After weeks of speculation we finally have some action. The Eagles placed the franchise tag on receiver DeSean Jackson on Thursday. What should we make of this? Is it a good thing?
DeSean Jackson isn't going anywhere, if you listen to general manager Howie Roseman and trust his comments. There was speculation that tagging Jackson would simply lead to a trade. I thought that's what would happen. Now, I'm not so sure. Roseman went out of his way to make it sound like the Eagles really do want Jackson here long term.
If you read Dave Spadaro's columns or follow him on Twitter, he has said for a couple of weeks that the tag and trade scenario would not happen. Dave is normally wishy-washy with his info because he's unsure what the team will do and has to leave the door open for multiple outcomes. In this case, he was pretty definitive. It must be clear inside the NovaCare complex that Jackson is a man the Eagles do want to keep in green.
I'm always a bit skeptical at this time of the year. The Eagles, like most NFL teams, will use the media to put out false reports. This isn't a way to fool the media or fans, but rather an attempt to confuse the other 31 teams about free agency and draft plans. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese flooded the airwaves with all kinds of crazy messages so that U.S. intelligence analysts would have a hard time discerning what was real and what wasn't. NFL teams do the same thing.
Is it possible the Eagles are being disingenuous about Jackson and their plans? That is absolutely possible, but I don't think it is the case here. The Eagles are going out of their way to use reporters and social media to let everyone know that the goal is to keep Jackson long term. Even for the Eagles this would be a huge attempt at mis-information. Never say never when it comes to them. The Eagles are a crafty bunch and have been since the days of Tom Heckert. Still, this would be a record setting effort.
So let's say for a minute the team does want Jackson here long term. Has this been the plan all along? That's a great question to ponder. Andy Reid has been a DeSean Jackson supporter since Day One. I think the question has been more from the contract side of things. My guess, and it is just a guess, is that the Eagles were interested in going after another big name receiver in free agency. There were going to be quite a few good choices for the Eagles. Recently, that has changed. Word now is that the Chiefs will tag Dwayne Bowe. The Chargers are working hard to get a deal done with Vincent Jackson. It is still possible they could tag him, despite the huge cost in his situation. The Bills are negotiating with Stevie Johnson and hope to re-sign him. The market could end up being Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, and Reggie Wayne. With those guys as the choices, the Eagles may have decided that keeping Jackson was the way to go.
The other x-factor in all of this is the draft. It is possible the Eagles fell in love with some player(s) at the Senior Bowl and/or Scouting Combine. The player would not be a first round target, but rather a mid-round type player who could be added to the Jackson-Maclin duo. Most likely this would be a bigger or more physical receiver. The Eagles have speed in Maclin and Jackson. The need is to find someone who can work the middle of the field. Jason Avant is in place now, but he'll turn 29 in April and he wasn't the fastest guy when he was 19. You have a couple of options. You could go for a big guy like Mohammed Sanu (6-2, 211) or someone like Marvin Jones (6-2, 199), who has a good combination of size, skill, and speed. Either way you would be significantly upgrading the receiver corps.
The Eagles could have looked at how the Giants used a trio of receivers so effectively last year. Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham combined for 20 touchdown catches. Heck, the Cowboys had Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Laurent Robinson combine for 27 touchdown receptions. Maclin had five touchdowns for the Eagles. Jackson had four. Avant had just one. He also had just one in 2010. Maclin and Jackson are dynamic edge threats. With the right player in the middle, the Eagles passing attack could get even better. Avant is great for moving the chains on third down, but that's not enough when the number three receiver now needs to be a weapon.
By keeping Jackson, you have someone to stretch the field and open up voids in the middle. Maclin is good at working them. Avant too, but he can be upgraded. He does a great job of getting open and catching the ball, but simply lacks the speed and athleticism to be a threat after the catch. As a number four receiver, he would be great.
The Eagles desire to keep Jackson long term is one piece of a puzzle. The team had to have considered the options around them and come to the conclusion that the best scenario was to keep Jackson and try to make it work with him. Now that he's been tagged the focus becomes getting him to agree to a long term deal so this situation is solidified for the long haul.
The Eagles have used the franchise tag a few times in the past and the results have not been pretty. Jeremiah Trotter and Andy Reid had a heated confrontation regarding his contract status. The Eagles pulled the tag off and let him walk. The team tagged Corey Simon and tried to deal him, but Simon would not reasonably negotiate with suitors and the Eagles were forced to pull the tag and let him walk. L.J. Smith got the tag. Nothing bad happened there, aside from his mediocre play on the field. That had nothing to do with the tag. That was just L.J. being L.J.
I hope the Eagles learned their lesson from past situations. Trying to use the tag to hold Jackson as a "contract hostage" isn't the way to go. They need to negotiate aggressively and do everything possible to get a deal done. Letting this drag on would not be good for either side.
I have mixed feelings on Jackson. He doesn't lack talent, that's for sure. He is probably the most physically gifted receiver the Eagles organization has ever had (apologies to Na Brown). I hope Jackson is able to agree to a long term deal so that there can be peace on this front and the team can get him to go all in this year. The offense is better when he is at his best. If Jackson ever does play up to his full potential, the Eagles will be getting a bargain, no matter how much they pay him. At his best, Jackson can be a special player.