Vincent Jackson to Patriots: Would Ex-Chargers WR Look Good in New England?
A superb athlete and one of the NFL's biggest wideouts, Jackson's ability to create separation and make catches in traffic down the field could make New England's passing game impossible to defend.
Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe reported (h/t Rotoworld) that the Pats' top priority in free agency will be finding a receiver to complement Wes Welker. While he lists Jackson and ex-Steeler Mike Wallace among those the Patriots should chase, he considers V-Jax the best option.
Meanwhile, Greg Horton, a pro scout for ESPN's Scout's Inc., lists New England third on his "Five best landing spots for Vincent Jackson" piece on ESPN Insider.
It may be a long-shot, especially considering the Patriots' recent history of frugality regarding big-name free agents (you can thank Roosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas for that), but adding a 29-year-old, 6'5", 230 pound burner with terrific hands could ease the pain of another Super Bowl collapse for Patriot Nation.
Let's take a look at four things the Pats must consider in evaluating whether V-Jax is worth the investment.
4. Vincent Jackson's Impact on New England Patriots' Other Pass-Catchers
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Tom Brady's connection with undersized wide receiver Wes Welker is apparent every time No. 12 goes back to pass.
Welker is always there, play in and play out, getting open in the blink of an eye, providing Brady a viable option 60 minutes every Sunday. The numbers are staggering: among pass-catchers in 2011, Welker was first in receptions, second in targets, second in yards, first in yards-after-catch and tied for first in first downs.
But the scrappy wideout isn't Brady's only target.
Let's not forget about a little something New Englanders refer to as the "Boston TE Party." Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were nothing short of spectacular last season, with Gronk smashing his way through the record books. The former Arizona Wildcat was the answer to the age-old question of "what happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?"
I'll tell you what happens.
The most receiving touchdowns and receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history happens. Gronking his way through the league with the strength of 10 men, No. 87 found his way into the heart of every fan in New England.
So where would Vincent Jackson fit in?
Well, with Welker and Hernandez running underneath, and Gronk using the middle of the field, V-Jax's speed and size downfield would make the Pats' aerial attack downright scary. Like Randy Moss in 2007, Jackson would add a third-dimension to the passing game, forcing defenses into single coverage across the board.
Good luck playing Welker, Gronk, Hernandez and V-Jax all straight up—Brady would probably throw for 6,000 yards.
3. Vincent Jackson's Size and Speed Combination Is Something the Offense Needs
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For all of the skills that the New England Patriots' receiving corps have, there is one thing that has been lacking since Randy Moss' departure at the beginning of the 2010 season: The ability to "go up and get the ball."
Wes Welker is one of the best in the league at getting open, Rob Gronkowski is probably the NFL's top red zone target, and Aaron Hernandez is phenomenal after the catch, but rarely will you see Tom Brady throw them the ball downfield and let them make a play on it. On the one hand, it's a safer way to play offense because it limits turnovers, but on the other hand it confines an offense if it can only make plays 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.
Obviously Brady did something right last season, breaking Dan Marino's passing yardage record and finishing the year with 5,235 yards through the air. But anyone who watched the Patriots could tell that there were times the offense struggled to make big plays.
Vincent Jackson is one of the NFL's kings at making big plays.
To help you understand the difference between V-Jax and New England's current slew of pass catchers, we need to take a look at just one stat: yards per catch. Gronk was the Pats' leader last season, and he only averaged 14.7 yards per catch (33rd in the league). Jackson's average of 18.4 placed him sixth in the NFL for the category.
And it wasn't just last season—Jackson's career yards per catch is 17.5.
It's the only reason he has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards three times in his short career without ever catching more than 68 passes. As the best receiver on the San Diego Chargers, lofty expectations left many to believe that Jackson was too inconsistent to be a true No. 1 receiver.
On the Patriots, Jackson's role would be more clearly defined. He would be Brady's target along the sidelines and in the deep part of the field, allowing Welker, Hernandez and Gronk to take care of the rest.
V-Jax's rare combination of size and speed would give Brady the Calvin Johnson-type of receiver who can be a "home run" threat on every single play.
2. What Should New England Patriots Fans Realistically Expect
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While Vincent Jackson's arrival would strengthen the New England Patriots' offense exponentially, his individual numbers would probably suffer.
Earlier, I compared Jackson's presence to that of Randy Moss in 2007. That doesn't mean, however, that I think Jackson would put up the historic numbers Moss dropped in that legendary undefeated regular season.
First of all, Jackson is no Moss. '07 Moss had already accumulated six seasons with 10-plus touchdowns—V-Jax has none (though he's reached nine twice).
Secondly, and this is just a personal opinion, Tom Brady was throwing the deep ball a lot better back then than he has been since his unfortunate knee injury in 2009. Recently, Brady's long passes have looked forced, and have landed on the ground or in the opponents hands more often than they have been caught by the intended receiver.
Of course, this could be a product of New England lacking a true deep threat the last two seasons. And as a Patriots fan, I hope Brady turns things around and makes me eat a whole plate of crow. For now, though, I'm saying that Jackson's impact would be slightly limited because Brady has only been mediocre on long throws since he tore his ACL.
Having said all of that, I still think Jackson would garner consideration for the Pro Bowl (not that the Pro Bowl means anything anymore).
Something in the ballpark of 50 catches, 900 yards and 12 touchdowns seems to be a realistic expectation for a guy with as much talent as Jackson.
1. Is Vincent Jackson Worth It for the New England Patriots?
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In almost any other year I would say that the New England Patriots should shell out the big bucks for a player as unique as Vincent Jackson.
For this free agency period, however, I can't rationalize spending crazy money on V-Jax when there are so many other talented, cheaper options. Sure, Brandon Lloyd is a little bit older (31), but his experience in the offensive system and price tag make him a more attractive target.
Jackson held out for more than half the season in 2009 because of a disagreement with San Diego Chargers ownership over his contract and played last season with the franchise tag. There is no way that after all of that back-and-forth that Jackson is going to settle for anything less than being the highest paid free agent wide receiver of 2012.
Aside from Lloyd, there are other options the Pats can explore like Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and let's not forget about available Pittsburgh Steelers lightning rod, Mike Wallace.
The Patriots just placed the franchise tag on Wes Welker, and assuming the two sides don't come to a long-term agreement before the season starts, Brady's favorite target will be paid a little more than $9 million this season. Signing V-Jax to a large contract would put New England in a tough spot financially with so much money tied up in one position.
Although Jackson has everything the Patriots are looking for in a wide receiver, the team would be better off divvying up its money across the entire roster. The hole on defense at the safety position is the size of a small country, and everyone knows that the Pats would kill for some pass rushing help.
Spending a huge amount of money on Jackson would cause tons of excitement in New England, but signing a lower-tier receiver and then adding depth to the defense would be the wiser move for an organization that has always succeeded by making shrewd business decisions.