ORLANDO, Fla. – Chip Kelly started and ended with a joke.
Upon seeing the enormous crowd at his table in the Ritz-Carlton ballroom Wednesday morning, Kelly pointed out that the table for the Super Bowl-winning coach, Pete Carroll, was down the way.
Then after about an hour of answering questions, Kelly threw one back at the reporters.
"Does this mean you guys don't have to hang out in front of the bathrooms anymore?" he asked.
But everyone's been waiting to get Kelly's take all week on the DeSean Jackson situation. Both on a local level and a league-wide level, observers want to know what the future holds for the 27-year-old wide receiver. Kelly answered question after question, sometimes complimenting Jackson and other times leaving the door wide open for a potential trade.
"I’ve talked to DeSean and I just think when you deal with situations like that, everything we do is player to player, player to coach," he said. "But we’ve had a good conversation, and we’re always gonna do what’s best for the football team. But I think he knows where we are. I know where he is. So I feel very comfortable about it. But my conversations with him aren’t things that I think I need to have a conversation with everybody else about."
Kelly spoke to Jackson right after the season before the players left Philadelphia. The two didn't chat again until two days ago. At no point during today's session did Kelly indicate strongly that the wide receiver would be back with the team in 2014.
The simple question many want answered is this: How could the offense possibly be better without a player who caught 82 balls for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns last year?
"I don’t think our offense has ever been predicated on one player," Kelly said. "I think we used three quarterbacks last year. We used multiple running backs. Our tight ends are integral to what we do. I think we have an outstanding offensive line. It’s never been just about one guy. And that’s why I think we have diversity. We were first in rushing and I think ninth in passing. I think there’s balance in terms of how we do things. You want great players at every position. And I think that’s what we’re always striving for in terms of where we can put people into positions. But it’s never been predicated on just one guy. Because if it is, if he’s out for a water break or hurt for an extended period of time, then you’re gonna be in trouble."
There have been several theories about why Kelly would even consider getting rid of Jackson after last year's success.
One-by-one, the suggestions were posed to the head coach.
Is it his salary?
"I don’t deal with numbers. That’s not my job. My decisions are all: 'Where do guys fit scheme-wise?' All those other things. I don’t look at it and say: 'I want that guy to make this much money, this guy should make this much money, that guy should make that much money. That doesn’t kind of fall into my domain."
Jackson's use of social media?
"I think everybody does what they want on social media. I’m not a big social media guy. Guys in the offseason can do whatever they want. I’ve never looked at that as a positive or a negative. It’s just kind of the society that we live in."
Did he fit into the culture?
"DeSean did a good job. He played 16 games for us, practiced every day. I had no issues with him."
His issues with WRs coach Bob Bicknell?
"I think you guys saw that, but I think there’s a lot of yelling and screaming that goes along in competitive situations, whether it’s player/player or player/coach, coach/coach. That’s just part of the game. But I don’t see that as serious at all."
His work ethic?
"DeSean was there every single day, yeah. In the year I had him, yeah. Everything I asked him to do, I think he was outstanding in OTAs and the offseason program. I think he was one of our higher guys in terms of 28 or 29 out of 30 or 32. He was there every day in-season, practiced every day. I think there was maybe an ankle here or something like that, but not like anybody else. But he was there every day for us."
Asked specifically if he wants Jackson on the team, Kelly said: "I like DeSean. DeSean did a really nice job for us. But we’re always gonna do what’s best for the organization."
That answer could have been answered with a simple yes. But it wasn't And so the strong possibility that the team wants to Jackson still exists.
Birds 24/7 reported earlier this offseason that Jackson was unsure of where he stood with the organization. Kelly had not reached out to him until a couple days ago. Coincidentally, the conversation took place two days before the head coach knew he would be sitting down with the media for an hour.
"I talked to some of our guys at a certain point in time during the [offseason]," Kelly said. "Obviously there were a million reports out there, so I said I’d rather have him talk to me than read what’s in the paper.
"I don’t follow everything you guys do so I may have missed one or two of them. Why did I do it then? I thought it was important at that point in time for me to call him so that he heard it from me and I talked to him."
Asked if Jackson had reached out to him at any point, Kelly added: "Not that I know of, no."
Following last season, Jackson was asked if he wanted the team to redo his contract, and he said he would like something to be worked out. But Kelly indicated that neither the wide receiver nor his agent had approached the Eagles about a restructure.
"He didn’t ask for a new contract," Kelly said. "I think he was asked a question in the locker room in post-game, but DeSean never came to me or never came to Howie [Roseman] or anybody and said that I want a new contract."
Asked if he was bothered that Jackson made the comments about his contract to reporters, Kelly said: "I don’t care. I really don’t care. My conversations with our players or how we deal with our players is we deal with them face to face, we talk to them. If someone wants to talk to the media and say different things, I don’t send my message back to those guys through the media. So if he has an issue with anything, and I talked to him after the season, and I talked to him after that. I said come talk to us. In that conversation, that never came up."
Jackson's role in the Eagles' offense last year cannot be overstated. The team focused on running the ball, but when teams loaded up against LeSean McCoy, the offense did damage downfield. Jackson was a key part of that, and Kelly admitted as much.
“I think what he does and speed and ability to separate, make plays and things like that is key." he said.
"I think it’s a key component. For anything, I think if you asked me what you want in a wide receiver, you want someone that can separate from one-on-one coverage, be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there with separation and catch the football. And that’s the biggest aspect for it."
But he then offered hints that perhaps the Eagles could find someone else to fill a similar role.
"It can come in a lot of different ways. It can be the speed element of it. It can be the power and size element of it. There’s a lot of different ways to cut it. There’s certain guys in our league that have both and that’s why they’re elite. They have the size element of it, they also have the speed element of it. There’s a lot of different ways to do it."
And so the saga continues.
The truth is the Eagles really don't have to rush a decision. The draft is not until May 8. The feeling here is that the team gauged the market this week, but didn't field any attractive offers. Part of the problem is other teams want to know why the Eagles seem willing to part with one of the best vertical threats in the NFL. And so far, there is no clear-cut answer.
The offseason program (not mandatory) begins on April 21. Kelly would not say whether he expects Jackson to be on the roster at that time.
"I don’t anticipate anybody being on the roster at that point in time," he said. "Or I anticipate them all being [on the roster]. I’ve never been, and you guys have been around me for a year, I don’t predict the future so when we get rolling on April 21, then we’ll get going. But the good thing about April 21 is it’s not mandatory for anybody either, so who’s there and who isn’t there, I don’t know."
Asked whether the Eagles have talked to teams about a potential Jackson trade, Kelly said: "I don’t think it’s beneficial for me to talk about any player on our team, what inquiries have been made or haven’t been made in terms of… I don’t think that’s the proper way to do business to be honest."
If something is going to get done, chances are it will happen in the next six weeks.
But for now, DeSean-watch 2014 continues.