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Eagles release a front office misstep or calculated move?

Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles released Desean Jackson leaving the team without the benefit of their star receiver who last year amassed a total of 1332 yards across 82 passes for 9 touchdowns.

It was a bold move yet one that had been studied significantly over the past few weeks.
So far, the Eagles have been somewhat mum on the actual reason behind the release seemingly being more willing to let media investigations feed public assumptions about their true motivations.

We do know the front office was concerned with Jackson’s affiliation with alleged Crips gang member, Theron Shakir who was accused of murdering 14 year-old Taburi Watson in 2010.

At the time of the investigation, LAPD reached out to the Eagles organization but they did not return the call. The police then found a number and contacted Jackson with their questions. LAPD Homicide Detective Chris Barling described the talk as “nothing confrontational” stating that “he answered our questions”.

This past Friday, NJ.com broke the story about Jackson’s LA gang affiliations, the murder investigations, as well as a report of a 2009 arrest for marijuana possession that the Eagles organization was not aware of.

In 2012, there was also a killing in front of a property owned by Jackson’s sister. In that investigation, documents belonging to Desean, credit card receipts, a car title and a gun permit from New Jersey, were found at the scene.

After the Friday NJ.com story broke, Jackson was released. The LAPD has gone on to say that Jackson had no involvement in the killings.

However, there are other possible reasons for the release.

A dynamic and, some would characterize, undisciplined player, there had been other bumps in the road since he was drafted by the then Eagles coach, Andy Reid. He’s missed team meetings, has held out for a renegotiated contract in the past and his relationship with new coach Chip Kelly is not as firm as it should be. There was fear that he could be a corrupting element on the new, younger players coming in and just wasn’t fitting into the direction that the team was moving.

From a workplace standpoint, this not only amounts to an employee who was discharged without the benefit of due process, there is also the question of an employer providing dubious information to other future prospective employers that prevents the separated employee from gaining future employment.

NFL organizations are pulling the trigger quickly on individuals with what they may consider off-field character issues that put them in positions such as the one that’s befallen former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez; it’s not surprising. They don’t want the embarrassment to the organization, the discredit to the company brand.

What is surprising in the case of the Eagles is that they have to know that he’s been cleared by the LAPD. As such, it could be characterized as irresponsible their allowing the gang affiliation activity rumor to snowball as much as it has, a charge that Jackson has leveled in his statement.

What happens if Desean is not picked up right away by any of the teams out there with enough cap space to accommodate the remaining amount of his salary, a little over 30 million dollars? That’s not that unlikely as teams are wondering just what all do the Eagles know about what the young man does on his time off. They’re wondering and they’re giving pause before making any decision about bringing the receiver in for a talk and a look.

And the longer these opposing teams pause, the more it seems that the rumors, if that’s all they continue to be, have caused the employee harm in that they've placed an undue burden on him, preventing him from being able to find work. If that happens then the Eagles could wind up with an employee action for defamation on their hands.

According to the undercover lawyer (undercoverlawyer.hubpages.com), four elements are required to prove that a former employer has defamed you. They are

1. “Publication – speaking about you to a third party, even on the telephone
2. “Of a false statement…” – if your past employer tells a prospective employer anything subjective about you, you can challenge it by using your entire employment record and co-worker statements to the contrary.
3. “That harms your reputation…” – simple to prove; you didn’t get the job.
4. “…and damages.” – This is the salary that you would've received if it were not for the defamation.

On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly why the Eagles are being mum on all of this. They’re aware of their possible liability in the situation. In the same way that ordinary employers will only give out specific documented information as reference to any prospective new boss, i.e. name, address, date of hire, date of separation, beginning wage and ending wage, this information blackout could be as calculated a move as the release itself.

And while they protect themselves from any defamation fallout, they've also put the squash on the rapid rehiring of a player who will surely come back to haunt them when he returns to the Linc, once he is finally picked up by an opposing squad.

Sources: Multiple media stories were culled for the above article - USA Today Sports (www.usatoday.com), Bell: Desean Jackson case lacking due process, Jarrett Bell, March 28, 2014; The Kansas City Star (www.kansascity.com), Chiefs likely won’t pursue Desean Jackson unless he’s released, Terez A. Taylor, March 22, 2014; CBS Sports (www.cbssports.com), LAPD: Desean Jackson not involved in gang-related killings, John Breech, March 29, 2014; NJ.com (www.nj.com), Desean Jackson cut by eagles: Everything you need to know, Eliot Shorr-Parks, March 29, 2014; CBS Sports (www.cbssports.com), Eye on Football, DeSean Jackson: ‘I am not and never have been part of any gang”, John Katzowitz/NFL Writer, March 28, 2014.