NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version that was published shortly before the Eagles released DeSean Jackson.
PHILADELPHIA — Over the past several weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly had shopped wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
On its face, the decision to trade one of the NFL’s most talented players seemed curious: At 27, Jackson is coming off one of the best seasons of his career — 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Plus, he’s a playmaker who could have been expected to thrive for seasons to come in head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense.
Yet the Eagles’ apparent decision to jettison Jackson likely had little to do with his performance on the field or a big-money contract that was slightly squeezing the team’s salary cap.
Rather, sources close to Jackson and within the Eagles’ organization say, it originally was Jackson’s off-field behavior that concerned the front office. A bad attitude, an inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings and a lack of chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly were the original reasons for his fall from grace, sources told NJ.com.
And when the Eagles looked more deeply into why Jackson was missing meetings, they found that his friends were becoming a more powerful — and negative — influence in his life.
Then, suddenly, the Eagles had even more serious concerns when they were revealed by NJ.com — Jackson’s continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010.
STATEMENT: JACKSON SAYS HE’S NEVER BEEN A GANG MEMBER
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 saw in Jackson, a six-year veteran, was apparently a potential blight on the brand and a bad influence in the locker room.
Before Jackson was released, a source within the Eagles organization, who requested anonymity, put it: “They are concerned about having him around the younger players.”
THE FIRST SIGNS
DeSean Jackson was nowhere near the scene of the crime when, on Dec. 29, 2010, 14-year-old Taburi Watson flashed a rival gang sign at two men as he rode his bicycle through South Los Angeles.
The men, reportedly members of the Crips, responded to the teen’s provocative gesture by shooting him multiple times, police said. Paramedics pronounced Watson dead at the scene.
“DeSean Jackson was not part of the case,” Jane Robison, a spokesman for the LA District Attorney’s Office, told NJ.com. “He was not a charged defendant. He was not a witness.”
Jackson was, however, associated with Theron Shakir, one of the two men charged with the murder. Along with co-defendant Marques Binns, Shakir is a purported member of the Crips. In addition, Shakir, known as “T-Ron,” is a rapper who recorded for Jaccpot Records, a label owned by Jackson. The two were close enough that they appear together frequently in photographs — including pictures posted by Jackson to Instagram while Shakir sat in jail awaiting trial for the teen’s execution.
The caption? “Free Trezzy #Real1 #Jaccpot
Acting on unspecified information that Jackson might have knowledge of Shakir’s activities on the night of Watson’s murder, LAPD detective Eric Crosson said he interviewed Jackson on the phone in late 2011. Crosson wouldn’t reveal details of that conversation, but he described Jackson as “cooperative at the time.”
Crosson also told NJ.com that he reached out to the Eagles by phone in early 2011 — even before he interviewed Jackson — as a courtesy to alert them to Jackson’s connection to an alleged killer. He never received a response from the team, he said.
The following year, the Eagles signed Jackson to a five-year, $48.5 million contract extension.
When contacted by NJ.com on Wednesday, the Eagles issued a statement that they had “no comment at this time,” and team officials would neither confirm nor deny whether anyone in the front office had spoken to Crosson about Jackson’s ties to a homicide suspect. On Thursday, a source in the organization said current front-office members had been unaware of Jackson’s links to an alleged killer.
Shakir, who was, in fact, acquitted of Watson’s murder and a related gun charge in January 2013, spent more than a year in jail awaiting trial. (Binns was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life.) In a photo apparently taken shortly after his release, Shakir is shown still wearing his L.A. County Jail T-shirt while someone who appears to be Jackson holds up a Jaccpot chain.
At least one person close to Jackson believes the troubling associations date back to the mid-2000’s, when his father, Bill, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“The loss of his father was devastating for him,” Raul Lara, Jackson’s former football coach at Poly High School in Long Beach, California, told NJ.com. “When his dad passed away, I think DeSean started to hang around some not-so-good people.”
ANOTHER BAD CONNECTION
A little over a year after the rising NFL star was interviewed by police about his connection to Shakir, Jackson’s name once again made its way onto the desk of Detective Crosson.
This time, Jackson’s name surfaced as part of an investigation into a 2012 gang-related murder that occurred outside a South Los Angeles business where a party had taken place. The building was owned or leased by a member of Jackson’s family, police said.
During a search of the building, Crosson told NJ.com investigators found several documents belonging to Jackson, including a car title, a gun permit issued in New Jersey and credit-card receipts.
After discovering the documents, Crosson said he made multiple attempts to contact Jackson by phone, but never was able to connect with the wide receiver. Crosson added that Jackson was never considered a suspect in the crime.
Despite Jackson’s name having come up in connection with two gang-related murders involving Crips, Crosson said police have no hard evidence that Jackson is a member of the gang, which was formed in the late 1960’s and has an estimated 35,000 members across the country. Crosson said, however, the Jackson routinely flashes Crip gang signs in photos on social media — and even on television during an NFL game.
“You don’t want to see anybody throwing up gang signs like he did in the Redskins game last year,” Crosson said. “Those were neighborhood Crip gang signs and he flashed them during a game. He may not be affiliated with the gang, but they don’t [ordinarily] take kindly to those not in the gang throwing up those gang signs.”
Last season, Jackson appeared to throw up the hand gesture in the face of Washington Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall after a reception in the Eagles’ season-opener. Jackson also can be seen contorting his fingers to make a “C” — another Crips sign — in a music video he shot with former fellow Poly High student Snoop Dogg. Jackson flashed it yet again while wearing an Anaheim Angels hat on Instagram.
Even the name of Jackson’s music label, Jaccpot Records, has not gone unnoticed by authorities. Police brought it up to Jackson, Crosson said, when he was interviewed in the investigation of the Watson homicide.
The two C’s in Jaccpot, cops believed, were symbolic. Crips avoid putting a “C” next to a “K” because in gangspeak, that stands for “Crip Killer.” Crosson said Jackson explained the spelling by saying the Internet domain name for Jackpot “was taken.”
“DeSean Jackson is not a gang member,” said EAG Management CEO and founder Denise White, Jackson’s agent. “He’s far, far from it.”
White, who would not make Jackson available for an interview, offered no further comment.
Despite his connections with reputed gang members and police interest in talking to him in connection with two homicides, Jackson’s supporters say he has otherwise comported himself as a model citizen.
Through court records, however, NJ.com uncovered a previously unreported arrest that occurred in September 2009. Jackson was pulled over for having illegally tinted windows, police said, and during the course of the traffic stop, officers said they discovered marijuana in the vehicle.
Jackson was arrested for possession of marijuana while driving, disturbing the peace and operating a car with materials that obstruct or reduce a driver’s view, according to court documents. The marijuana and illegally tinted windows charges were dropped as part of the plea deal and Jackson pleaded guilty to a disturbing the peace charge in April 2010.
Both the Eagles and a spokesman for the NFL, reached Thursday, declined to comment on the arrest.
Since joining the Eagles in 2008, Jackson — a three-time Pro Bowl player — has been an active member of the Philadelphia community and has been involved in several charities. He has been particularly active in campaigning against youth bullying.
Lara, his former high school coach who now is head coach at Warren High School in Downey, Calif., said Jackson has been nothing but friendly when the wide receiver has visited Poly High during NFL bye weeks. Lara added that Jackson has even been willing to bring his anti-bullying message to Warren.
“As a player, he was a great kid for me,” Lara said. “I didn’t have any issues. I loved his leadership. He had a chip on his shoulder and, as a coach, you like to see that in a great athlete. He had something to prove.
“I was a little worried about him after his father passed. I know his mother tried to get involved [in his life], but I haven’t seen any indication [Jackson is involved with gangs] outside of him starting up his rap label. Athletes like to portray a tough image with gangsters and whatever else. Maybe he’s playing into that. That’s a part of him that I never really saw.”
Jackson was actually a crime victim earlier this year as burglars made off with an unknown amount of cash, an estimated $125,000 in jewelry, and two handguns from his South Philly home. Jackson disputed reports that $250,000 in cash was stolen from a safe inside the house and offered a $50,000 reward for information on the crime.
When asked about Jackson’s status at the NFL owners’ meetings Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said Jackson is “still under contract for us” and “until there’s anything to report on our players, that’s where we are now.”
Head coach Chip Kelly also dodged questions regarding rumors about trading or releasing Jackson, saying on Wednesday, “I like DeSean, but we’re always going to do what’s best for the organization.”