DeSean Jackson's contract weighed on him last season.
Imagine this: a healthy Michael Vick paired with one of the league's most dynamic backs in LeSean McCoy and one of its most dangerous receivers in DeSean Jackson. It's fair to think that an Eagles offense featuring these three playmakers, all at the top of their games, would be annual postseason participants. But this isn't Madden; seasons can't be reset to avoid serious injuries and disgruntled superstars aren't easily replaced by cyborgs created in your Madden laboratory.
It's why Vick will always struggle to stay healthy. It also explains why Jackson, who made no secret that he wanted a long-term contract last season, can be a liability in the effort department. And we're not just casting aspersions because his productivity slipped in 2011 -- Jackson copped to as much … again.
The former second-round pick admitted recently that the thought of a new deal -- or lack of one at the time -- played a part in his effort level last year. "I let it get to me, even though I tried not to let it," Jackson told ESPN's Lisa Salters. "I was trying to protect myself from getting hurt -- now I'm just giving it all."
If that sounds a lot like something Jackson had said previously, well, it is.
Nine weeks into the 2011 season, Philadelphia was 3-5, having earned back some of the respectability they'd lost in that dismal 1-4 start. But after showing up late to a team meeting, Jackson was benched for the Week 10 get-together with Arizona. The Eagles managed to lose to the John Skelton-led Cards, Vick threw two interceptions in the process, and Philly's leading receiver was Steve Smith who had five catches for 47 yards. Days later, Jackson tried to explain.
“I’m not going to sit here and get into it. I think it’s obvious,” he said last November (via CSNPhilly.com). “Everyone knows the situation, knows the case. As a professional and as a man, you just really have to handle things. I can admit to some things that I’ve done, that I need to better, which I think everybody at a period of time in their life figures out what it is.”
You think Jackson might've helped? We're being sarcastic -- of course he would have. The loss dropped the Eagles to 3-6 before they ended the year on a 5-2 run. If Philly had beaten an eminently beatable Cardinals outfit they would've finished the regular season tied atop the NFC East with the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.
Instead, the Eagles were left with more questions. Jackson admitted after that Cards game that he hoped his behavior wouldn't have any lingering effects on that pay raise he was angling for. "Hopefully, (the benching) doesn't have too many (implications for a new contract)," he told NFL Network's Michael Irvin at the time. "The punishment was what it was, I accepted it, me and coach Reid talked as men so I think that in his mind and my mind we're moving on."
Then, in the next breath, D-Jax suggested that he deserved to be paid like one of the NFL's best wideouts.
"I think right in that range," he said. "Maybe top-5 in the NFL. ...My playmaking skills and abilities, my punt returns, and the ability to get the ball and score on any play. I mean, (Larry) Fitzgerald, he's a special receiver -- don't get me wrong -- but he doesn't play special teams so that adds an extra edge to it."
In March, the Eagles franchised him before rewarding him with a five-year, $51 million contract.
Look, we're not blind to the fact that when Jackson feels like it, he's a game-changer. There are few players who can take a four-yard pass and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown. But what message is the organization sending when it rewards a player who had a non-trivial role in the Eagles missing the playoffs last season? And that same player then admitted publicly that he was too consumed with a new contract to consistently do his job?
It looks bad. And if the Eagles' 2012 season in anyway resembles 2011, it'll look worse. Much, much worse.