Jackson Signs Contract, Reports To Camp

Posted: August 11, 1988

For all the hot air that has blown hard around these negotiations, for all the sharp words and thinly veiled threats, Keith Jackson's 15-day holdout was ended with one simple, penetrating conviction that rendered everything else irrelevant.

He wanted to play. And he wanted to play now.

So, cutting clean through the tough talk and rabble-rousing that has gone on for months on both sides, that is what led to the four-year deal Jackson signed with the Eagles yesterday.

The contract is estimated to be worth slightly more than $2 million (including a signing bonus near $750,000), with incentive clauses that could send the total package up to well more than $2.5 million.

This is no small deal, and it lifts his salary hundreds of thousands of

dollars above what some other players drafted ahead of him received. Offensive tackle Dave Cadigan, for instance, was the eighth player chosen, five ahead of Jackson, and received $2.08 million over four years from the Jets; and the Eagles' No. 1 last year, Jerome Brown (ninth overall), got a four-year, $1.775 million deal.

But Jackson's agreement is noticeably less than the big, big numbers that agent Gary Wichard had been suggesting was a fair market price all along.

A few weeks ago, Wichard was talking numbers comparable to Raiders tight end Todd Christensen ($750,000 a year). Last week, that stance began to sway just a bit, but nothing seemed imminent.

Then, almost out of the clear blue West Chester sky, the deal was done.

"I think we did compromise on the type of money we really wanted, but there were a couple of incentives that I thought I could achieve that brought me into camp," Jackson said.

"I told Gary I was coming in this week. It was just a matter of which day. And now I'm here."

As time went by, and every other No. 1 pick except Cincinnati's Rickey Dixon was signed, Jackson saw lost practices and a season slipping away.

And as time went by, and he heard that the Eagles were discarding some of the special plays they had designed for him, the pressure built and built and built.

Perhaps hearing this gave Jackson a cold-chill memory of his time at Oklahoma, a school he entered thinking he would be a featured part of a new passing scheme. Then, once Barry Switzer changed his mind, he had to endure four years blocking in the wishbone.

Those are memories that can haunt.

"I definitely would have been worried (if the holdout went longer)," Jackson said. "Somebody said Buddy (Ryan)was putting in a system to use me at tight end just for me.

"And he was thinking about taking it out. And when they told me that, I was really worried about it because I wanted to be used in an offense."

Once the Eagles kicked in a few tastier incentive clauses - probably built on his average yards per reception and team offensive statistics - to protect Jackson from out-performing his contract, the deal was completed.

"The thing is, Philadelphia has a serious shot at doing some interesting things, and Keith Jackson as well," Wichard said. "And the earlier the better.

"If he does what we know he can do, the contract becomes a different contract. That's what the deal is. We were kind of cornered by being picked 13th. No matter what, you can't shake that."

Jackson wanted to play, so, according to coach Ryan, play he will, beginning Sunday night in Pittsburgh, for at least the third quarter.

That's when his inevitable march toward regaining his starting spot begins.

"I was never going to sit out the whole year," Jackson said. "Gary might've sat out the whole year, but I was going to come to camp sooner or later, without him or with him."

And, perhaps not coincidentally, Jackson's signing came just two days after a little phone call to his home in Little Rock, Ark., from Randall Cunningham.

"Randall said that the other tight ends are looking good, but that they still need me here working with them," Jackson said. "He wanted me there, and I wanted to be there.

"So I called Gary and told Gary, 'Hey, Randall Cunningham called me and he wants me to get into camp, how close are we?' And he said, 'We're closer than what you think.'

"And the next day (yesterday) I was on the plane here. So everything worked out fine."

Wichard met with Eagles president Harry Gamble in Philadelphia late last week, then finalized the deal over the phone Monday. Both Wichard and Jackson flew into town yesterday to cement the agreement.

Jackson was in West Chester a few hours later, and the effect of his arrival is broad indeed:

* He is easily back early enough to win back the starting spot he lost during the holdout, early enough to get in some solid work in the remaining time (a little more than a week) at West Chester.

* He gives Ryan the multidimensional tight end he couldn't resist on draft day, a player Ryan believes can open up an already potent offense, just one more puzzle piece added to a team convinced it is about to take a slice of the playoff pie.

* All of a sudden, the team has four solid tight ends - Jackson, Jimmie Giles, John Spagnola and David Little - and though Ryan is now saying that he might keep all of them, it is highly unlikely that all will remain Eagles much longer.

* Now only two players remain unsigned - starting right linebacker Seth Joyner and injured offensive tackle Joe Conwell. Joyner's absence is the significant one, but there does not seem to be much progress in his negotiations.

After Jackson's first spate of drills in yesterday's afternoon practice, he said he felt like he really hadn't left.

"My legs are fresh, and my hands are still good because I didn't drop any passes," Jackson said. "I made some difficult catches, so in that frame of the game, I'm still good.

"I didn't get here in time to do most of the endurance work as far as physical conditioning. Tomorrow I'll know where I am (in his conditioning)

because I'll do up-downs and then rotate a lot into the offense and then I'll know."

Said Ryan: "He didn't forget anything. He was only gone two weeks."

After going through the team's three-week "voluntary" camp in July, Jackson already knows the offense and the formations, at least enough to get him by Sunday. And he couldn't be happier.

Jackson will be playing again, at last a major part of an offense that has been awaiting his arrival. Fifteen days and a lot of hot air did not change that.

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