Ball is in Jackson's hands now

Posted: March 01, 2012

The NFL's franchise tag, which somehow survived in the lockout-forged collective bargaining agreement, can be used in different ways. It can be a minor bit of necessary paperwork on the way to a fair and honorable deal, or it can be a major weapon deployed by a team to impose its will on a player.

Let's hope the Eagles' application of the tag on DeSean Jackson is more like the former than the latter. Their history offers mixed signals.

In the past, the Eagles used the tag as a blunt instrument in dealing with linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and defensive tackle Corey Simon. Both players sought more money in negotiations than the Eagles were willing to pay. That happens. The Eagles tagged them. That happens. The Eagles then rescinded the tags, essentially releasing the players after the initial flurry of free-agent cash had been spent. That seldom happens, and it made the team look petty and spiteful - it also meant they got nothing in return for two pretty good players.

Last year, the Eagles used the tag on Michael Vick as a formal way to retain his rights. By the time the season began, Vick was playing under a brand-new, fairly negotiated contract. That should be the goal with Jackson.

It is just bad business to single out one employee for pillorying in public. Jackson's teammates are watching how this is handled. They know that the 25-year-old wide receiver isn't the most mature guy on the roster. They also know that he has singlehandedly turned losses into victories and given up his body to make big plays for them.

They wonder whether there is an agenda at work, if his role in the offense is affected by the team's interest in keeping his numbers down. That is very unlikely, given the pressure on coaches to win, but the speculation is corrosive. It's bad for everyone.

Jackson is a victim of horrid timing. If he had come out in the draft just one season earlier, the Eagles would have aggressively sought to lock him up with a long-term deal. They would have tried to find the right amount of guaranteed money to give Jackson financial security while locking him up through the prime of his career.

Instead, Jackson had his breakout season with the lockout looming over everything. With uncertainty about the collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap, and the duration of the labor stoppage, the Eagles were understandably hesitant to commit big money to Jackson.

Just to add another level of uncertainty, Jackson suffered a serious concussion midway through the 2010 season. It was his second known concussion in his three-year pro career. The Eagles then had to factor in the risk of a big signing bonus for an undersize player whose career could end with one more hit.

That is the unfortunate set of circumstances Jackson was faced with as he played out the final year of his contract in 2011. If you believe he handled the situation poorly, you'll get no argument here. He moped and short-armed passes and got suspended for a game and generally seemed less than fully invested.

But if we agree that Jackson handled a bad situation poorly, we're acknowledging it was a bad situation. The Eagles' hands may have been tied somewhat, but they still helped create and escalate the tensions.

The Vick deal, for example, represented every bit as much risk (and a bigger investment) for an undersize player who is always at risk for injury. The Eagles also handed a huge contract to Nnamdi Asomugha, who wasn't exactly the model for leaving everything out on the field every game. Throw in Steve Smith, who earned five times what Jackson did last year, and you can understand Jackson's frustration.

The question is whether the Eagles do, and the early signs say yes.

Coach Andy Reid has given every public indication that his relationship with Jackson remains good. General manager Howie Roseman has been talking lately about Jackson's "bright future."

The use of the tag doesn't give us a final verdict. It is what the Eagles would do whether they wanted to trade Jackson, work out a long-term deal, or break his spirit and force him to play another season on their terms. It is what they do next that matters.

What Jackson should do is sign the tender immediately, making the money guaranteed. That removes the Trotter/Simon option. Theoretically, it also diminishes Jackson's leverage. But not really. His true bargaining power is that the Eagles can't afford a repeat of 2011 with this talented young player - especially not when they are paying him $9.4 million this time.

A deal with an annual value right around that franchise number always was and remains the fairest, most sensible outcome.

If tagging Jackson helps that come about, then fine. If it creates a brand-new set of issues, then the Eagles really need to think about retiring the tag forever.

Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or Follow him on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at Read his columns at


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