Perhaps the moment that best describes DeSean Jackson's season came on a cold night in November at the Linc.
The Eagles were playing the Chicago Bears, and like most games this season, had an early lead. Jackson went in on special teams in the closing minutes of the first half and fielded a punt he had no business fielding. Running to the sidelines to catch the ball, Jackson ran backwards trying to elude tackles before fumbling. The Bears would score on that possession, and the comeback was on.
The reason this play is so telling of Jackson's season is because it is an example of him trying to do it the right way, and it all going terribly wrong.
Jackson tried to go about getting his contract the right way this season, but it obviously did not work for him. Now that the season is over, it is time for the Eagles to decide what to do with the 4th year wide receiver.
But making that decision is perhaps the hardest one Reid has made during his tenure with the Eagles.
Reid has done a good job deciding on when the move on from players - but those players have been mostly older ones past their prime. Jackson is in his prime and one of the more dangerous weapons in the NFL. Can Reid afford to let him walk because of his attitude? Or is he forced to keep him because of what he does for this offense?As much as people talk about DeSean Jackson's poor attitude, you cannot deny the fact that he tried to handle this season in a professional manner (in the beginning). After holding out of training camp, Jackson came in and said all of the right things before going silent. He sat back and watched Michael Vick get a big contract, then went out and scored a touchdown against St. Louis in Week 1. Against Atlanta, Jackson had maybe the biggest Eagles hustle play of the year when he chased down Ray Edwards all the way down the field to stop him from scoring a touchdown.
But as the Eagles season went sour, so did Jackson. He stopped seeing the ball as much, and when it was clear that both the Eagles playoff chances and his chance at getting a contract this season were slim, he appeared at times to pack it in. He had big drops against New England and was a non factor in many of the Eagles late season games. His taunting penalty against the New York Giants became the poster of the "me first" player Jackson was becoming in the eyes of the fans.
With the season now over, the Eagles will take a big picture look at Jackson and will have to decide what to do with him. His big play ability, his attitude, his production - all of that will go into the Eagles decision on whether or not to resign the former Pro-Bowl wideout.
Like most decision in the NFL, whether or not the Eagles decide to bring back Jackson will have to do with money. After a down season and one that did not help his reputation, Jackson can kiss any thoughts he had of Santonio Holmes money (5 years, $55 million) good bye. In all likelihood, Jackson will end up getting a deal that is incentive filled and back loaded with money. Unless a team like the Oakland Raiders comes in and blows him away with an offer, the market for Jackson will not be what he expects.
Money aside, the Eagles have to ask themselves if bringing Jackson back is good for the team on and off the field. Many people around the team - including players - felt there was too many players looking out for themselves instead of the team this year. Fair or not, Jackson has been labeled one of those players because he put his contract in front of the team. If the Eagles decide they need an overhaul in the atmosphere of the locker room, Jackson will not be back. As media members, we do not get to sit in on meetings or ride the bus with the team, but for the 45 minutes where we are allowed in the locker room, Jackson does not act like a happy camper.
He sulks to his locker, ignores media, and talks to no one. Is he sending a message for the media to see? Absolutely. Andy Reid has shown over the years he will not tolerate any player giving up or signing off on the team. When happy, Jackson is a great player to have around the team - he is confident and positive with his teammates. But can the Eagles bring back a player whose mood will change so dramatically when things go bad? Is that good for the locker room? The answer to that is no.
On the field, Jackson has been as up and down as his mood this season. His 58 receptions were only 2 less then his career high, but he failed to top 1,000 yards for the first time since his rookie season. As for his big play ability, 21 players had more catches of 20 or more yards than Jackson this season, and 8 players had more catches of 40 yards or more. Scoring long touchdowns? 29 players had a touchdown reception longer than Jackson this season.
But despite what the numbers might suggest, there is no denying that Jackson is still a big time threat and a big part of this offense. Even when he is not making a catch, Jackson opens up so much space for this Eagles offense. Ask LeSean McCoy what it is like to never have to run into a box with safeties in it. Ask Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek how much easier it is to get open when a corner back and safety always have to make sure they are on Number 10. Defensive coordinators game plan to stop him, and his punt return against the New York Giants last season is perhaps the best reason to resign Jackson. Because as bad as it may look at times for the Eagles, Jackson can change all of that with 1 play.
Of course at the end of the day it all comes back to money. If the Eagles want Jackson back, they will have him. Assuming the salary cap remains around $120 million, the Eagles will have $19 million free before re-signing any of their own players, draft picks, or making cuts.
The on the field skill of Jackson will likely keep the Eagles in the conversation as Jackson's agent Drew Rosenhaus tries to find his client another deal. They will listen and pay close attention to what is happening, and may make an offer if Jackson's price tag comes down - although, bringing Jackson back at a deal he isn't happy with won't do much good. It is unlikely that Jackson will get the franchise tag, as the Eagles do not want to risk bringing him back at what would be around $10 million dollars a year.
So will Jackson be an Eagle when they kick off next season? The chances are slim. The Eagles will look at his off the field attitude, his size, and his lack of production and decide that he is not worth investing in.
But if they make that decision, they will be making the wrong one. Give Jackson the contract he has waited for, and he will be a completely different player. Keep him on the field with Michael Vick and see if this offense can't get you deep into the playoffs next year.
Because as big as the baggage is that comes with him, he still has shown he can be a game changer, and make game winning plays. Jeffery Lurie said he wants to bring Andy Reid back for another season to see what he can do. With Reid on the hot seat, does he decide to bring Jackson back knowing that it might not matter how the deal could hurt the Eagles 3 seasons from now?
If you're going to keep the same nucleus and coach, and give this team once more chance, then include Jackson.
It might be a risky move, but it is the right one to make. It is the one that gives your team the best chance of winning.
Will the Eagles make the right decision with Jackson? Their record next season, and Andy Reid's job likely depend on it.
Follow Buzz on Broad Eagles Beat Writer Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks.
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