Consider this burning question answered by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles will apply the franchise tag to DeSean Jackson, the team's biggest question mark this offseason, to keep him in green for one more season. Next question: Then what?
Count on one thing. Jackson will not see a day of free agency. The Eagles have no other choice.
Jackson was a second round 2008 Draft pick who blew away concern for his small size by scoring 24 total touchdowns in his first three seasons in the league, none more dramatic than his 65-yard punt return for a score in the Eagles' improbable 21-point comeback against the Giants in December 2010.
DeSean is the Eagles' rock star whose talent is not easily replaced. The Chiefs are sure to find a way to keep Dwayne Bowe. The Saints may do the same with Marques Colston. Vincent Jackson will be an unrestricted free agent, but he is three years older than Jackson is and he would have to transition from Norv Turner's downfield offense to Andy Reid's West Coast Offense. There are no free agent alternatives to Jackson.
The Eagles might strike gold in the NFL Draft as they did with Jackson, but DeSean is the known commodity. Why take that risk? Then again, conventional wisdom says, why take the risk of signing him long term next season, if you think you can strike gold in the draft?
Jackson launched his campaign for contract extension in the outrageous way characteristic of him. He opened with a holdout, played tentatively to avoid injury (we suspect), and missed team meetings. His frustration got the best of him just when Michael Vick and the Eagles needed the best from him.
Yet, Jackson does have a case. His performance clearly exceeded his $695,000 rookie salary. He has the same injury concerns as the Eagles. With his small frame, he could be one hit away from a debilitating injury before he gets the second contract all NFL players work towards. That second contract would include multi-year guarantees Jackson would not get as a franchised player.
If Andy Reid learned anything in his long run as Philly's football czar, it is that he can win the division with a near great, mobile quarterback, but he cannot get to the Super Bowl without a hold-your-breadth wideout, Like Terrell Owens...and Jackson. No matter how pouty they are.
Reid and the Eagles mishandled Owens in 2005. Jackson is their do-over moment.
Owens was the emotionally needy, diva receiver who tantrumed his way to the Eagles by resisting the trade that would have sent him to the Baltimore Ravens. The Eagles made Super Bowl XXXIV in 2005 with Owens, who courageously played with a broken fibula. The Eagles lost, but Owens was at that moment the most admired man in football.
Then Owens staged a legendary hissy fit over his contract and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, finagled a path to Dallas. The Eagles never made another Super Bowl without Owens... but neither did the Cowboys with him. Aside from Rosenhaus' vig, it was a lose-lose deal.
Even with a talent-rich offense, I don't see the Eagles making a future Super Bowl without Jackson. What's a team to do? Cut a deal.
But the man-child in Jackson makes it hard to do grown up business with him, and franchising the player (never a popular move among NFL players) could make things worse. Has no one ever told this kid to wait his turn?
Eagles GM Howie Roseman thinks Jackson has a great future in Philadelphia. Roseman says that serious talks about that future will take place with Jackson's agent, Mr. Rosenhaus again, at the NFL Combine this week. The restructured contract that Roseman worked out with DE Cullen Jenkins today gives the Eagles maneuvering room for a new deal with Jackson.
However they do it, the Eagles are about to show Mr. Jackson how much they love him. Then they will hope he returns the feeling.
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