For the past several weeks, there has been a steady stream of speculation regarding Jackson’s future. For example:
Jackson remains an enigmatic figure for a head coach who is agitated quickly by me-first behavior. — Geoff Mosher, CSN Philly
[M]ight the Eagles be willing to trade Jackson for more picks? Believe me when I tell you it’s been talked about on the second floor of NovaCare. — Paul Domowitch, Daily News
This has not gone unnoticed by the veteran receiver, who is currently training out in California. According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, Jackson is unsure about his standing on the team and troubled by what is being written about him. He has reached out to some of his teammates to express his concern. One of Jackson’s top confidants says that the whole situation has become “a bit of a distraction.”
Adding to the confusion/strain is the fact that the Eagles had yet to contact Jackson as of Saturday to offer assurance. This seems a little peculiar, particularly since Chip Kelly has been very careful about making sure his players know where they stand with him. For instance, he spoke with every key veteran on the roster during the draft last April immediately after picking someone at their position.
"I called everybody," said Kelly. "I called Brent Celek when we took a tight end and James Casey. I called Mike [Vick] and we talked to Jason Peters and we talked to Todd Herremans. It’s just kind of the way we’ve done things. When we signed people in free agency I called our guys just to make sure they know where we were. I’m really big on open communication. I don’t want there to be gray areas. I think sometimes there are gray areas because there’s a lack of communication between people."
Jackson is one of the top offensive players on this team, his name is being bandied about as trade bait, and the lines have been silent.
"We're in the dark like everyone else," said a source close to Jackson. "Thought he would at least be worthy of some kind of communication."
The Eagles declined comment for this story and have remained generally quiet on the matter. The only public comments have been coupled with attempts at humor. Asked about the report that Jackson is "one false step" from being cut, general manager Howie Roseman joked that he went home and played the "one false step" game with his wife after seeing the story, adding that nothing in the report came from anyone in the building.
Kelly, in his first meeting of the offseason with the media on Friday, had a chance to squash the speculation. Instead, he used the opportunity to take a jab at another media report. Asked about the receiver’s future and his importance to the team, Kelly replied: “He’s a priority at receiver before [Jeremy] Maclin, behind [Riley] Cooper. Or is it Cooper before Maclin? Or Maclin before Cooper? I’ll check what you write and I’ll tell you how we feel about it.”
From everything we've been told, Jackson wants to remain in Philadelphia. Kelly is the type of coach he has long been waiting for -- someone that will move him around and scheme up a variety of ways to get him involved. It's hard to argue with the results. The 27-year old is coming off his best year as a pro, catching 82 balls for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season under Kelly. He was named to his third Pro Bowl – his first since 2010.
There was an adjustment period when Kelly replaced Andy Reid as head coach. Early on, Jackson found himself running with the second and third teams at practice, in part because Jackson wasn’t learning all of the receiver positions as is required in this system. He walked into Kelly’s office for an explanation.
“When I went in there, he said he expects everybody to buy into the system and do everything the right way,” Jackson told Birds 24/7 back in June. ”And if there is any little thing a player doesn’t want to do, that’s his way of reacting to it. The best thing I did was go talk to him instead of just sitting back and being mad.”
After that discussion, Jackson said he was “all-in” on the offense and went on to have a very productive season. Generally, he seemed more at peace and less standoff-ish than he had in the past.
There were a couple bumps after that, however. He got into it with receivers coach Bob Bicknell during a December game in Minnesota. And shortly after the playoff loss to the Saints, Jackson said that he was hopeful the Eagles would give him a new deal that offered more security. The rest of his contract includes little guaranteed cash, but he’ll earn about $10 million this year if still on the roster opening day.
Given his level of production and Kelly's love for offensive weapons, you would think he would be. But the rumblings persist. We asked one agent that has established credibility with us if he had heard anything regarding Jackson, and he responded: "Yes. Heard there is no way he is back." He isn't looped directly into the situation and isn't to be looked at as a source, but it shows that the rumors are not confined to the internet. They exist in some league circles. They have reached Jackson and have been relayed to some of his teammates. They are beginning to have an impact.
There are two possible explanations for the Eagles' approach to date: Either they are in fact entertaining the idea of moving on from Jackson, in which case the radio silence would be understandable; or they intend to move forward with the wideout but have not felt compelled to end the public and (more critically) private doubt.
If it is the latter, they are making an error in judgment.