NOW THAT DeSean Jackson has been franchised by the Eagles, the most likely outcome is that he plays here this season.
Maybe that seems kinda obvious, but there are other possibilities. The Birds, who are believed to have floated last weekend's report that they are entertaining offers for their game-breaking wideout, could seek to trade him. If they really wanted to be Machiavellian, they could wait until the prominent pending free-agent wideouts all sign, then yank the tag and throw DeSean on the UFA market late, when he is unlikely to do better on a long-term deal elsewhere than he will with the Birds. Or Jackson could refuse to sign the $9.4 million franchise tender, and the sides could hunker down for protracted, nasty warfare.
But there are good reasons why none of those scenarios is likely, starting with the statement Jackson released last night: "I am honored that the Philadelphia Eagles organization perceives me as a franchise player. I look forward to getting a long-term deal done soon and being an Eagle for many years to come."
That didn't sound like a guy who is angry about being tagged. In fact, it sounded like a guy who might sign that tender as soon as it is put in front of him, at which point the Eagles couldn't yank it.
Indications are that whatever they might have done last weekend, perhaps hoping to put a scare into agent Drew Rosenhaus, the Eagles really do want DeSean playing for them. They believe he learned from last season, that he will come to camp with a different demeanor, will again be the guy who was the find of the 2008 draft after being taken 49th overall. (Rosenhaus, by the way, asked last night if he wanted to comment on the tagging of his client, said "not at this time.")
Before the tag was applied, Rosenhaus told SiriusXM radio, "As an agent, you really hope that your players aren't franchised. You would like a guy who has played out his contract to have an opportunity to go and talk to other teams. A lot of guys go into free agency and sign with their teams.
"If a player is franchised, it certainly doesn't mean that you have to play for that franchise tag for that year," he said later. "You obviously have the opportunity to get a deal done afterwards, before camp starts, you have time to work out a long-term contract.
"If my clients get franchised, believe me we're going to roll up our sleeves and hope that we can convert that into a multiyear deal."
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman also talked optimistically about the extended future, after the Birds became the first team this year to use the tag, which became available Feb. 20.
"We want DeSean to be an Eagle for the long haul and this is a step in the right direction to accomplish that," Roseman said in a statement. "DeSean is a talented player and a proven playmaker in this league and we look forward to him continuing his career in Philadelphia. It's our understanding that he has the same desire. We will continue our efforts on getting a long-term deal done with him."
Considering that Jackson made about $600,000 last season, $9.4 million guaranteed is not an insult. If he has a great year, and no long-term accord is reached, he either gets franchised again or hits the free-agent market. That's not a terrible prospect for Jackson. And as former NFL (and Eagles) exec Andrew Brandt noted last night on Twitter, it isn't a bad scenario for the Eagles - it enables them to "go year-to-year with a talent that may not be durable."
Even if the Birds are interested in trading Jackson, tag-and-trade is rare in the NFL. The free-agent wideout class looks very deep. If you need a difference-maker, you probably can just sign one, without trading an asset to the Eagles.
Does franchising DeSean mean the Eagles don't dip into that enticing free-agent wideout pool? Probably. Hard to see them diving into the deep end, anyhow, with DeSean, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant all under contract. If they need a better red-zone threat, there are ways of coming up with one that don't involve paying a fortune to a top-tier wideout who probably is only going to sign where he's the acknowledged top dog, anyway. Plaxico Burress won't cost a fortune and wants to be here so bad, he's done everything but volunteer to wax Dave Spadaro's dome. There also is this thing called the NFL draft, held in April. The Eagles have three picks in the first two rounds.
The alternative to tagging Jackson would have been letting a 25-year-old, two-time Pro Bowl wideout walk away into free agency for nothing, which would have been crazy. Over his four NFL seasons, Jackson is second in the NFL in yards per catch (17.8) among players who have caught at least 200 passes. He is one of five players in NFL history with more than 900 receiving yards in each of their first four seasons. But he scored just four touchdowns last season, and has been dramatically less of a lethal threat since suffering a concussion against the Falcons on Oct. 17, 2010. Jackson has acknowledged that continuing to play under his second-round rookie contract after making the Pro Bowl twice weighed on him and affected his play.
The website eaglescap.com estimated that in the wake of the Jackson tagging, the Birds retained $19,386,628 in cap room, including a large carryover from last season.