After a career year with the Philadelphia Eagles, star wide receiver DeSean Jackson has unofficially become the first player to see the negative effect Aaron Hernandez has left on the NFL. Jackson was recently cut by the Eagles and has now signed with the division rival Redskins despite the fact that he seems to perfectly fit into the speedy offensive scheme of budding star coach Chip Kelly. As a Giants fan who saw Jackson often burn the Giants’ secondary, I was very puzzled and a bit grateful (and then not grateful when he stayed in the division) that the Eagles were willing to release him and let him walk for nothing at all in return. I understood that he was going to be owed a lot of money, but I also think he has earned that money and probably was worth it. He puts an incredible amount of pressure on an opposing defense; he can run right past many NFL cornerbacks, and he can also be used in a Wildcat formation or be sent in motion to take a direct snap or handoff to get the ball in his hands immediately. However, when the Eagles began to explain their decision to the public, it became a bit more obvious that what was transpiring was not exactly due to football reasons.
The Eagles soon began suggesting that Jackson was full of negative personality characteristics that made him detrimental to the overall success of the team. After attending the game where Jackson returned a punt for a game winning touchdown as time expired, my opinion of him is irrecoverably negatively biased. However, I still don’t think I ever saw enough concrete evidence that his personality was so bad that he should be released despite his tremendous skill. If Ndamukong Suh has managed to stay with the Lions through all of his well publicized antics on the field, as well as being voted one of the NFL’s most disliked players several years in a row, then I can’t see how Jackson’s behavior warranted being released from the Eagles. Then reports surfaced that some were claiming that Jackson had ties to high profile gangs and the situation became more clear. After former Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez was indicted on murder charges last offseason, such a report would have to be taken seriously.2
Before Hernandez’s situation I doubt an entire organization would be so swayed by questionable suggestions that Jackson did have ties to a gang. However, after the dirty secret life of Hernandez was exposed, organizations have to decide how to deal with accusations that could lead to a similar situation going forward, and it seems like Jackson is the guinea pig here. If the notably stringent and composed Patriot franchise missed all of Hernandez’s baggage every other franchise in the NFL has to consider the possibility that they also may have missed something about one of their players as well. That is why the Eagles took the reports of Jackson’s potential gang ties so seriously. Many think that the Eagles really just wanted an excuse to get rid of Jackson, which might still be the case, however I just don’t see what reasons they had to not only get rid of him but to get rid of him with nothing in return.
I don’t think we will ever know if Jackson really has or had ties to gangs, but I believe him when he says that he never has, and that makes me feel like he is the victim here. I think he is just going to be the first of many NFL players who face unfair treatment due to the atmosphere created after Aaron Hernandez. Now the thinking, in the NFL and in the public, is that a player is guilty until proven innocent when it comes to potential gang ties or signs of troubled company or thinking. No team wants to be the next to withstand a media circus like that the Patriots had to endure with Hernandez. The Eagles showed that NFL franchises are more likely to be safe rather than sorry, and that leaves players the victims of unconfirmed reports. As much as I dislike Jackson for what he does on the field to my Giants, I have to feel bad for him because it seems like the Eagles wanted him gone for no really legitimate reasons.
Jackson’s case has set a dangerous precedent for the future. In the post-Aaron Hernandez NFL teams can’t afford to not take any indication of gang ties extremely seriously. Ultimately, this gives NFL franchises another weapon to use against players, with unconfirmed allegations enough of an excuse to release star players. Unfortunately, I think Jackson is the first of what might be many more players who fall victim to baseless claims made against them by a team to justify a roster move.
Photo: Mr. Schultz/Wikipedia