ALL THE FACTORS and specific reasons behind the Eagles' abrupt release of DeSean Jackson last month may never fully come to light, but the team's leadership finally addressed the decision to let go of its three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.
Speaking for the first time since Jackson's release exactly a month earlier, Eagles coach Chip Kelly yesterday deemed the move "purely a football decision" and insisted any alleged off-the-field behavior by Jackson did not play a part.
"We were going in a different direction at the wide receiver position," Kelly said, almost 4 weeks after Jackson signed with the NFC East rival Washington Redskins. "We came back from the owners' meetings [in Orlando] and we had no takers from a trade standpoint, so we felt it was best at that point in time to release him and let him negotiate with 31 other teams."
Pressed on the rationale behind releasing a player coming off a career season in which Jackson caught 82 passes, amassed 1,332 receiving yards and scored nine touchdowns, Kelly said, "It adds up for us, and that's the most important point."
Cutting Jackson, Kelly said, had "nothing to do with anything that was ever written in a newspaper article or any off-field behavior from him." On March 28, less than an hour before the Eagles' announced the roster move, NJ.com published a story reporting the organization was worried by Jackson's alleged ties to Los Angeles gang members.
According to Kelly, the timing of the Eagles' announcement was determined by when he and other members of the front office returned from the owners' meetings. The second-year Eagles coach likened the organization's decision to those made by three other teams this offseason: the Buccaneers with Darrelle Revis, the Cowboys with DeMarcus Ware and the Bears with Julius Peppers.
"DeSean was great the year I was with him," said Kelly, who met with reporters during the Eagles' 18th annual playground building event, this year held at Prince Hall Elementary School in North Philly. "We wish him nothing but the best in terms of where he's gonna be, but it was just a decision that we made as a team that a lot of teams make at that point in time."
Kelly declined to say what the team sought in return for Jackson in a trade. The coach said he was not surprised no teams offered because Jackson has "a very expensive contract." Jackson, 27, was scheduled to earn $10.5 million this coming season.
"It's about building our football team going forward," general manager Howie Roseman said. "We've always talked about [building] not for just one year but building for the long haul. Every decision we make is not just for present day, but also building something and keeping it together."
Addressing reports that he and Jackson weren't on the same page, Kelly said he "never had one issue with DeSean." Neither did wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell, Kelly said.
So why wait so long to speak about the decision?
"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. I've never felt that way, and I'm never going to do it."
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said it was clear at season's end that Kelly wanted to approach the wide receiver position differently. Lurie reiterated that Jackson's release was "a football decision." Considering the ways Kelly likes to utilize his wide receivers, Lurie said, Jackson was not a fit in the offense.
"We knew [Jackson] wasn't going to be on the team," Lurie said. "We knew there was going to be no trade offer. And once that happened, we've never been afraid of teams in our division. We've got to do what's best for us. It remains to be seen exactly what happens in the future. We'll check back in 3 years and see where we're at."