Eagles coach Chip Kelly broke a month of public silence about DeSean Jackson on Monday by explaining that the move to release the Pro Bowl receiver was "purely a football decision." He said the timing of Jackson's release came from the inability to find a trade partner.
"We were going in a different direction at the wide receiver position," Kelly said as the team built a playground at Prince Hall Elementary School in North Philadelphia. "Has nothing to do with anything that was ever written in a newspaper article or any off-field behavior from him. DeSean was great the year I was with him."
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie backed his coach. "Chip and his people were incredibly clear that for us to get better we need to take a step back and reconfigure the wide receiver position," Lurie said. "And for Chip on offense, it just wasn't a good fit. It just was not a good fit with what he asks wide receivers to do."
Kelly said that Jackson "came to practice and did everything we asked him to do," denying that there was any discord with his former wide receiver. The coach attempted to dispel the notion that Jackson's off-field activity was the impetus for the decision to release him on March 28.
"I've never had one issue with DeSean," Kelly said. "I'll say that publicly. He never yelled at me, I never yelled at him on the practice field. I don't know where that came from."
Jackson, 27, is coming off the best season of his career with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Kelly said that even if releasing Jackson does not make sense to outsiders from a football perspective, it makes sense to the coach and the Eagles brass, "and that's the most important point."
Lurie mentioned postseason production as a factor. Jackson caught three passes for 53 yards and drew a 40-yard pass-interference penalty in the Eagles' postseason loss, although his production came after Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis left in the third quarter.
"Chip's not just going to base things on statistics, but how are you going to perform, how are you going to perform in the playoffs?" Lurie said.
When asked why Jackson was released less than an hour after an NJ.com report that linked Jackson to reputed gang members, Kelly said the timing was based on the team's arrival from the league meetings without a trade offer. With no trade possible, they reasoned that it was better for Jackson to allow him to negotiate with 31 other teams after his release, he said.
The Eagles remained silent about Jackson's dismissal during the last month, which fueled speculation that there were deeper issues between the team and the star player. Kelly's explanation for the Eagles' public silence has been what he considers a consistent approach to releasing players.
"Did I have a press conference when we released Jason Avant or Patrick Chung? No," Kelly said. "That's just not the way I am. I'm not going to have a press conference when we release players from the organization."
The team said the decision to move on from Jackson was made at the end of the season. Lurie said with players who receive salaries of more than $10 million, a release is more common that a trade.
Kelly compared the Eagles' decision with the ones made by Chicago with Julius Peppers, Tampa Bay with Darrelle Revis, and Dallas with DeMarcus Ware. All three were cut in part because of their burdensome salaries.
But Kelly added that the decision to cut Jackson was not based on Jackson's salary, just "football" reasons. General manager Howie Roseman emphasized that decisions are made with long-term goals in mind.
The Eagles now must face Jackson in Washington. Lurie said to "check back in three years and see where we're at" regarding the Jackson decision.
"We know where we're going," Kelly said. "We understand the direction we're going as an offensive team, and we're excited about our future."