ORLANDO, Fla. -- Simple question, Chip.
“Do you want DeSean on the team?”
His answer? Not so simple.
“I like DeSean,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said Wednesday morning. “DeSean did a really nice job for us. But we’re always going to do what’s best for the organization.”
Let the wheels of interpretation spin.
Kelly was the centerpiece of a crowded breakfast roundtable with reporters at the NFL owners meetings, surrounded by local and national media for an hour-long session.
Many of the questions centered on DeSean Jackson's uncertain future with the organization. Kelly made several positive comments about the Pro Bowl wideout but didn’t slam-dunk state with authority that Jackson would be on the Eagles in 2014.
And Kelly was given plenty of opportunities.
“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,” Kelly said. “We had a good conversation, and we’re always going to do what’s best for the football team, and he knows where we are and I know where he is.”
Which is a roundabout way of saying nothing concretely about an awkward situation that has festered for weeks. Kelly said he spoke to Jackson just a couple of days ago, even though Jackson’s name has swirled in the trade rumor mill for more than 10 days.
Did he confirm to Jackson that the rumors and reports were utter nonsense?
“My conversation with DeSean is between myself and DeSean,” Kelly said.
Jackson isn’t the only Eagle whose future with the team is suddenly under the microscope. A league source confirmed that left guard Evan Mathis would like his contract redone (see story).
Earlier, the NFL Network reported that the Eagles were gauging Mathis’ trade value.
Kelly said he doesn’t expect Mathis to cause distractions this season and vehemently backed the veteran guard as one of the team’s hardest workers and most valuable assets.
Kelly also seemed sympathetic to NFL players who ask for pay hikes in the middle of contracts.
“I think everybody wants to get paid a ton of money,” he said. “I think that’s just the nature of what our league is like. In professional sports, there’s a short amount of time that guys get to play this game, and they’re trying to get what they can, and I certainly understand where they’re coming from.”
Kelly didn't answer every Jackson-related question vaguely. He said he "got along well" with the three-time Pro Bowl wideout in their first season together. He dismissed any suggestion that Jackson's social media exploits bothered him. He even denied that Jackson, who enters Year 3 of a five-year extension, lobbied for more money less than two days after the team's first-round playoff loss, even though Jackson told several waves of reporters that day that he a new deal was deserving.
"He didn't ask for a new contract," Kelly said. "DeSean never came to me or never came to anybody, Howie or anybody, and said I want a new contract."
But when responding to very specific questions about Jackson's standing with the team, Kelly switched into equivocation mode, talking in circles or directly avoiding the inquiry. When asked point blank if he expected Jackson to be on the roster April 21 for the start of the team's offseason program, Kelly never mentioned the receiver by name.
"I don't anticipate anybody being on the roster at that point, or I anticipate them all being on the roster," he said. "I don't predict the future. We get rolling on April 21 and we'll get going."
The big question is why Kelly waited until this week to contact Jackson when reports surfaced earlier this month that Jackson's days with the Eagles were fleeting.
"Obviously, there were a million reports out there," he said, "so I said I’d rather have him come to me than read it in the paper."
But if the reports were weeks old, why did Kelly wait until a few days before Wednesday's press conference to reach out?
Said the coach: "I don’t have an answer for that."