Will the Real DeSean Jackson Please Stand Up?
Electric… erratic… even selfish – there are many words used to describe DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ former wide receiver. But is “dangerous” one of them?
Shortly before the Philadelphia Eagles released the receiver on March 28, NJ.com published an article alleging that Jackson has gang ties in Los Angeles. Depending on who you believe, the Eagles either gave up on trading Jackson after the report surfaced, or always intended to cut him. Prior to the report of gang ties, over the years Jackson had been rumored to have skipped meetings, disrupted the locker room, wasted practices, and recently, caused friction with head coach Chip Kelly. In 2012, Jackson signed a five-year extension for $48.5 million with the Eagles, with $15 million guaranteed. While his base salary was $750,000 in 2012 and $6.75 million in 2013, his base salary was going to be $10.25 million in 2014, none of it guaranteed. Jackson had his best year in 2013, with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Two-thousand-and-thirteen was the 27 year-old’s third time making the Pro Bowl.
Pro Bowler or not, as of Friday he was gone. The media’s reaction was swift and decisive–Jackson was the villain, in the mold of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, and the Eagles were shrewd and justified in their move to cut him. Talking heads spoke with conviction of Jackson’s cancerous personality in the locker room, and journalists wrote with certainty of Jackson’s dubious character outside it.
Since his release last Friday, here’s what we’ve learned: Jackson has ties to two Crips members, who have been connected to two homicides since 2010, but Jackson wasn’t implicated in either case. He was arrested for marijuana possession in 2009, and last season, appeared to throw up a Crips gang sign while playing the Washington Redskins. Jackson denied these allegations in a formal statement, but hasn’t spoken on the matter. The media’s coverage, as it tends to do the further it distances itself from an event, has become more nuanced, with ESPN’s Jason Whitlock arguing the Eagles simply believed the divisive player wasn’t worth $10.25 million this year, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman defending Jackson, and ex-Eagles wide receiver Cris Carter tweeting his support for Jackson.
From where I sit, Jason Whitlock has the right idea. These reports of “gang ties” are weak at best and irresponsible at worst. He may know gang members, but he’s never been arrested for anything gang related. He was called and questioned about a murder, and his family member owned the bar where another murder took place, but that doesn’t make him guilty. (Remember that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing?) Sure, he was arrested for marijuana possession, but so was Colts owner Jim Irsay. No one’s saying Irsay is in a gang. And perhaps what’s most revealing is that despite seeking confirmation from the LAPD of Jackson’s gang ties – the LAPD “confirmed reports,” whatever that means – the 49ers and Raiders were still interested in signing him. The Raiders might not have the best reputation, but wouldn’t the 49ers back off if they thought the LAPD’s evidence was damning?
The most persuasive argument for why the Eagles released Jackson isn’t that he had gang ties, but rather that when teams learned that he may have gang ties, his trade value disappeared. Teams knew they could wait for Jackson to be cut and then renegotiate his contract. Unwilling to pay the mercurial receiver with the bad attitude 10.25 million dollars, the Eagles cut him.
Predicting any players future is difficult, but Jackson’s case is unprecedented. No NFL player has ever switched teams in the same division after recording 80+ receptions and 1,200+ yards in the previous season. Now with the Washington Redskins, it’s reasonable to assume that twice a year against Philly, he’ll be motivated, but what will he be like for the rest of the three year deal in Washington? For one year, anyway, I’d say Jackson’s as close to a sure thing as a wide receiver can be. He’s been humbled by his release, and already known as a player with a chip on his shoulder, he’ll be even more motivated to succeed in 2014. With a new coaching staff and an inconsistent quarterback, the Redskins may struggle in 2014, but look for Jackson to thrive.
Any way you slice it, the polarizing receiver was certainly productive during his time in Philly, amassing 356 receptions for 6,117 yards and 32 touchdowns. At times, he was even miraculous. Perhaps the Eagles number 10 will do Redskins fans one better as number 11.