Les Bowen: Eagles' discount in big wideout market

DeSean Jackson signed an Eagles-friendly contract. Agents around the NFL are hinting that Jackson did so because he's been living beyond his means and needs money now.
DeSean Jackson signed an Eagles-friendly contract. Agents around the NFL are hinting that Jackson did so because he's been living beyond his means and needs money now. (DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: March 15, 2012

EAGLES FANS began the day wondering if DeSean Jackson would still be willing to sign the team's franchise tender, given a rash of big-money free-agent contracts awarded wide receivers across the NFL. Wouldn't watching this bonanza create more resentment from the speedy little wideout? Wouldn't he now start thinking about holding out of training camp?

Eagles fans ended the day knowing Jackson was locked up for 5 years and somewhere between $47 million and $51 million.

This was a surprising development, given that it was, like, Thanksgiving the last time anybody on either side even hinted that a long-term deal might be possible. The $9.5 million franchise tag was hailed last month as an ideal way to break an impasse that had lasted 2 years - it would pay Jackson guaranteed, top-level wideout money in 2012, but would limit the Eagles' commitment to a tiny guy who has already suffered two concussions at 25.

We'd been hearing since at least last summer that in a long-term deal, Jackson was seeking a guarantee in the neighborhood of the $24 million the Jets pledged to Santonio Holmes. But according to the website Pro Football Talk, which seems very plugged in to agent Drew Rosenhaus, Jackson's guarantee is just $15 million.

What happened to make DeSean sign what looks like a very reasonable deal, from the team's perspective, at a time when the market seems to be going the other way? Jackson is scheduled to talk to reporters today at noon at NovaCare, but we might never know for sure. Other agents contacted last night - and keep in mind, Rosenhaus is less than beloved by many of his peers - speculated about reports that Jackson has been living way above his $600,000, final-year rookie contract income level.

"The Eagles took advantage of his need for cash," one agent said.

With this deal, Jackson reportedly gets $10 million in signing bonus, up front; under the franchise tag, the $9.5 million was guaranteed but would have been paid out over the course of the season. He'll make about $11 million total this coming season, another $7 million in 2013. You don't have to be a capologist to note that if Jackson played 2012 under the tag, he would either be an unrestricted free agent next March, or he would be tagged again, at 120 percent of this year's figure. He certainly won't make any more money the next 2 years under this deal than he would have made going that route. Of course, if he got hurt this year playing under the tag, there would be no guarantee of anything next year.

You have to think the Eagles would have been willing to do this deal several months ago, before Jackson tiptoed through much of the season, disillusioned over risking injury while not being able to get his deal redone, despite having made two Pro Bowls.

Maybe there is a less cynical explanation for the change of heart than DeSean being DeFunded. In my sitdown with Eagles coach Andy Reid last week, I got the clear message that Reid was eager to move on with Jackson, that he was convinced last year's poisonous poutathon was behind them. Maybe Jackson really does want to start handling his business in a more mature, productive manner. Maybe he finally got tired of the long fight, and of being "that guy" in the locker room. Now, signed through 2016, it will be a long time before Jackson has to answer another contract question. It's almost hard to remember the other stuff we used to ask him about.

"We are thrilled to be able to keep one of the NFL's top playmakers in Philadelphia," Reid said in a statement. "DeSean is a gamebreaker, he has the speed and ability to score from anywhere on the field, and he has proven himself to be a big threat for our offense. Signing our own players was a big priority for us this offseason and DeSean was certainly high on our list. We are very excited about his future as an Eagle."

Of course, even though the price sure seems right, the Birds are taking a gamble here. They could have tossed DeSean into the free-agent pool last month and taken their chances trying to sign someone like Vincent Jackson, who reportedly just got $26 million in guarantees on a 5-year, $55 million-plus deal with Tampa Bay. Or even Pierre Garcon, the Colts guy the Redskins reportedly handed a $21.5 million guarantee yesterday. But the Eagles know how their offense works with DeSean in it - they have scored an average of 420 points a season during his 4-year tenure - and they are willing to bet he can stay healthy.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

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