Jeffrey Lurie reiterated Chip Kelly's explanation that releasing DeSean Jackson was purely a football decision, but the Eagles owner offered more detail about the controversial move when he mentioned the value his coach placed on production in the playoffs.
"I think Chip’s always going to not just base things on statistics," Lurie said Monday at the Eagles' 18th playground build, "but how … you’re going to perform in the playoffs and where do you get your ultimate goal. What’s the best chance?”
Despite all that has been written and reported about Jackson's off-field behavior, his fitting in with Kelly's locker room culture and his alleged ties to gangs, Kelly said flatly that the Eagles decided to cut the Pro Bowl receiver last month because it would make the team better.
Lurie agreed with Kelly's assessment, saying that the coach came to the decision after the season ended with a 26-24 defeat to the Saints in the first round of the playoffs. Jackson caught three passes for 53 yards and drew a 40-yard pass interference penalty in the game, but his production came after cornerback Keenan Lewis left in the third quarter.
Lewis covered Jackson for much of the game. Jackson did find some open space in the first half, but quarterback Nick Foles didn't throw him the ball. He also returned a punt 28 yards in the second half.
“It became clear at the end of the year he wanted to certainly go at the wide receiver position differently," Lurie said. "Once that decision was made it was a matter of whether we were going to be able to make any kind of trade. And when it was obvious there were going to be no trade offers, the fair thing to the player was to release him.
"And in today’s NFL, it’s not surprising that would happen with double-digit contracts. You don’t see players getting traded these days, you see them getting released."
Jackson was set to earn $10.25 million in base salary this coming season, but Kelly and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman wouldn't acknowledge that his contract factored in the decision. It certainly played a part in other team's interest to trade for the 27-year-old receiver.
The Redskins, of course, signed Jackson to a three-year, $24 million contract less than a week after the Eagles released him. Lurie said he wasn't worried about essentially giving away a player of Jackson's skill to a NFC East rival.
“We’ve never been afraid of teams in our division," Lurie said. "We 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 and see where we’re at.”
Many Eagles fans still can't wrap the decision to release Jackson without receiving any compensation around their heads. He caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013 -- clearly the best of his career statistically.
Jackson was released less than hour after a nj.com report detailed the Los Angeles native's relationships with alleged members of the L.A.-based gang "Crips." Kelly said the report had nothing to do with the release, only that the team decided to move on after they couldn't trade him at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando.
The Eagles issued only a short statement upon the release and hadn't spoken until Monday. Asked why they didn't talk for a month, Lurie said the team doesn't typically feel the need to explain the reason for letting a player go and cited the waiving of popular receiver Jason Avant last month.
But the Eagles did release a statement from Lurie lauding Avant for his professionalism and community work during eight seasons with the Eagles. No such mention was made in the statement after Jackson was cut. Lurie said that his concern about the off-field behavior and associations of his players wasn't isolated to Jackson, though.
"It was really a football decision," Lurie said. "Chip and his people were incredibly clear that for us to get better we need to take a step back and reconfigure the wide receiver position. I think common to a lot of really smart coaches, he knows exactly what he wants at every position.
And for Chip on offense, it just wasn’t a good fit. It just was not a good fit with what he asks wide receivers to do.”