They better know what they’re doing here.
The Eagles just got rid of one of the NFL’s most electrifying players in the prime of his career without getting anything in return, apparently for the crime of choosing his friends incorrectly.
DeSean Jackson has never been arrested for anything more serious than marijuana possession and driving with tinted windows, according to the NJ.com report, and those charges came five years ago and were eventually dropped. He’s never tested positive for a banned substance. What’s the worst thing he’s done in six years with the Eagles? He was suspended for one game in 2011 for missing a team meeting.
What he has done is make big plays more often than anybody in the 81-year history of the franchise. Game after game, year after year.
Jackson grew up in a section of Los Angeles where he was surrounded every day by gangs and crime. He rose up above all that to become a three-time Pro Bowl receiver with a charity foundation that raises money to fight pancreatic cancer, which claimed his dad.
And so far, the worst thing I’ve learned about Jackson is that he has close friends who are active gang members. Which really means that he’s still friends with the people he grew up with in L.A.
Jackson is a young African-American man from Compton who grew up around other young African-American men from Compton, and last time I checked, that’s not a crime.
Anybody care to take a guess what percentage of professional athletes have friends or associates who have gang ties? It’s not an insignificant number. Guilt by association isn’t a reason to cut somebody.
Now, obviously there could be a lot more out there that we haven’t heard. Stuff the Eagles know that they haven’t shared. Things Chip Kelly saw that the rest of us didn’t see. Charges or allegations that haven’t been revealed yet by authorities.
But if Jackson was such a distraction, he distracted his team last year all the way to a 10-6 season, an NFC East title and a playoff berth, and he distracted himself all the way to 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.
Distracted himself to a career year.
Jackson is such a bad influence on his teammates that in four of the five seasons he’s played at least 12 games, the Eagles have reached the playoffs.
So Kelly will move on without his top playmaker, and that leaves the Eagles awfully thin at wide receiver.
There’s Riley Cooper, who had a couple big games in the middle of last season, but averaged 18.6 yards the first five games of the year, 49.7 receiving yards the last seven games of the year and had 11 games with 53 or fewer yards.
There’s Jeremy Maclin, who’s been a steady contributor when healthy but doesn’t have nearly the game-breaking ability that Jackson has.
Jackson has 18 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more. Maclin has four.
And there’s … Ifeanyi Momah, B.J. Cunningham, Brad Smith, Will Murphy, Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.
In other words, there’s Maclin and Cooper.
And if you want to include hybrid running back Darren Sproles in the equation, feel free. But keep in mind that Sproles averaged 8.5 yards per catch last year, and Jackson averaged nearly twice that.
The Eagles have reminded us all offseason that this is a historic wide receiver draft, so apparently that’s where they plan to replace Jackson.
So maybe you get a stud and maybe you don’t. Maybe you get Freddie Mitchell or maybe you get Reggie Wayne. Maybe you get A.J. Jenkins or maybe you get Kendall Wright. Maybe you get Dwayne Bowe or maybe you get Craig Davis.
You don’t know. You never do. The draft is funny that way. You might think you know, but you really don’t. Not with wide receivers.
DeSean Jackson, we all know what the Eagles had. It wasn’t a projection. It wasn’t guesswork. It was documented and it was electrifying and it was a blast to watch every Sunday for six years.
Derrick Ward, who spent eight seasons in the NFL as a running back with the Giants, Buccaneers and Texans, put some perspective on all this via Twitter Friday afternoon:
“I'm born and raised in South Central LA. I have uncles who are still gang bangin’, cousins who still gang bang. But what does that have to do with someone playing football and ballin’ out for your team?”
Still, the Eagles had every right to do what they did, and Kelly’s credentials certainly can’t be questioned after taking a lost franchise and going 10-6 with a division title in his first year in the NFL.
Maybe this really is a case of addition by subtraction, and cutting ties with Jackson help the Eagles turn into an elite NFL team and Super Bowl contender.
But they better be right. Because outright releasing a 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowler coming off his finest NFL season just might unprecedented in NFL history.
The Eagles have had two Pro Bowl wide receivers in the last 15 years, and they’ve released both of them in their prime.
Andy Reid ultimately did the right thing with T.O., although the Eagles have won just three playoff games in nine years since he left.
Kelly better be right about this one.
They better know what they’re doing here.