By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — It was a surreal scene. Children were running around, paint cups in their hands, on Monday at the Prince Hall Elementary School in North Philadelphia, for the 18th annual Eagles Playground Build, to see professional football players up close.
Interspersed among the students and teachers was a media circus gathered in the hopes of gleaning answers from Chip Kelly as to why DeSean Jackson was unceremoniously cut on Friday, March 28 after six years with the Eagles—and after a career-best season in which he caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.
Kelly had not spoken publicly on the subject since Jackson was released—until Monday. What Kelly said was what was expected … how he had a great relationship with Jackson … how Jackson was a model player … how he wasn’t going to besmirch Jackson, since he had been released by the Eagles … and how it’s a past tense matter that the Eagles have turned the page on.
How Jackson’s release was a football decision.
Amid the jutting microphones, tape recorders, cell phones rapidly tapping out tweets, picks, shovels, cement and playground equipment, Kelly spoke.
“We were going in a different direction with the wide receiver position, we came back from the owner’s meetings and had no takers from a trade standpoint, so we felt it was best to release him and let him negotiate with 32 others teams,” Kelly said. “It has nothing to do with anything written in a newspaper article or any off-field behavior from him. DeSean was great the year that I was with him. We wish him nothing but the best in terms of where he’s going to be.
“It was a decision that we made as a team, that a lot of teams at that point in time. Tampa made a decision like that, Chicago made a decision. Dallas made a decision. It’s just part of the game of football and I wish him the best of luck. I have nothing but good things to say about DeSean. I never had one issue with DeSean. He never yelled at me, I never yelled at him on the practice field. I don’t know where that came from.”
Kelly refused to talk about releasing players. He said nothing was discussed when the Eagles released Jason Avant. He said that wasn’t his style.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re looking for coming up [in the draft],” Kelly said. “Again, to get into specifics isn’t fair to DeSean; it isn’t fair to anybody in this situation. I’m never going to do that when we release a player. When anyone else is released, we don’t talk about why they’re released or why we kept them. It’s not how we operate and I’m never going to be that way. It was purely a football decision. It had nothing to do with anything off the field. DeSean came to practice every day and he gave us everything we asked him to give us.”
Kelly said he told Jackson the same thing he reiterated to the media and that the “Eagles were going in a different direction.”
Kelly said the decision to release Jackson wasn’t completely his call. He also said there were no offers for Jackson, but, he implied, that may have had to do with Jackson’s high pricetag.
Now, how do the Eagles make up for Jackson’s 82 catches, 1,332 yards receiving and nine TDs? Kelly wasn’t all that surprised by the backlash the Eagles have faced since Jackson’s release. Kelly said the Eagles will figure out new ways to distribute the football.
“This is a passionate fanbase about everything that goes on in this city,” Kelly said. “It adds up for us [as a football decision]. We’ll work on [replacing Jackson]. We understand the direction we’re going as an offensive football team. We’re excited about our future.”
Asked about the timing of Jackson’s release, right after an NJ.com story talking about Jackson’s alleged gang ties, and why it took a month to address it, Kelly stressed, “The timing was exactly when we got back from the owner’s meetings [after the NJ.com story was posted]. Did I have a press conference when we released Jason Avant and Patrick Chung? That’s just not the way I am. I’ve never felt that way and I’m never going to do it again.”
Asked if the roster is better now than it was before March 28, Kelly said, “I don’t talk about things like that, I don’t even know what that means. We made a football decision based on upon where we’re headed as a football team.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.