The timing was curious, to say the least.
At 12:05 p.m. on March 28, NJ.com published a story saying the Eagles were concerned with DeSean Jackson’s alleged ties to gang members. At 12:40, the Eagles sent out a 25-word statement saying they had released the wide receiver.
And then silence. For 30 days.
The strategy seemed obvious. Use the gang affiliation story as cover for what would be deemed a peculiar and unpopular decision by many. Yet the way the team's brass explains it, the Eagles were actually doing Jackson a favor by releasing him when they did.
"I just feel that way that I think players should be allowed to negotiate," said Chip Kelly during the team's annual playground build at Prince Hall Elementary School in North Philadelphia. "The closer you get to the draft, we could have waited until June, but then what are his opportunities? So that’s not the way we’re gonna be. We did it last year with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. And we did it with Jason Avant when we knew where we were going and what direction we were going in. And I think it’s the only fair way to do it. We obviously listened, but we didn’t have anything so we moved on."
Added Jeffrey Lurie: "We could have waited until after the draft. We could have waited until OTAs. We could have waited until the beginning of training camp. We wanted to give the player the best chance to find the best possible arrangement he could. And that’s really all it is. It’s so much better not to comment publicly on why a player… why you want to go in a different way. It’s not fair. they prepare hard. They’ve worked well with you. They’ve been successful working with you. Why then when you release say something that’s not appropriate or positive?"
That last part is understandable. No one was expecting Lurie, Kelly or Howie Roseman to come out and publicly rip Jackson yesterday.
But the idea that they were trying to be fair to him in the way they handled his release seems disingenuous.
"I don’t know when that report was released or whatever," Kelly said. "We were made aware of that report earlier than that, but that had nothing to do with it. The things that happened I think in 2009 and 2011 before I ever got here, and when you read it, I don’t know what he did wrong when you read that article."
So the timing of the release was purely coincidental?
"I can’t tell you that. The timing was exactly when we got back from the owners’ meetings is what the timing was for us."
Added Roseman: "As we discussed, that decision certainly wasn’t at all based on that article. It was part of our offseason plan about going forward and what we felt we had to do for the best interest of our football team and our organization.
"I think it was also important, and we talk to our players about being fair to them and giving them an opportunity to latch on somewhere. And so I think there were a variety of reasons why we made all these moves and the time that we made them."
In reality, the NJ.com article had little or nothing to do with Jackson's release. But the fact that the Eagles seemed to be using it as cover deserves to be questioned.
In the end, the decision to part ways with Jackson was Kelly's call. Lurie made that clear.
But the way the Eagles went about gauging trade interest is unclear. The message from the team Monday was that it received no offers, largely because of Jackson's contract. And there's no doubt that money played a big role.
Then again, if the decision to get rid of Jackson was made right after the season ended, why not try to work out a trade before the free agency period when teams had more money to spend? Instead, the Eagles searched for offers at the owners meetings in March and failed to attract any suitors. By that time, many around the league were hesitant to give anything up, knowing Jackson would likely end up being released.
Asked if he could have done anything differently to acquire some compensation for Jackson, Roseman said: "I’m comfortable with the process. It’s never perfect here in the offseason. The plans never go exactly the way you want unfortunately. Through that, I think we’ve gotta look forward and look towards what we’re trying to do here and what we’re trying to build. And again, we’re not trying to build something for one year. We’re trying to be a good football team over a period of time. And with that, it’s trying to put pieces of the puzzle together. And unfortunately when you’re managing a team in the NFL and the amount of resources you get in terms of salary cap and the players who come up in terms of contracts, you’ve gotta make decisions and you’ve gotta figure out how you’re trying to build a team and where you’re gonna put resources. And our offseason is part of that."
Jackson of course eventually signed with the Redskins. He took a pay cut, but still ended up with $16 million guaranteed.
"We’ve never been afraid of teams in our division," Lurie said. "We’ve gotta do what’s best for us and it remains to be seen exactly what happens in the future. We’ll check back in three years and see where we’re at."