Hereís Bill Belichickís bottom line: Can DeSean Jackson help him win?
The Patriots have never made any personnel moves for the purposes of public relations, but itís still hard to imagine them getting involved with the talented wide receiver, released by the Philadelphia Eagles Friday, in the wake of concerns in the franchise that Jacksonís possible off-field gang activity could lead the team down a bad road.
An eye-opening piece on NJ.com lists the reasons why the Eagles had become disenchanted with Jackson, who was coming off a career year in which he recorded 82 receptions, 1,332 yards, and nine touchdowns. The theory was that they were shopping Jackson, who was only two years into a five-year, $51 million deal that would have paid him $10.5 million this upcoming season, because there was the possibility the diva might hold out for more money this summer. There was more to it than that. A lot more, and it all sounds terribly familiar.
ďA bad attitude, an inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings, and a lack of chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly are the reasons, sources told NJ.com,Ē the Eagles concerns boiled over with Jacksonís continued association with Los Angeles street gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010.
Ever since New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with first-degree murder last summer, NFL franchises have been reevaluating how closely they needed to watch their players away from the field. And what Eagles executives see in Jackson, a six-year veteran, is apparently a potential blight on the brand and a bad influence in the locker room. As a source within the Eagles organization, who requested anonymity, put it: "They are concerned about having him around the younger players."
Itís fair to ask: If it weren't for Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end accused of murdering Odin Lloyd last spring, would the Eagles have released DeSean Jackson? Was Jackson a ticking time bomb, or did the Eagles do the homework the Patriots relaxed on, in no small part spurred by the sad situation in New England, where Hernandezís gang ties ultimately ended at least one life and a professional football career?
Not even a year later, the Patriots would be insane to chase after DeSean Jackson.
"First I would like to thank the Eagles organization, the Eagles fans and the city of Philadelphia for my time in Philly,Ē Jackson said in a statement. ďI would also like to thank coach Andy Reid [sic] for bringing me in. Secondly, 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. 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. God Bless."
I kind of want to half-believe my colleague Chad Finnís line that Belichick probably dialed up old pal Chip Kelly and floated the Jackson gang rumors so that he might not have to surrender a third-round pick for the wide receiver. But if the Patriots were to get involved with Jackson Ė who would be a headache even without the charges of gang-affiliation Ė are they prepared to go down the road should something happen? The franchise escaped the Hernandez situation with only a handful wondering if they could have done more to protect themselves. If they dive into that pool twice, the invisible Teflon surrounding Patriot Place wonít be so impenetrable anymore.
For what it's worth:
Text from person not financially connected to DJax: "Known DeSean since he was born. Over 25 years DeSean is NOT affiliated w any La gangs."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 28, 2014
The image of Tom Brady throwing to Jackson is enticing, downright drool-worthy even, but the downside would be crippling to national and local perception of the Patriots.
Itís the absolute worst move Belichick could make during an offseason in which he has re-tooled the Patriots into even more of a force than they were last season.