Here are five thoughts on DeSean Jackson's new deal with the Eagles:
1. All along, the best possible outcome for both parties was a long-term deal. After seeing how things played out last year, I had serious doubts that Jackson would be content playing under the franchise tag in 2012. Yes, it would have guaranteed him $9.5M. But now, that number reportedly gets bumped to $15M. And if he plays to his potential, Jackson can earn more than three times that in the next five years. Keep in mind that he will only be 30 years old when this deal runs out.
Last year, Jackson used the excuse that his contract, which paid about $600,000 in 2011, was weighing on his mind and was responsible for his disappointing on-field performance. Some fans empathized with him; others deemed Jackson's attitude inexcusable. But now there are no excuses. Jackson has $15M in guaranteed money coming his way, and he's only 25 years old. It's time to re-establish himself as a reliable offensive weapon and one of the league's most dangerous playmakers.
2. Here's a quick look at Jackson's numbers last year, compared to his first three seasons:
The point here is that Jackson had a down year, but his on-field production didn't plunge as much as you might think.
He clearly needs to cut down on the drops. Taking a look at Pro Football Focus' numbers from last season, Jackson's drops came in a couple of areas on the field. On those intermediate routes, in between the numbers and within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, Jackson dropped four balls on 28 targets. Given that he's suffered two concussions and is one of the smallest receivers in the league, I don't think that part of Jackson's game is going to improve.
However, he also dropped four balls on passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield. Those are the big ones, the potentially game-changing plays. The catches that can turn a 961-yard season into an 1,100-yard season. The key for Jackson is not to diversify his skill set, but to perform at an elite level in the areas that are already his strengths.
3. The greatest concern with Jackson relates to what happened when things didn't go his way last season. When the Eagles needed him on that Sunday afternoon against the Cardinals, he wasn't there because he violated team rules. When they were down to the Patriots in the fourth quarter, Jackson was on the bench, because Andy Reid, who has built a reputation on having his players' backs, benched his speedy wide receiver.
Players generally support one another in contract disputes. And in the past couple days, we've seen Eagles players use social media to congratulate Todd Herremans, Trent Cole and Jackson on their new deals. I think that's real. They've all seen what can happen to guys like Leonard Weaver on a single play. They know how careers can be cut short without warning. But Herremans and Cole turned in strong seasons in 2011. And in Baltimore, Ray Rice, also in the final year of his deal, carried the Ravens' offense, piling up a career-best 2,068 yards from scrimmage. Jackson, meanwhile, let his teammates down on multiple occasions. Now that he has his new deal, those distractions are unacceptable, and he has to make sure his teammates can trust him.
4. On Wednesday morning, I wrote that it'd be perfectly reasonable for Drew Rosenhaus to demand Jackson get paid as much, if not more, than Pierre Garcon. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out, Garcon and Jackson ended up receiving relatively similar deals. The key here is to remember that Garcon had the benefit of testing the market. Had Jackson been able to shop his services around the league, he would have gotten a richer deal than he received from the Eagles. His other option was to play 2012 under the franchise tag, receiving $9.5M in weekly increments starting in the fall. The Eagles would have then had the option of franchising Jackson again at a higher number next season or letting him become a free agent. Instead, Jackson took the long-term deal now and received a signing bonus worth a reported $10M. All last season, we wondered how much money Jackson was costing himself by being a distraction and not maximizing his potential, but the truth is, given the way the market played out, things worked out pretty well for him.
5. Jackson's game has holes. He's never going to be a 100-catch guy. He's never going to make tough catches over the middle and absorb big hits. And he'll likely never be a huge factor in the red zone. But he fits with what the Eagles want to accomplish offensively. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, at the very least, the Eagles are going to return 10 of 11 players on offense next season (using three receivers instead of a fullback for our purposes). If Evan Mathis re-signs, it could be all 11. Take a look at their skill-position players. Jackson is 25 and signed through 2016. LeSean McCoy is 23 and could be next in line for an extension (he's currently signed through 2012). Jeremy Maclin is 23 and signed through 2013. Jason Avant is 28 and signed through 2014. And Brent Celek is 27, signed through 2016.
The offensive line has a chance to be a real strength too.
Guess who I haven't mentioned yet: Michael Vick. As others have noted, this will be his first full offseason as a starting quarterback since 2006. He'll have a young, talented group of playmakers around him. And he'll have a strong offensive line to protect him.
In the first part of this post, I said there will now be no excuses for Jackson in 2012. The same should be said for Vick, too.