It’s safe to say that Tanard Jackson’s career with the Washington Redskins has been less than spectacular. That being said, with the current uncertainty at the safety position, should Mike Shanahan and his staff welcome Jackson back into the fold?
It’s unfortunate that the team find themselves in this position. Selecting Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas in the 2013 draft gave the indication that Jackson was gone from the roster for good.
Yet Thomas is now unavailable for the season with a Lisfranc injury, Rambo has had a rocky (no pun intended) preseason and Madieu Williams was not up to the standard required of him. At the other safety position, questions remain unanswered over Brandon Meriweather’s fitness and mobility.
If Rambo and Meriweather struggle, the team is suddenly reliant on last year’s starters.
Jackson looked good in the 2012 preseason and was set to take on a starting role under his old head coach, Raheem Morris. Unfortunately, his predilection for banned substances resurfaced, resulting in an indefinite ban that is due for review on August 31.
Back in June, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett told Rich Tandler of CSN Washington that he and the team would welcome Jackson back “with open arms.”
Yet, Jackson is banned from any sort of contact with the team or staff and banned from setting foot on any team facilities. Since this took effect immediately after his suspension a year ago, there's no telling what sort of shape he's in.
In a recent interview with CSN Washington's Rob Carlin, Jackson maintained that he'd been staying in shape over the last 12 months and is ready to be called upon if the league decides to reinstate him. He maintained that it was hard to watch the team struggle with deficiencies in the secondary last year and that he is now finally done with what Carlin called “being a knucklehead.”
However, even if he's been working harder than ever to remain in shape, he still hasn't played any football for a full year. Luckily, he is still under contact with the Redskins—his one-year deal rolls over to this year—so, crucially, the choice remains with them. The league will grant them a roster exemption period of two or three weeks in which to assess Jackson and evaluate if he is of a standard to make the roster.
Even the answer is yes, that's where the fun begins.
There's absolutely no question that Jackson could contribute to this team in 2013. He is a talented free safety who was set to be the starter at the beginning of last year. He may be 28 and officially on the downswing of his career, but he has valuable NFL experience and could add depth to a secondary already losing pieces.
Rambo has earned his starts, so it's not a case of Jackson slotting straight back atop the depth chart. It would be a process of earning back the trust of his coaches and teammates, clawing his way back to the field and proving he can stay there.
Despite his shaky preseason start, Rambo looked much improved in the third game, the convincing win over Buffalo. He took better angles when tackling in the open field, finishing with three open-field tackles and a pass breakup.
Speaking to Mike Jones at The Washington Post, Haslett was full of praise for Rambo's work ethic and determination:
I thought he did a great job. He worked hard all week in tackling and his angles. I thought he did a great job; he came in and tackled the quarterback on the read option in the open space. He closed a couple times, made some open field tackles.
Rambo will not be easily displaced, so keeping Jackson comes back to the numbers. It's another roster spot to come at the expense of someone else—for a player who has repeatedly burned his bridges.
In 2009, Jackson was suspended for four games. In 2010 he was suspended indefinitely and missed 12 games. In 2011 he missed six games, then another 16 in 2012 due to another indefinite suspension.
If those were his four years of college, he would be laughed off every draft board in the league, regardless of his talent. On this evidence, it's clear he cannot be trusted to remain clean and put the team above himself.
Yet his experience in the NFL counts for a lot, and his knowledge of the Redskins' system counts for a lot more. If he is genuine about focusing on football and helping his team for a full season, he is a solid pickup at this late stage.
He is already part of the franchise and a hugely tempting insurance policy at free safety. He is also a gamble at the expense of a player not afforded such leniency, but the NFL is a business, and talent masks a multitude of sins.
Expect to see him back in the Burgundy and Gold in 2013. It's his final last chance.