THE EAGLES swear they still love DeSean Jackson, despite receiving production that has declined in the last two seasons, and punt-returning production that has declined in the last three seasons, and the small fact that he sulked on them in the middle of last season, was told not to come to one game after missing a meeting, was benched in the second half of another game, and later felt the need to apologize for his actions.
You can decide if they are telling the truth about the love. I think Jackson is destined to break their hearts, but we are all just going to have to wait and see what is going to happen. The fact that the Eagles put the franchise tag on him yesterday does not change that.
To be determined.
But here is what you have to hope: that if the Eagles are to bring him back, that it is for a reason other than there was no other way for them to save face and recapture whatever value Jackson has in a trade. If the Eagles bring him back, they really need to do it because they believe he is again going to play at the levels he reached in the first two seasons of his career, and not the diminished numbers of the last two.
The argument about those numbers goes around and around. Some people think they declined because he is not the same player after suffering two serious concussions. Other people say that it is the club's fault, that Jackson fell into a funk because of his uncertain contract status after the player clearly outplayed his original deal. Still others say it is because defenses have schemed to eliminate Jackson's explosiveness by playing their safeties deep and forcing quarterback Michael Vick to work less vertically and more underneath, which is not Jackson's strength.
It might be a combination of all three, although it really seems like a longshot that a bigger contract would suddenly turn Jackson into a fearless player over the middle, something he has never been. The truth is that the sulking says a lot more about the person than it does about the contract.
But if the Eagles are going to pay Jackson the money and keep him, it has to be because they believe that if the player is financially contented and a year removed from the latest concussion, he will be ready to leap tall, deep safeties in a single bound, or something.
I just don't see it. The chances of Jackson regaining what he had in his first two seasons are no better than a coin flip, in my guesstimation.
I've already written a column about why I'd rather have Mike Wallace, the restricted free agent wide receiver from Pittsburgh, even though the Steelers would have to be compensated with a first-round draft choice (provided they don't match or can't match the Eagles' offer sheet). He is much more of a sure thing than Jackson.
My colleagues Les Bowen and Sheil Kapadia think I'm crazy about this Mike Wallace business. They believe that Wallace is only marginally better than Jackson, and the difference is not worth the subtraction of a first-round draft choice (plus, to be accurate, the addition of whatever compensation they received in a Jackson trade). That is an argument for another time. But this point is not arguable: If the Eagles were to part with Jackson by way of a trade, they would need to replace him. They couldn't go with what they had.
Les was right when he said that it would be malpractice just to let Jackson walk away for nothing. Now, assuming Jackson signs the tag (which guarantees him a reported $9.4 million), that will not happen. But we are still early in the process. The fact that they did the tagging yesterday instead of waiting until the Monday deadline suggests that no deal is imminent - or why not push through the weekend? Even if they are not close, the two sides can negotiate about a long-term deal into July. And if they don't get one, Jackson can play for the $9.4 million.
Or they can trade him.
Long way to go yet.