There is an old joke about body parts arguing who should be boss. When a certain part situated in the lower hemisphere and in charge of waste speaks up, he is roundly ridiculed by the others. Hurt and embarrassed, he ceases to operate at maximum efficiency. In little time, all the other body parts cease to function properly. They unanimously vote to make him boss.
The moral, of course, is that you don't have to be a brain to be a boss, but rather . . . well, you know. Which seems an appropriate anecdote for a look at the importance of a premier wide receiver to an NFL offense, or more specifically, a look at what might happen when such a player feels underappreciated and is perceived to cease operating at maximum efficiency.
There have been two such cases in the annals of Eagledom within the last decade. In 2004, Terrell Owens set an Eagles record with 14 touchdown receptions, then almost miraculously recovered from a late-season ankle injury in time to star in the Eagles' losing effort in Super Bowl XXXIX. His nine catches and 122 receiving yards nearly negated New England coach Bill Belichick's strategy to focus on shutting down Brian Westbrook, which New England did. And Owens' heroics provided an uneasy contrast to the late-game controversy surrounding Donovan McNabb's nerves, which did or did not lead to using up too much time on a final drive, even throwing up in the huddle.
Two seasons ago, DeSean Jackson, at age 24, became the first player named as a Pro Bowl starter at two positions. He was chosen to play last year but pulled out because of injury. Considered a risky pick in 2008 because of some diva-like episodes at the University of California, Jackson's first three seasons as an Eagle contained far more positives than negatives. His spectacular punt returns and big-play abilities helped the Eagles win a number of close games. He started a foundation to fight pancreatic cancer, which his father died of in 2009. He befriended a 13-year-old boy who had been bullied at school, and has become a spokesman against bullying since.
Although last season ended with a flat regular-season finish and a close loss to the eventual Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers, there was reason to believe that the Eagles had reloaded and would be a Super Bowl contender for this year and years to follow. LeSean McCoy would only get better. Signed to a deal that locked him up for at least the next three seasons, Michael Vick's grasp of Andy Reid's offense would only improve. Once the lockout ended, the Eagles added several big names to a defense that had been their Achilles' heel the year before. And Jackson, still so young, would give the team that weapon that had been missing since Owens went AWOL, more or less.
You remember. How could anyone forget? Owens had signed an under-the-market, 7-year deal with the Eagles only after a trade to Baltimore was negated through negotiation - a contract that the NFL Players Association strenuously objected to. After feuding with coaches and pouting his way out of San Francisco, Owens was deemed damaged goods. But that 2004 season - in which he and McNabb got along famously, in which his only run-in with Reid resulted in a faux bet about the coach wearing spandex - reversed that. His "81" jersey sold off the rack. Fans found his antics and celebrations, for the most part, amusing.
Owens' contract was widely reported to be $49 million for 7 years, but his base pay for the 2004 season was $660,000 and the deal was heavily backloaded. After earning $9 million via incentives in 2004, he faced the real possibility of earning less than half that in 2005. He fired his agent, hired Drew Rosenhaus and sought to renegotiate.
And, well, let the fun begin.
The Eagles' brass stuck to its policy of not renegotiating existing contracts. Asked to weigh in on the matter, McNabb deferred. Arguing his case, Owens mentioned that it was not he who "got tired," which he later steadfastly denied was a slap at McNabb. Still, a 2005 season that seemed so promising after the final seconds of that Super Bowl was, by midsummer, a fiasco, bigger than any elephant P.T. Barnum ever dragged into an undersized room.
Owens threatened to hold out in training camp but reported on time. Like Jackson last summer, however, he was clearly unhappy, and that mood set a tone that permeated both the camp and the start to the regular season. Like Jackson's, Owens' play tailed off as the season wore on. Like Jackson, critics contended, he didn't run his routes with the same effort, the same resolve. In both cases, a weapon their quarterbacks expected to have, a weapon that had been game-planned into the offense, was unreliable at best, nonexistent at times.
McNabb suffered a slight sports hernia in the 2005 preseason. Burdened perhaps with a larger share of making the offense work than had been anticipated, he found it harder and harder to compete at the level he was accustomed to. Finally, in a Monday-night game on Nov. 14 against Dallas, his team 4-4 and fighting to remain in the hunt, he aggravated it after throwing an ill-advised late-game interception and trying to make a tackle, sidelining him for the rest of the season.
By then, Owens had been suspended and effectively kicked off the team for several inflammatory statements and a now-famous bout with Hugh Douglas inside the Eagles training room. The promising season, the one that was going to take care of unfinished business, instead ended at 6-10 with Mike McMahon as the starting quarterback.
There were other issues with that team as well, just as there are with this year's team. But like 2005, Jackson's situation lingered through a camp filled with "Dream Team" expectations, and permeated the early-season tone as well.
Did it lead to Vick's concussion? The broken ribs suffered in the loss to Arizona that sidelined him for the next three games? Would Juan Castillo's defense have performed any differently if Jackson had received a new deal?
Food for thought, for sure. Vick suffered his concussion in the second game of the season - a game in which Jackson caught two passes for 21 yards. Vick suffered a near-break of his non-throwing hand in a loss against the Giants the following week, a game in which Jackson caught two passes for 30 yards. Both times Vick left the game, the Eagles were winning. Win those games, and we are talking about a 6-6 team. Win that winnable game against Arizona - the one Jackson was suspended for - and you are talking about a 7-5 team right now.
So, as much as Jackson's pouts and antics have irked you this season, try to keep in mind that he is, in fact, a game-changing wide receiver in the NFL, with the demeanor often associated with that. If Tom Brady can tolerate Randy Moss, if Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning can work through Plaxico Burress, then maybe we all should swallow our outrage over his recent antics and figure out how to make this important body part feel happy, feel like he's the boss even.
Lest we go through another season without one, or one that doesn't function properly.