on-one coverage is a big deal for us … Anybody we are going to look at at wide receiver from the future here on is what is your ability to get open in single coverage.”

For whatever problems Jackson posed in the locker room and whatever size he lacks, he was the receiver the Eagles had last year who could beat one-on-one coverage and make plays. The offense helped get him open, but just like LeSean McCoy, Jackson made the most of his opportunities.

Who else does this affect?

That’s a very convenient question, rhetorical structure! As it turns out, Jackson’s release might very well hurt the market for some of those guys at the top of the wideout draft class. Teams who previously were considering Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans might now see Jackson on the market and wonder whether they’re better off taking a chance on him and using their pick somewhere else.

Take the Bills, who were rumored for a time on Friday to be interested in trading up for the first overall pick. There are not a lot of players who would make sense for Buffalo at no. 1, given that they already have an excellent pass rush (which would take Jadeveon Clowney out of the picture) and used a first-round pick on a quarterback last year (which would seemingly rule out the various quarterbacks on hand). It’s not unreasonable to imagine that they would consider Watkins, alongside Khalil Mack and Greg Robinson, with that first pick. Now, wouldn’t the Bills be better off targeting Jackson in free agency while using their draft pick on a franchise tackle or an all-purpose linebacker? Watkins isn’t going to fall far, and Evans is a drastically different sort of player from Jackson, but this could affect the plan for teams with holes in multiple positions, like Buffalo and Oakland.

What’s next for DeSean Jackson?

He’s going to play football for a lot of money for somebody else. Adam Schefter reported that nine teams had called Jackson’s agent shortly after his release. At this point, given that most of the free-agent money available has been handed out, he’s probably better off signing a one-year deal with a competitive team before attempting to sign a long-term contract next offseason, when the cap is expected to rise by another $10 million. A long-term deal would likely tie him to the Raiders, Bills, or Browns, which doesn’t seem especially appetizing.

Jackson’s first visit will be to D.C. on Monday, which doesn’t make a ton of sense. Washington has less than $7 million in cap space available and they’ve already signed Andre Roberts to a four-year, $16 million contract, so it’s hard to figure that they’ll also find the space to give Jackson a big deal. Then again, this is Daniel Snyder we’re talking about.

If Jackson leaves Washington without a contract, there aren’t many obvious landing spots left. Seattle has been a rumored destination, although I wonder if he might be too similar to Percy Harvin. Denver is probably out after signing Emmanuel Sanders. The Patriots aren’t likely to want to evoke comparisons between Jackson and Hernandez, even if Jackson’s speed would be a perfect fit for what they need. The Chiefs don’t have the cap space. The 49ers could probably carve out enough room to sign Jackson and use him enough as their third wideout to make it worth their while.

The ideal landing spot for Jackson, though, is one that hasn’t really been discussed yet. The Cincinnati Bengals have $27 million in cap space, a yawning hole at wideout across from star A.J. Green, and a quarterback whose future comes due this year. Marvin Lewis even has personal ties to the Jackson family, having grown up with Jackson’s mother and coached college ball in the same area where Jackson went to high school. Cincinnati also has plenty of experience acquiring players with distressed backgrounds and turning them into successes, notably with Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict. I don’t think that Jackson will end up in Cincinnati, but given the current climate? It’s the best fit for him right now.

Filed Under: NFL, Philadelphia Eagles, DeSean Jackson, Bill Barnwell

Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ billbarnwell