The relationship between the San Diego Chargers and star receiver Vincent Jackson is entering the second round of a heavy weight battle. The Chargers would like to maintain the rights to their embattled pass catcher, and Jackson would like to be fairly compensated for his talents even if it means diving into the free agent pool.
Unlike most fights, this match could end with two winners. For that to happen, both sides will have to forget the past, swallow their pride and put their personal issues aside.
Prior to the 2010 season, Jackson decided to hold out, balking at the $3.268 million restricted free agent tender offered by the Chargers. General manager A.J. Smith countered the hold out by placing Jackson on the roster exempt list, which lowered the value of his tender to $583,000— 110 percent of Jackson's 2009 salary—and imposed a three-game suspension if or when Jackson decided to return.
Jackson's agent, Neil Schwartz, stated the wide receiver was committed to sitting out the entire 2010 season and likely would never play for the Chargers again. This proved to be an empty threat, however, as the NFL Players Association recommended that Jackson and New England Patriots hold out Logan Mankins return to there respective teams to ensure they would gain an accrued season and avoid being restricted free agents again in 2011.
Jackson reported to the Chargers on October 29 and missed three games against the Titans, Texans and Broncos, serving the suspension imposed by his placement on the roster exempt list. He was on the active roster for the final six games of the season, finishing with 14 receptions, 248 yards, three touchdowns and most importantly, another accrued season of NFL service.
With an expiring collective bargaining agreement and impending lockout, the Chargers slapped Jackson with the non-exclusive franchise tag worth somewhere between $10 million and $11 million for the 2011 season. What remains to be seen is whether or not the franchise tag will survive under a new collective bargaining agreement or be removed as part of Jackson's involvement in a pending antitrust lawsuit against the NFL.
This unsettling situation between the Chargers and their top wide receiver has many wondering if the rift can be mended. Will the franchise tag remain? If not, will the Chargers offer Jackson a multi-year contract? If so, will Jackson consider returning to the Chargers after all the drama?
I have no insight into the inner workings of Vincent Jackson or his agent, but my gut tells me that Jackson, like most NFL players, is interested in two things: winning and money. Jackson and his agent are best served to remember that the actions taken by the Chargers are not personal, but just business.
Consider the New England Patriots. Widely regarded as a pillar amongst professional sports teams, the Patriots are well respected in all aspects of their organization. When faced with a contract dispute with offensive guard Logan Mankins, the Patriots employed almost the exact tactics used by the Chargers. Mankins tender was reduced from $3.26 million to $1.54 million, and like Jackson, Mankins ended his hold out prematurely to ensure he would accrue another year of service.
The Chargers should not be expected to be held to a higher standard than the Patriots. They simply did what other savvy franchises did and used every resource to their advantage. Jackson could have made more than $3 million in 2010, but instead settled for around $200,000 in a fruitless attempt to prove he was worth more.
The reality is, the Chargers are in the business of winning football games, and Vincent Jackson is in the business of playing football at a high level. Whatever petty financial differences they've had the past year, the two sides need each other. The Chargers will be hard pressed to continue their dominant aerial assault without one of their biggest weapons, and Vincent Jackson could find that catching passes and scoring touchdowns are more difficult without quarterback Philip Rivers slinging the ball downfield. Sure, Philip Rivers isn't the only good quarterback in the NFL, but Vincent Jackson is hardly the lone talented wideout in the league either.
There are many reasons why, given the opportunity, Vincent Jackson should remain with the Chargers. For example, Jackson has a great relationship with Rivers, is familiar with the Chargers offense and San Diego is a beautiful place to be a millionaire.
Should A.J. Smith and the Chargers offer Jackson a competitive multi-year contract, Jackson should put his personal feelings aside and focus more on the paperwork he needs to sign rather than the man who hands it to him.