DeSean Jackson is a 27-year-old wide receiver, one of the best in the NFL. And as of Friday morning, one without a job.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly informed Jackson via a phone call that he was being released by the team. His actual release this morning followed a report from NJ.com citing sources close to Jackson and within the Eagles' organization that the move was made because of Jackson's bad attitude, poor work ethic, missing team meetings and, most seriously, Jackson's association with Los Angeles street-gang members who have been connected to homicides.
Jackson then released a statement later on Friday, first thanking the Eagles' organization for the time he spent there. Jackson then denied the allegations of gang connections.
"I would like to address the misleading and unfounded reports that my release has anything to do with any affiliation that has been speculated surrounding the company I keep off of the field," Jackson said. "I would like to make it very clear that I am not and never have been part of any gang. I am not a gang member, and to speculate and assume that I am involved in such activity off the field is reckless and irresponsible.
"I work very hard on and off the field and I am a good person with good values. I am proud of the accomplishments that I have made both on and off the field. I have worked tirelessly to give back to my community and have a positive impact on those in need. It is unfortunate that I now have to defend myself and my intentions. These reports are irresponsible and just not true. I look forward to working hard for my new team."
And there is a growing list of teams lining up to become Jackson's new one. Various reports have stated that the Seahawks, 49ers, Jets, Panthers, and the Chiefs, the team headed by Jackson's former coach, Andy Reid, are all interested. And that might be only a partial list.
Jackson posted the best numbers of his career in 2013. He caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine scores. Jackson used his speed to register 16 plays of 20 yards or more, third-most in the league.
This is a story that is going to move and change probably long after Jackson signs with another team. Obviously, a bunch of owners want to get their hands on an explosive, productive, No. 1 wide receiver in the prime of his career ... who hasn't been directly tied to any crimes. If you're talented enough -- and Jackson certainly is -- the NFL has a way of overlooking guilt by association as long as the player isn't actually guilty of something. And right now, Jackson is clean for as much as we know
But, despite Jackson's denials, there has to be something big here. Assuming that Kelly and the Eagles' brass aren't vindictive jerks, they had to have massive reason(s) for cutting a player of this caliber in his prime. No trade, they don't get anything in return for him; the Eagles just wanted to get rid of DeSean Jackson straight away. And that has some of his teammates rather pleased. Eagles center Jason Kelce tweeted Friday: "We just made an extremely unpopular decision, but I couldn't be more excited and happy with where this organization is going."
If Jackson's now-former teammates and Kelly just wanted to see him go because he was a malcontent who missed meetings, disrespected authority and didn't work hard, I think they are making a mistake. Those attributes, as annoying as they might be, can be tolerated when Jackson puts up Pro Bowl numbers as he did last season and as he has a history of doing.
I think the Eagles' decision is influenced by something we don't know about yet, something darker. It's hard for me to believe that a bad attitude is really at the center of all of this. Aaron Hernandez's name has appeared today across social media as a cautionary tale for why the Eagles made this move; they didn't want their own Aaron Hernandez-like story to occur on their watch. There are even reports that the Eagles didn't trade Jackson because they didn't want to lay his off-field problems on some other team and benefit. They didn't want a guilty conscience. So what do they know? How bad is it really with DeSean Jackson? I think every skeleton he's got in his closet will find the light of day now.
As we wait for all of this to play out, let's get to the fantasy impact. Jackson will probably be signed soon. And the Eagles move forward with Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper as their top two wideouts. Both players see their fantasy value bumped up significantly. For me, I think Maclin, as the better player and likely Philly's "new" No. 1 wideout, gains the most. But I would also expect the Eagles to draft a receiver relatively early next month. I don't doubt that Kelly's offense will still be hard to stop, but they now really need Maclin to stay healthy. He has high-end WR2 upside. I still see Cooper as more of a WR3. Meanwhile, even if Maclin and Cooper reach their athletic ceilings, you have to downgrade Nick Foles just a little bit based on this news.