The Eagles' decision to release DeSean Jackson had nothing to do with his ominous inner circle or growing friction with the head coach.
Chip Kelly on Monday called Jackson’s March 28 release “purely a football decision.”
“We were going in a different direction at the wide receiver position,” Kelly said Monday. “We came back from the owners meetings, we had no takers from a trade standpoint, so we felt that it was best at that point in time to release him and let him negotiate with 31 other teams.
“It has nothing to do with anything that was ever written in a newspaper article or any off-field behavior with him. DeSean was great in the year that I had him. It was just a decision that we made as a team that a lot of teams make at that point in time.”
Kelly took a short break from the team’s annual playground build to speak about cutting Jackson, who posted a career-best 1,332 yards last season and made his third Pro Bowl at 27 years old.
He avoided several specific questions about why he cut ties with one of the NFL’s most explosive receivers who was in the prime of his career. Kelly also never elaborated on the reasons that factored into “a football decision” to cut Jackson.
Kelly said he typically doesn’t divulge reasons for releasing players.
“Did I have a press conference when we released Jason Avant or Patrick Chung?” he said “That’s just not the way I am. I’m not gonna have a press conference when we release players from our organization. I’ve never felt that way.”
Shortly after being cut, Jackson signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Redskins, the Eagles’ NFC East rivals.
But Kelly, along with owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman, spun the controversial decision with an economic twist. Kelly and Lurie both alluded to other cap casualties around the league this offseason.
The Buccaneers cut Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was slated to make $80 million over the next five years. By releasing Jackson, the Eagles took a comfortable $6 million cap hit in 2014 but saved more than $30 million over the next three years, including more than $10 million this year.
“Tampa made a decision like that,” Kelly said. “Chicago made a decision (with Julius Peppers). Dallas made a decision (with DeMarcus Ware). It’s just part of football. I have nothing but good things to say about DeSean.”
Roseman echoed Kelly’s sentiment and also sidestepped around Jackson questions by giving very few specific details.
"Everything we do is in the best interests of our organization going forward and our football team,” he said. “It's about building our football team going forward. Obviously, we've got a lot of things coming up and going forward, and we've always talked about not just one year but building it for the long haul.
“So every decision we make is not only for present day -- obviously we want to compete and win right now -- but also building something and keeping something together. We made a football decision that we thought was in the best interests of the organization going forward."
An NJ.com report that outlined Jackson’s friendship with alleged gang members surfaced an hour before the team released Jackson on March 28. On April 4, a CBSPhilly report that cited anonymous sources detailed friction between Kelly and Jackson, but Kelly emphasized that he never clashed with the receiver and denied that Jackson’s friends or locker room influence factored into the team’s decision to move on.
“I’ve never had one issue with DeSean,” Kelly said. “I’ll say that publicly. He never yelled at me. I never never yelled at him on the practice field. I don’t know where that came from.”
Kelly said the decision to cut Jackson wasn’t his alone, that the team discussed it in meetings with several members of the coaching staff and front office involved. He said the axe finally fell after the owners meetings in March because the team couldn’t trade him.
Asked to explain how releasing Jackson could be called a football decision given Jackson’s breakout 2014, Kelly responded, “It adds up for us -- and that’s the most important part.”
Jackson’s 1,332 yards were second-most in franchise history for a single season and ninth-most in the league. His eight receptions of at least 40 yards were tied for third-most. His 16.2 yards per catch ranked third-highest for receivers with at least 80 receptions.
After releasing Jackson and Avant, the Eagles were left with Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin as their only wideouts with at least 60 career catches and six touchdowns.
Kelly didn’t seem concerned about life after DeSean, who will face the Eagles twice a year with the Redskins.
“We’ll move away,” he said. “We’ll be all right. We factored that into our decision. We looked at everything when we made our decision.”
Lurie said he supported the decision, saying that Kelly and his staff explained to him the need to “reconfigure” the wideout corps as the team moved forward.
Even though Jackson landed with the Redskins, Lurie denied that releasing Jackson was bad business.
“We’ve never been afraid of teams in our division,” Lurie said. “We’ve got to do what’s best for us. It remains to be seen exactly what happens in the future. We’ll check back in three years.”