Inside the Eagles: Jackson mans up, but is it too late?

Posted: January 02, 2012

DeSean Jackson played and acted like a star Sunday. He made a huge play when his team needed one and then said all the right things when facing sensitive questions in the locker room.

It happened too late to save the Eagles' season. Was it also too late to save Jackson's relationship with the team? The two-time Pro Bowl receiver couldn't say.

"It's a business. I wish I could give you an answer saying if I'm going to be here next year or not, but honestly I really don't know, so we'll just see how it plays out," Jackson said after a four-catch, 86-yard day that reminded fans, and maybe management, about the receiver's big-play ability. "It's kind of out of my control, out of my power. I hope that I'll be here. These guys on this team and just the fans, it's home."

A 62-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, finished with Jackson's racing away from defenders and hurling the ball into the stands, was his longest of the season, but only his fourth score in a year that has been disappointing on the field and often off of it. Jackson conceded that he could have handled himself better as he played out a rookie contract that didn't match his accomplishments, but argued that he learned and improved.

"I can admit to certain things affecting me during the season. I just want to apologize," he said. "I probably could have handled it a little bit different, but now sitting here after the season's over I can just say I was able to put it behind me and really just fight for my teammates, fight for my organization."

He added, "I can't really get frustrated over contract situations, or if I'm not paid how I think I should be, whatever the case may be. I can't really allow that to go on as a professional."

Jackson sure sounded like a player who understands his mistakes after being benched once for missing a team meeting and then being sat down late in another game in which his effort appeared lacking. But those flare-ups can't just be erased. They raise questions about whether the team should invest big money in a player whose games, and mood, can swing wildly.

Yes, there is some blame for the Eagles as well. They let Jackson dangle while lavishing money on players with a fraction of his value. But Jackson, with all eyes watching how he would respond in a contract year, also stumbled. His 58 catches for 961 yards and four touchdowns were all down from his previous two Pro Bowl years. He had the worst punt return average of his career and obviously wasn't "all in" at times.

The team has to weigh all of that with Jackson's inconsistent but sometimes spectacular play as they decide whether to use the franchise tag and keep, franchise and trade him, let him walk, or - if they negotiate - how much to offer.

Asked if he'd be OK with a franchise tag - which would pay a significant sum for one year but provide no long-term security - Jackson said, "Why wouldn't I?"

"God got a plan, I'm going to roll with it," he said.

The five-year, $45 million contract between Santonio Holmes and the Jets provides one benchmark but also a cautionary tale. After a big year, the receiver with a history of attitude problems got his money, and then caused so much trouble he was benched late in the Jets' must-win game Sunday. Attitude matters.

The flip side is that Jackson can be a catalyst. With the Eagles nursing a 13-10 lead late in Sunday's game, Jackson ran under a Vick bomb for a score that broke open the game. Vick's throws seem made for Jackson's speed. Jackson said he didn't think about the possibility that it might have been his last big moment as an Eagle.

"I don't come out on the field really to make any statements about me being able to play at a high level, I think that's the obvious," Jackson said.

"He's a great asset to our team," said tight end Brent Celek. "He can take the top off of every defense, and guys are scared of him. I really think we need him."

It doesn't seem like a coincidence that Jackson's rocky season mirrored the team's struggles. Like the team, Jackson hasn't measured up to lofty expectations this year. He went through a miserable stretch early in the season that tainted everything that came after. Like the team, he pointed Sunday to an improved finish.

"There were just some things in my mind that just kind of messed with me that I shouldn't have allowed to happen early on," Jackson said. "But I was able to finish strong so that's all that really matters."

Sometimes that's true. Other times, it's just too little, too late.


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com,

or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

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