How a head coach handles the aftermath and controversy that comes with jettisoning a star player often shapes what his team’s future holds.
That’s the spot Chip Kelly put himself in with the offseason release of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
Kelly proclaimed this move was a "football decision." If that’s actually the case, it’s from nothing Jackson was doing on the field. Arguably the league’s most dangerous deep threat, Jackson was coming off his best NFL season with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.
This wasn’t a cut related to Jackson’s age (he’s only 27). Jackson’s scheduled base salary of $10.25 million was high but not a major factor either, especially since the Eagles now must swallow $6.25 million in dead money against their 2014 cap. Even the perception that Jackson’s off-field lifestyle and who he was associating with had become a huge concern for the Eagles probably wasn’t the tipping point.
The main reason likely was this: Kelly believed Jackson wasn’t buying into his way of doing things and he had the juice to get rid of a malcontent after Philadelphia finished 10-6 and won the NFC East in 2013.
Kelly’s reputation as an offensive innovator will now be tested as the Eagles failed to add a player with the same kind of high-end speed to replace Jackson. Two other top wideouts (Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper) were re-signed, and the Eagles selected two more on Day 2 of the draft in Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Oregon’s Josh Huff. Philadelphia traded with New Orleans for running back Darren Sproles in hopes the 31-year-old still has the wheels to create coverage nightmares out of the backfield. And let’s not forget the Eagles still have the NFL’s reigning rushing leader in LeSean McCoy and emerging third-year quarterback in Nick Foles behind what is arguably the NFL’s best offensive line.
If the defense continues to improve as it did in the second half of last season, Philadelphia should repeat as division champion with the chance to make a deep postseason run. But if the defense falls short and the offense regresses, Kelly will receive a first-hand reminder twice this season that he made a big offseason mistake. That’s because Jackson now plays for NFC East rival Washington.