In what is considered a stunning turn of events, the San Diego Chargers have applied the "non-exclusive" Franchise Player tag to seventh-year wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
This move may come as a surprise to most fans, especially since the Chargers and Jackson have been at odds since the start of training camp.
Coming off an impressive 2009 campaign, Jackson was ready to test the free agency market in hopes of garnering a lucrative long-term contract. However, with the owners' opting out of the last year of the current collective bargaining agreement, Jackson had not accrued the required amount of years for unrestricted free agency.
In essence, he was a restricted free agent, and while any team could have lured him away with the long- term contract he desired, no team was essentially willing to part with the first and third-round draft picks tender the Chargers had placed on him.
Instead of playing for a one-year contract worth $3.268 million, Jackson decided he would sit out the season. That didn't go as planned, though.
After sitting out seven games, Jackson reported to the Chargers under the advice of the NFL Players Association and signed his one-year tender that was then worth $280,823. He served a three-game suspension on the roster-exempt list and was active for the Chargers final six games of the season.
Jackson appeared in four games, catching 14 receptions for 284 yards and three touchdowns.
The Chargers designated Jackson a "non-exclusive" franchise player, meaning Jackson can still negotiate with other teams for the long-term contract he desires. If Jackson does receive an offer from another team, the Chargers have the right to match the new team's offer or is entitled to two first-round draft picks as compensation.
Jackson is expected to earn $10 million and $12 million for the 2011 season, the average of the top five players at the wide receiver position.
The question is... will there be a franchise tag for the 2011 season, let alone football at all?
The NFLPA has been fighting the use of the franchise tag this offseason, mainly because there is no new collective bargaining agreement in place, however the league contends that since the current CBA doesn't expire until March 4, that the franchise tag is indeed valid.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jackson expected to be designated the Chargers franchise player during the offseason and plans to play under its terms in 2011 if the new CBA includes a franchise tag.
"Vincent has been a valuable contributor to our team," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said in a team-issued statement. "We want him to be a Charger."
For how long is an important question, though.
Smith, could forget all about last year's debacle and sit down with Jackson's agent, Neil Schwartz, to work out a long-term deal. Jackson had been seeking a contract worth $50 million over five years with $30 million guaranteed, but that seemed to be out of the Chargers' price range, especially with Jackson's off-field problems.
Jackson has been arrested twice for DUIs since 2006 and was cited for driving with a suspended license and expired tags on the morning of last year's playoff loss to the New York Jets.
However, with Jackson returning for the 2011 season, things could be improving for a Chargers wide receiver corps that was plagued with injuries. Last season's acquisition Patrick Crayton will be returning and, with Jackson, could help provide the Bolts with a potent downfield aerial attack.
If the Chargers are successful in re-signing unrestricted free agent Malcom Floyd, they could find themselves with the new Three Amigos.
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