Philadelphia Eagles  

 

Chip Kelly maintains mysterious ways in DeSean Jackson drama

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Chip Kelly approached his table at the NFL Annual Meeting on Wednesday morning with a look of bemusement on his face. A few feet away, Pete Carroll and his Super Bowl championship drew a relatively small clutch of reporters at the NFC coaches breakfast. But Kelly has been the man behind the curtain this offseason, among the NFL's most opaque coaches even as his relationship with one of his team's best players has been deconstructed in the void created by his silence.

And so reporters stood three-deep, waiting for Kelly to explain whether or not receiver DeSean Jackson would remain on the Eagles, and if guard Evan Mathis might also be headed out the door.

What they got instead was a finely-tuned tap dance in which Kelly praised Jackson and acknowledged he had spoken to the receiver in recent days -- but stopped well short of committing to anything, either to remaining tied together with Jackson or to making a trade. It was an echo of general manager Howie Roseman's earlier meeting with reporters, in which he happily answered other questions about the Eagles' roster but was firmly tight-lipped about Jackson.

"I like DeSean," Kelly said. "DeSean did a really nice job for us. But we're always going to do what's best for the organization."

It would be almost impossible to be more noncommittal.

Typically when a team refuses to say someone will be on the roster at a specific time -- in this case, Kelly was asked if Jackson will be with the team when organized team activities begin in about a month -- it means there is a very good chance that player won't be on the roster at that time.

The question, then, is how either trading or releasing one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game could possibly be what's best for one of the game's most dynamic offenses. The Eagles stormed the NFC East last season, and in the process, Kelly might have uncovered his most important piece, quarterback Nick Foles. But in addition to Jackson, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport is reporting that Mathis is on the trading block, too, because he wants a raise.

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In his year in the NFL, Kelly has proven to be inscrutable, so it is difficult to divine how he has meshed with Jackson. The six-year veteran posted career highs in catches (82) and receiving yards (1,332) in 2013, but his public persona (a bit high maintenance) and scheduled salary ($10.5 million in 2014) suggest that there is a narrow prism through which a split might be viewed as appealing by the Eagles.

But it is only a narrow one.

Jackson is still just 27 years old and played in all 16 games last season. If he is prone to making contract demands through the media -- as he did in the days after the Eagles' season ended with a playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints -- he is also so talented that, during the NFL's meeting here, other owners joked with Woody Johnson that they hoped his New York Jets, one of the teams interested in Jackson, would acquire the explosive playmaker so that he would be out of the NFC. And if Mathis is also available, it creates the impression that the Eagles are willing to sacrifice multiple talented players over contract disputes.

Kelly said he has never had a problem with Jackson and that Jackson has never asked the organization directly to improve his contract. But despite the trade reports swirling for several weeks, Kelly chose to wait until this week to talk to Jackson, even though reports also indicated Jackson had been frustrated by the lack of communication from the team. Kelly explained Wednesday that he has talked mostly to players who are in the Eagles' building every day, while Jackson is spending the offseason in California.

Still, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that after a recent phone conversation with Kelly, Jackson has now told some teammates that he will not be traded. If that is how Kelly perceived the conversation, too, then perhaps the Eagles have determined they cannot get enough value for Jackson and consequently will look to make it work with him.

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But a clearer-eyed view of Kelly's mindset on roster management -- perhaps tinged with a bit of hubris -- came when he was asked how the offense could be better without Jackson.

"I don't think our offense has ever been predicated on one player," Kelly said. "We used three quarterbacks last year. We used multiple running backs. Our tight ends are integral to what we do. I think we have an outstanding offensive line. It's never been about just one guy. It's why I think we have diversity.

"We were first in rushing and I think ninth in passing. I think there is balance in terms of how we do things. You want great players at every position, and I think that's what we're always striving for, in terms of where we can put people into position. It's never been predicated on just one guy, because if it is, if he's out for a water break or hurt for an extended period of time, then you're going to be in trouble."

That certainly seems like a sound team philosophy. Unless the team gets in more trouble as fiscal discipline creates a slow drain of talent. It was clear Wednesday which risk Kelly is more comfortable with -- perhaps the only thing he did reveal.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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