The union representing National Football League players is investigating the Eagles' release of DeSean Jackson to determine if the team first waged a smear campaign against its former Pro Bowl wideout.
DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director, said Friday morning on ESPN radio show “Mike & Mike,” per ProFootballTalk, that the union is looking into the timing of Jackson’s release, which happened Friday about 40 minutes after NJ.com posted a story detailing Jackson’s associations with alleged gang members.
“We’ve been in touch with DeSean, and first and foremost he is a tremendous football player and great young man,” Smith said on the show. “On the issue of how he was released, whether or not there were comments or leaks from the team, misinformation to the media coming from the team, that’s something that we’re going to look at. We’ve always been aggressive about protecting the integrity of our players.”
CSNPhilly.com, which on March 5 detailed Jackson’s rocky relationship with the organization, has reported several times that team coaches and management were already aware of Jackson’s inner circle and had already decided before last Friday that Jackson wouldn’t be on the team in 2014. Also reported by CSNPhilly.com is that the team tried to deal Jackson in past years.
On Wednesday, the three-time Pro Bowl receiver signed a three-year deal with the Redskins reportedly worth $24 million, with $16 million guaranteed.
Jackson released a statement in response to the NJ.com story denying any involvement with gangs. The story also cited a team source who said team officials were worried about Jackson’s influence on the young locker room.
In a conference call Wednesday afternoon, Jackson said the story inaccurately portrayed him.
“Eventually, I think people will really understand and see the real DeSean Jackson,” Jackson said, “and not the painted picture that was put out on me.”
Smith compared Jackson’s release to the ugly divorce last season between the Buccaneers and quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman’s involvement in the league’s drug program, which is supposed to be kept confidential by the league and union, surfaced in a report before the Bucs cut ties with Freeman in September.
Smith said a union investigation into the source of the leak is ongoing.
“We went into a deep investigation that’s continuing about Josh Freeman, and the comments that we believe came from team management or the coaches, and that’s an investigation that’s ongoing and we’re going to aggressively pursue it,” Smith said. “If we believe that someone at the team did something impermissible we’re going to be seeking significant discipline against those individuals. We look at that situation as similar to this one.”
Except for a one-sentence statement issued Friday to announce Jackson’s release, the Eagles haven’t commented on the situation despite repeated requests.