We've seen these slow plays many times in the NFL.
It starts with a player agreeing with the premise of a question: Why, yes, I think I'm deserving of a raise. It continues with informed sources rendering a new contract unlikely. Next, you see reports like the one ESPN's Adam Schefter delivered Tuesday: That the Philadelphia Eagles aren't necessarily looking to trade receiver DeSean Jackson -- but they would be open, of course, to discussions initiated by other teams.
Typically, these machinations lead to one of three results: A trade, a new contract or a deteriorated relationship that limps through one final year together. It's not yet clear where the Eagles and Jackson will land, but there is no doubt they are approaching a crossroads in their association. Something will have to give in the next 12 months or so.
It's not difficult to see the roots of a burgeoning dispute.
Jackson, 27, is in his prime and is coming off the best season of his career in what seems a perfect scheme for his skills. Although he is scheduled to earn a healthy $10.5 million salary in 2014, and has a total of $30.5 million remaining on the five-year contract extension he signed in 2012, none of it is guaranteed. That means if Jackson is injured and/or released, the Eagles wouldn't owe him another cent.
That's not an atypical environment for an NFL player to seek a new contract, especially after an 82-catch, 1,332-yard season. The Eagles, on the other hand, aren't likely to be interested in setting a precedent for renegotiating a contract with three years remaining before expiration.
The trade option is a natural discussion point, if for no other reason than high-stakes leverage. The Eagles could clear $4.5 million from their 2014 salary cap by dealing him ($10.5 million in base salary less $6 million in pro-rated bonus acceleration), but I can't imagine that savings would be enough of a motivation to part ways with what many would consider a transcendent player.
Like Harvin, Jackson has a high-maintenance personality -- one that is hardly unique among NFL receivers but nevertheless requires extra care in handling. He has a habit of commenting publicly on his contract, something most teams disdain. You have to put in some work to have a smooth relationship with a Percy Harvin or a DeSean Jackson. That's the sometimes distasteful reality of managing superstars.
The Eagles must determine whether the compensation received in a trade, combined with losing both the contract and eliminating a potential distraction, outweighs the risk of parting ways with a player as talented as Jackson. Last spring, the Vikings determined that it was, happily accepting three draft picks from the Seattle Seahawks for Harvin.
The Eagles might have difficulty matching that bounty, and my sense is they would be best advised to find a way to make it work. Jackson is perfect for the Eagles' offensive system and they won't be as effective without him. But logic sometimes gets shoved aside in NFL decision-making, especially when pride and cash are involved, and for that reason Jackson's status with the Eagles merits increasingly close attention.