DeSean Jackson: Teams That Should Take a Chance on Troubled WR
Philadelphia Eagles' wide receiver DeSean Jackson will be a free agent at the end of this season. Much to the chagrin of Eagles fans, the likelihood seems to be increasing that the mercurial star does not make his home in the City of Brotherly Love next season.
Jackson, who made it clear at the end of the 2010 campaign that he felt he had outperformed his rookie contract and wanted a contract extension that aligned his level of pay with his level of play, is unhappy with the Eagles' lack of urgency in inking him to a new deal. The team's now infamous summer spending spree, which included giving $2 million guaranteed to former New York Giants' receiver Steve Smith (more than double Jackson's 2011 salary of $769,960), was perceived as a slight by the Pro Bowler, proving, in his eyes, the team's priorities obviously lay elsewhere.
The organization's unwillingness to placate Jackson has precipitated a turbulent 2011 season for the playmaker. To be fair to Jackson, he hasn't done as much to earn the title of villain as the Eagles would like their fans to believe. Sure, he held out for part of training camp, but that has become standard practice in the NFL today, and he reported to camp once his point was made.
As for the Eagles' implication that Jackson has been a less-than-engaged employee this season, ultimately culminating in a one game suspension in November, the issues that have brought about Jackson's discontent are the result of choices made by the team. During Jackson's brief holdout, the company line was that the team would not negotiate with a player who was holding out, implying, in essence, that the receiver would be rewarded for his good behavior if he were to report to camp, and keep his mouth shut. Obviously, that reward never came.
As this season has worn on, the team has continued to force Jackson to risk career-ending injury week in and week out for a paycheck that covers just a fraction of the receiver's real value. As such, it has become increasingly clear to Eagles fans that their electrifying receiver may not be back next season. With, in all likelihood, just three games left in the Eagles' 2011 season, some are beginning to wonder, what will become of DeSean Jackson?
Here are a few teams that should consider taking a chance on one of the most exciting players in the entire NFL.
For a five-week stretch this season, the Bears were the talk of the NFC and appeared to be a real threat to their NFC North rival, the Green Bay Packers. The resulting buzz surrounding Soldier Field was abruptly interrupted with a snap of Jay Cutler's thumb, but the message was clear, the Bears are on the rise.
However, being "on the rise" and "at the top" are two entirely different things. Year after year, teams that are considered to be up-and-coming fall short of the expectations bestowed upon them, tumbling back towards mediocrity or worse.
The Bears are built on a solid defense, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and little else. Despite having been short on talent at the position since the early days of Marty Booker's career, the Bears have been unable to identify and acquire a young, quality player at the position through either free agency or the draft.
If the Bears make a run at Jackson it would give them the game-breaking talent they need on the outside to take some of the pressure off of Forte and the Bears' shaky offensive line. As it stands today, defenses are fearless in loading up the box against the Bears, confident that there isn't a player among their receivers who can outrun coverage and consistently make big catches. Simply put, defenses know they can get to Cutler before Cutler's receivers can get open.
The Bears, over the course of the last decade, have always had a bunch of great No. 2 and 3 receivers, but never a true go-to guy. Devin Hester doesn't cut it, neither did Muhsin Muhammad, nor did Bernard Berrian. If the Bears can get their hands on Jackson, he could be the deep threat that opens the game up for Jay Cutler and gets the Bears' offense off the ground, literally.
Since their Super Bowl run at the end of the 2008 season, the wheels have fallen off of the offense in Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald is the only key member of that prolific offense still making his home in the desert.
Aside from Kurt Warner, the most damaging loss was that of Anquan Boldin. Boldin was talented enough in his own right to command special attention from defenses, leaving defensive coordinators in a persistent catch-22; try to take away Fitzgerald and watch Boldin go off, or give them each an equal amount of attention and watch Warner find whichever one was open on any given play. To further complicate matters, if you did somehow manage to limit both Fitzgerald and Boldin, you were going to have a front row seat to the Steve Breaston show. No matter how you sliced it, that offense was going to get what it came for.
Today, the Cardinals have a skeleton of that legendary 2008 attack in place. Obviously, Kevin Kolb is no Kurt Warner, but with Beanie Wells keeping defenses honest out of the backfield, teaming DeSean Jackson with Larry Fitzgerald would sure help Kolb to make his best Warner impression. The next generation Breaston is already in place as well, in the form of Andre Roberts, a young receiver with similar skills.
Jackson would command attention away from Fitzgerald and open up the offense in the desert. If the Cardinals were to take a chance on Jackson, they just might find themselves in the playoffs again very quickly.
The Minnesota Vikings are not as bad as their record in 2011 would indicate. They have some stars already in place on both sides of the ball and a quarterback who can only improve moving forward.
In the high-powered NFC North, where the Vikings' rivals, the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, have two of the most high-caliber aerial offenses in the league, the Vikings can ill afford to continue to fall behind in terms of talent.
If the Vikings were to acquire DeSean Jackson, they would have a very formidable offense surrounding rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. Adrian Peterson is one of the top running backs in the NFL and demands attention from the defense. Percy Harvin demands attention as well, and is explosive in the short passing game. A deep threat like Jackson would further open up the field for Ponder and help his progression toward becoming a quality NFL quarterback.
Taking a chance on a receiver like Jackson could spell the difference between the division cellar and fighting for at least a Wild Card spot in the playoffs for the Minnesota Vikings.
In today's NFL, the difference between being a good team and a bad team often isn't as wide a gap as it may seem to the naked eye. In Jacksonville, there are pieces in place that could develop into a very good team if the proper additions are made.
The Jaguars have a quality, young quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, whose development has been solid over the course of this season, a top-tier running back in Maurice Jones-Drew, and an athletic tight end in Marcedes Lewis. The Jaguars also have a solid defensive core. Where the team is severely lacking at present is at wide receiver.
A player of Jackson's talent would be the perfect addition to this young team in transition. Head coach Jack Del Rio, who favored a ball-control offense over a more aerial attack, was fired just a few weeks ago. The team will also be transitioning to new ownership over the course of the next few months.
Whoever the team's next head coach winds up being, he would be well served to push the new ownership to splurge on a game-breaking talent at receiver like DeSean Jackson. Jackson's speed and ability will stretch the field and open up running lanes for Jones-Drew, and give Gabbert a dependable deep-threat. He could be the missing piece that Jacksonville has needed to climb back into the hunt in the AFC.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In 2010, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' extremely young core showed a lot of promise for the future with a 10-6 record. They barely missed the playoffs under second-year head coach Raheem Morris, and were expected to only get better in 2011.
That hasn't happened.
Young quarterback Josh Freeman has regressed this season, thus far posting a horrific touchdown-to-interception ratio of just 12-to-18. Defenses have keyed on Freeman's favorite target, Mike Williams, and, with Tampa's defense leaving the team with large deficits to overcome on a weekly basis, Freeman has been forced to air it out into tight coverage, resulting in the large number of turnovers.
While, obviously, Jackson can do nothing to cure Tampa's defensive woes, he would help to open Tampa's offense for Freeman and running back LeGarrette Blount, a bruising back who simply hasn't had the opportunity to wear down opposing defenses this season given that the Bucs are constantly playing from behind. Williams, who has struggled to break free of the constant double teams he has faced this season, would surely welcome a deep threat like Jackson, who would take the attention away from Williams' side of the field.
For a team that has shown in the recent past that they aren't far off from becoming an NFC power, and with so many young, talented pieces in place, bringing in Jackson could be the push they need to challenge the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South.
For all that Jackson's talent could offer to other teams across the league, he already does for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The situation in Philadelphia has turned ugly quickly and without real reason. A factor in the Jackson saga in Philadelphia is the team's skittishness in dealing with unhappy players after what happened with Terrell Owens in 2005. The team and its fans associate any public display of discontent with Owens' situation, even when the player in question is, in fact, well-intended.
Jackson has played all season and, for the most part, kept his lips sealed from discussing his contract, despite constant goading from the local media. His suspension came as the result of a missed meeting, but, to be fair to Jackson, the same rumors have hounded him his entire career in Philadelphia. For the team to imply that his tardiness is a sign that the receiver is trying to muscle his way out of town is completely unfair if, in fact, he has been displaying the same behavior his entire career without punishment.
The Eagles are one of the most business savvy teams in the league and, often, being business savvy contradicts being loyal to players. The Eagles' front office did not want to sign Jackson to an extension before this season because they felt that the price they would pay would be too high and, given the receiver's production this season, they may now be able to re-sign him at a lower price if both sides can see through their differences.
The Eagles may also choose to use the franchise tag on Jackson to keep him for another season.
Either way, Jackson is an important piece of the Eagles' puzzle, whether the team will admit it or not. His ability to stretch defenses keeps the field open for Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy out of the backfield, and the attention defenses must pay to Jackson keeps pressure off of Jeremy Maclin. For the Eagles to continue to have a high-octane offense, it is important that they try to keep Jackson.
What Will Most Likely Happen?
The most likely scenario for Jackson is that the Eagles assign the franchise tag on him. Regardless of who will be coaching the team next season, whether it be Andy Reid or someone new, he must recognize that the Eagles offense relies heavily on the threat that Jackson poses to opposing defenses.
If the Eagles were to place the franchise tag on Jackson, it would be a great scenario financially for the receiver as well. Franchised players are paid the average of the top five salaries in the league for the year they are tagged.
While Jackson obviously wants long-term stability in his contract situation, that does not align well with the Eagles' goal of winning a Super Bowl now. The Eagles will likely recognize the importance of the presence of Jackson within their offense and make sure he is in town for at least one more run at the ever-elusive title the team is chasing.
If, in the year the Eagles place the franchise tag on the receiver, the team implodes again or falls short of expectations, the Eagles front office will likely look to move to rebuild, in which case they would surely allow Jackson to walk after next season. If they are given reason to keep the core of the team intact, then they would have another entire season to negotiate a deal with the receiver.
On one side, Jackson is too good for the Eagles to simply allow him to walk away at the end of this season, and on the other side, given his drop in production this season, Jackson can't honestly expect to be among the top five highest paid receivers next year if he were to sign on the open market. The franchise tag is the best case scenario for both sides, and it is what will likely happen this offseason.