Wednesday, June 13, 2012
In the money, out of excuses
By Ashley Fox ESPN.com
PHILADELPHIA -- It had better be over. The pouting. The tardiness. The attitude. The resentment.
The bad behavior from DeSean Jackson better be exclusive to 2011 (and, in a small part, to 2010), because the Philadelphia Eagles aren't going anywhere without their speedy wide receiver on board. This team is gunning for a Super Bowl run. Anything less will be another epic fail. They need Jackson to be all-in, because when he is, when he is right in the mind and loving the game, he is virtually impossible to stop.
Jackson has $51 million reasons to behave better in 2012 than he did in 2011, and he promises he will. He is on board. He is happy. He finally got paid. Now, he can focus solely on football.
Jackson knows where he stands with the Eagles, with head coach Andy Reid, with general manager Howie Roseman. All he ever wanted was to be respected by the organization, and the only way the organization could show him that respect was by extending his rookie contract. In March, Roseman did just that, and the security of a five-year deal with $15 million guaranteed has brought Jackson a sense of peace.
Now, he can just perform. Now, he can just be dangerous. Or at least that's his plan.
"I expect a big year for myself," Jackson said on Tuesday after the Eagles opened their mandatory minicamp. "Like I say, this year is something I've been waiting for. I'm ready for training camp right now, honestly. I'm just ready to go into the season and just put up a lot of numbers for my team to help my team any way possible. I know this year is very important for the organization, coaches, players, everybody. It's big for everybody, so I think everybody realizes that."
It is interesting, given the recent shake-up in the Eagles' front office, that the team was able to get a deal done with Jackson and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, in March. It begs the question of just who was against re-signing him earlier. Who was it that grossly misjudged how the mercurial and sensitive Jackson, who started lobbying for a new contract in 2010, would react last August to the team's paying newcomers like Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Steve Smith but not him?
Had the team re-signed Jackson last August, instead of in March, it is possible all of the 2011 messiness could have been avoided. Jackson's unhappiness -- coupled with that of Asante Samuel, who was put off by constant trade talk after Rodgers-Cromartie arrived in the Kevin Kolb trade -- was a major factor in the Eagles' falling apart.
Now that DeSean Jackson has a new contract, the Eagles expect to see more catches, fewer drops and less sulking.
Jackson wasn't all-in. He didn't try his hardest. He disappeared. Jackson is a strong personality and a player who should have been a leader last season, his fourth with the Eagles. But Jackson couldn't lead when he couldn't get out of his own head. It got so bad that Reid benched him for a game against Arizona and then sat him two weeks later in the fourth quarter against New England after Jackson dropped two potential touchdown passes.
Did Joe Banner, the deposed former president of the team, not want Jackson? Did he not want to spend the money? Roseman, who now negotiates player contracts, was able to get a deal done soon after Jackson signed his franchise tender. In an uncharacteristic move, Reid was also at the negotiating table with Roseman and Rosenhaus.
Or was it simply that all three men misjudged how Jackson would react? If they thought Jackson would suck it up and patiently wait for a new contract, when he was getting paid a relatively paltry $600,000 last season, they were sadly mistaken.
But now Jackson is happy. It is a fascinating development.
"Going through my process last year was definitely tough," Jackson said. "Sometimes I let certain things get to me; in reality I shouldn't have let it. Now, I'm looking forward and to the future knowing what to expect out of myself and what my teammates need me for and what my coaches expect out of me. I think that's reality now. I put everything behind me and moved forward. I just expect nothing but the best out of myself."
That would certainly help an Eagles team that missed Jackson's big playmaking ability in 2011. Jackson, a two-time Pro Bowler, managed just four touchdown catches, the fewest since his rookie season. He was a nonfactor on the punt return team, where he has four career touchdowns.
Jackson said that during the first two phases of OTAs and now during this final mandatory minicamp, Reid has been putting pressure on his leaders, including Jackson, to make a strong push this season. Although the Eagles finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs by one win, they won their final four games and hope to carry that momentum into this season.
Jackson said he could be a leader now that his contract is secure.
"Honestly, I'm able to be in a space in my mind where I can focus on what I have to focus on and not be worried about other things off the field as far as family issues and things like that," Jackson said. "Just being set up financially in my life, I think that was the biggest thing. Now that I'm set up, now I'm not worried about the same things like that and I can just focus on football and my job. As long as my mind is clear of everything else, I'm able to give football 110 percent.
"I don't really want to keep talking about [the past]. I'm just happy that it's over, and I'm able to move forward. It's a new year, a new thing, a new team, 2012, so we look forward to winning the Super Bowl this year."
They are strong words from a strong personality, who will have to prove in 2012 that he can produce now that he has been paid.