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Eagles players still unsure why DeSean was let go

Mychal Kendricks still asks the question that few, if any, of his Eagles teammates have an answer to nearly six months after DeSean Jackson was released.

Redskins WR DeSean Jackson. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Redskins WR DeSean Jackson. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)Read more

Mychal Kendricks still asks the question that few, if any, of his Eagles teammates have an answer to nearly six months after DeSean Jackson was released.

"I didn't see it coming at all," Kendricks said last week. "It's really none of my business, but I still ask the same question a lot - 'Why? Why would that happen?' "

It's an open question in the sense that he has not asked the men, or specifically, the man who made the decision to cut a Pro Bowl wide receiver after the most productive season of his career. Kendricks said that he supported Chip Kelly and the organization.

But the linebacker, like each of the 21 other Eagles who were interviewed for this story, said that he believed something larger was behind Jackson's release than it being "purely a football decision," as Kelly said in April.

As for that greater meaning, Kendricks said he had no clue.

"I really didn't have one," he said. "At the end of the day, DeSean's a good player, a player that has a lot of capabilities."

The Eagles will likely get to see those abilities for the first time as an opponent on Sunday. Jackson has a shoulder injury, but a source close to the Redskins receiver said that he will do whatever it takes to face his former team and return to Lincoln Financial Field.

Since signing with Washington four days after he was waived, Jackson has said there will be additional incentive when the teams meet. He hasn't delved much into Kelly's reasoning, but according to Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who regularly speaks to Jackson, he still wonders why he was dumped.

All of Jackson's former teammates who were interviewed said they didn't see it coming when the season ended with a playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. Each one said he first heard about the possibility of Jackson's departure in media reports. Each one, even the receivers, who spent the most time with Jackson, said he was surprised when it finally happened.

"For someone that's so explosive and so dynamic, it was surprising to all of us," receiver Riley Cooper said. "We didn't know this was going to happen. . . . But Chip said that it was a football move. We all had to respect it and we all had to rally around and wish DeSean the absolute best."

But in trying to make sense of the decision, many of the players spoke of Kelly's culture change and the possibility that Jackson didn't buy in and didn't adjust to a new regime with new rules. But some, like linebacker DeMeco Ryans, said they hadn't thought much about it at all.

"I was indifferent about it even though we were losing a great player," Ryans said. "At the end of the day, it was done. It wasn't like, 'Oh, I'm upset,' or 'Oh, I'm happy.' We lost a good player, but the train keeps rolling.

"I don't think one player really makes or breaks a team. It just goes to show that it's all about the team collectively. If you play well collectively, everything will be fine."

Kelly had sacrificed one for the sake of the whole at Oregon. He initially seemed lenient when several of his players got in trouble with the law during his first offseason as head coach. But Kelly eventually ruled with an iron fist and even kicked the starting quarterback (Jeremiah Masoli), among others, off the team.

That 2010 Ducks team wound up undefeated in the regular season and narrowly lost to Auburn in the national championship game. Eagles rookie receiver Josh Huff wasn't yet in Eugene, Ore., but he saw a similar approach to discipline in his three seasons under Kelly.

"Just knowing Chip, I know that he has zero tolerance for anything," Huff said. "No matter what type of player you are for him, whether you're a star receiver or an X-factor, starting quarterback or anybody, he's going to make an example out of somebody, and unfortunately it had to be DeSean."

Cary Williams conceded that it just as easily could have been him. The Eagles cornerback said that he wasn't particularly close to Jackson but that they had an "understanding." When Williams and Cooper got into a fight at practice last September, it was Jackson who separated and calmed the cornerback down.

"I think we had an understanding because we're both - I'm going to be honest - hot heads to a degree," Williams said. "We're both split-second [people] because we're angry or because we're upset or we feel some particular type of way. We just go fly off the handle and it's not necessarily the most conducive way to help the environment."

Williams had a few other minor incidents. Kelly kicked him out of a scrimmage after he got into a tussle with a Patriots player in August 2013. But he's still here, he said, "because maybe I'm doing something right."

"We've got assessments every day. We've got a whole bunch of stuff that factor into whether you're buying into the organization," Williams said. "If you're not doing assessments every day. If you're not showing up on time every day. If you're not in meetings every day.

"I don't know if DeSean was or wasn't because I only see him in here and on the field on Sundays. But I do know he was a freaking great player."

Last season's receivers were an eclectic group. Jackson, quiet or moody, depending upon whom you ask, was the superstar. Cooper, under intense media glare after he was caught on video using a racial slur, was thrust into a starting spot after Jeremy Maclin's season-ending knee injury.

Jeff Maehl, a product of Kelly's Oregon program, was in his first season with the Eagles. Veteran Brad Smith was acquired in midseason. And Jason Avant, who has since described his own differences with Kelly over his role in the slot, was responsible for holding it together.

Cooper and Maehl, though, painted a picture of serenity.

"To be honest, DeSean was a great teammate," Maehl said. "He went out there and worked hard every day in practice. He had a couple moments in games where he might have got frustrated, but there's probably 10 to 20 to 30 receivers in this league that do the same thing on a weekly basis and no one knows about it."

The most notorious Jackson outburst came in last December's Vikings game. Avant, Cooper, Maehl, McCoy and quarterback Michael Vick all intervened at one point as he yelled at receivers coach Bob Bicknell. After the game, owner Jeffrey Lurie spoke with Jackson alone in one corner of the locker room.

The group of receivers is a younger one this year with Jackson and Avant being replaced by rookies Jordan Matthews and Huff. Matthews is the type of player who addresses his coaches as "Sir." Huff, who has apparently overcome a difficult childhood, knows what Kelly wants.

"I don't know DeSean Jackson," Huff said. "I don't know what type of person he is, but Chip doesn't like a cancer in the locker room. From the things that I've heard, he was a great person, but when it comes to attitude-wise he wasn't the best."

The majority of remaining Eagles interviewed said they weren't close to Jackson away from work. Ryans had the locker stall next to him and said "he was cool," but that was as far as it went. Kendricks and Jackson shared a Cal football background, but they were years apart. McCoy and Vick were probably the closest he had to friends on the team.

When the reports about Jackson's possible exit first surfaced in late February, linebacker Connor Barwin said, "You kind of just got that feeling around the building" that something was about to happen.

The Eagles had tried to trade Jackson but could not and he was released on March 28, less than an hour after an story was posted about his alleged affiliation with a Los Angeles gang. Kelly said the timing had nothing to do with the story. Still, rumors persist that there's a smoking gun.

"I honestly didn't think it had anything to do with all the gang stuff," Barwin said. "I think it was just a decision made above my head that had to do with everything that goes on inside this building, on the practice field and on Sundays."

Cornerback Brandon Boykin said he found out like the "regular population." He said teammates were texting him, asking, "Did you know DeSean got cut?" Defensive end Cedric Thornton said he didn't even know that Jackson was released and that he was a free agent taking the best offer.

Linebacker Trent Cole surmised that it was NFL business as usual. Jackson was slated to earn approximately $10 million in 2014. McCoy, who has the highest salary-cap number on the team this season, speculated on whether the same fate could befall him.

Jason Kelce, who said in March that he was excited and happy about the direction of the Eagles following Jackson's release, declined comment. The question to the Eagles center was whether he still thought, five months later, the Eagles were better off.

Kendricks, despite his unanswered question, said the Eagles haven't missed a step without Jackson.

"At the end of the day, one man down, the next man up," Kendricks said. "It's that type of league. Those are big shoes to fill, but nonetheless, they will be filled."