- Ashley Fox
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ST. LOUIS -- Of all the things the Philadelphia Eagles did in an incredibly hectic preseason, of all the players they signed and re-signed, they neglected to take care of the most important player on their roster not named Michael Vick.
It was a dangerous strategy.
No player Sunday was as underpaid considering his value to his team as Jackson, who is earning roughly $550,000 this season. It is a pittance, considering the fact that Jackson is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. In the Eagles' 31-13 win over St. Louis on Sunday afternoon, Jackson caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Jackson knows he is underpaid, and the team knows it, too, but there is a schism that exists that could threaten to derail the Eagles' so-called run to a Super Bowl. It has to do with the expectations for a new deal. Depending on your perspective, Jackson's are either too high or the team's are too low, with the question being whether either side will give enough to get a deal done and preserve locker room harmony. In essence, can expectations meet reality for the greater good of the team?
Since ending his holdout and reporting to training camp last month, the 24-year-old Jackson has been on his best behavior. He has acknowledged his dissatisfaction with his rookie deal, but not let it eat away at him.
On Sunday, Jackson answered any questions about whether he would let his contract situation affect his play, splitting two defenders to make a helmet-losing first catch, and crossing over the middle with ease. Jackson accelerated to catch a ball behind a defender in the end zone to give the Eagles a 24-10 lead in the third quarter.
Usually lethal catching the deep ball down the sideline, Jackson excelled between the numbers. Five of his six catches came in the middle of the field, the most for him in the last three seasons, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. Vick was 11-of-21 inside the numbers for an average of 7.5 yards per attempt, a number that spiked to 11.9 yards per attempt when Jackson was the target.
"Big-time players step up in big situations, and that was one of them," Vick said of Jackson. "DeSean is reliable, and I believe in him, and I'm glad he's on my team."
Although Jackson told me after the game that he hopes to have a new contract within the next couple of weeks, there are several ways this situation can unfold. Jackson wants to be one of the top five -- maybe top three -- highest-paid receivers in the NFL. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald recently signed a six-year contract that will pay him, on average, more than $16 million a year. Carolina's Steve Smith is averaging $10.9 million per year, Miami's Brandon Marshall is averaging $10 million per year, Detroit's Calvin Johnson is averaging $9.6 million and Houston's Andre Johnson is averaging $9.2 million.
Jackson isn't going to crack that list.
But the Eagles should be willing to pay him somewhere in the range of the next tier of players. He is worthy of making what Miles Austin ($9.01 million) or Greg Jennings ($8.75 million) or Roddy White ($8.54 million) or Anquan Boldin ($8.33 million) make annually. And Jackson should be happy with that kind of haul.
I think the Eagles would go there, but I'm not sure even that would satisfy Jackson, who is all about status. Being one of the highest-paid receivers in the game means something to him, even though he is going to make a lot of money one way or the other. Jackson means something to the Eagles, but they don't see him as a game-changer in the way Andre Johnson is a game-changer.
Jackson is little. He has great speed and elusiveness, can return punts and kicks in addition to being a versatile receiving threat, but his slight size makes him vulnerable, and he has had two concussions in his three-year career. That, too, is a concern.
In the underbelly of the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday afternoon, as he made his way to the team buses, Jackson admitted that he has steamed over his contract in the past. It wore on him last year, and during the offseason.
"At times, it's been like that," he said, "but lately, I've just been trying to stay positive. I can't really NOT worry about it. I know God has a plan for me, so as long as I go out here and keep playing the way I'm able to play and keep making plays and help my team win, I'll be in the best shape."
It is a good attitude to have, but Jackson is unlikely to still feel that way if he and the Eagles can't come closer on a dollar figure. With Jackson in the fold and not holding out, the Eagles have the leverage. If they can't agree to a deal, they can always use the franchise tag on Jackson next season.
That would not make Jackson happy at all. He understandably wants the security of a long-term contract, not a one-year bandage.
Given all that Jackson means to the team, the Eagles would be wise to work something out, and sooner rather than later. They have said this season is Super Bowl or bust. They can't get there if their star receiver is not happy.
What I learned from Week 1:
Peyton Manning is the most valuable player in the National Football League -- ever: We've known Manning is consistent, irreplaceable, durable, precise and all that. But never has a team fallen apart in a player's absence like Indianapolis did Sunday in a 34-7 loss to the Houston Texans without Manning. Suddenly, every weakness Manning masked was exposed: a poor running game, a defense built to protect a lead, no player groomed to be Manning's replacement. This could be a very long year for the Colts.
The balance of power might be shifting in the AFC North: My Super Bowl pick got blistered in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 35-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, a loss that made Pittsburgh look old, slow and unable to stop the run. Not since 2006 had the Ravens beaten the Steelers in a game Ben Roethlisberger started. That long streak is now over. You can't understate how big a win it was for Baltimore.
Special teams might have suffered the most from the lockout: Through the early games Sunday, there were seven combined punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. Last year, there was a total of two in Week 1.
It makes sense, though. Special teams are populated by younger, lesser-known players. With practice time limited in training camp due to new work rules, something had to give. That was bad news for the Seattle Seahawks and great news for the San Francisco 49ers. In the span of 59 seconds in the fourth quarter, Ted Ginn scored on a 102-yard kickoff return and a 55-yard punt return that helped to beat the Seahawks 33-17.
The NFL did 9/11 justice: How cool was it to watch the Sunday night game between the Cowboys and New York Jets and see the coaching staffs on both sides wearing FDNY hats? Major League Baseball wouldn't let the New York Mets wear hats of first responders in their game Sunday. The NFL did. Not hard to make that call. MLB missed it, and the NFL got it right. If there was an occasion to bend the rules, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was it.
SLEEPING IN THE OFFICE
Issues that will keep coaches awake this week:
The Vikings' passing offense was dreadful: It is far from time to turn to rookie QB Christian Ponder, but head coach Leslie Frazier has to be concerned about Donovan McNabb. Starting for his third team in three years, McNabb completed seven passes for 39 yards in a 24-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers. That's not going to win the Vikings any games, or earn Frazier any job security.
Tony Romo has to be smarter than that: After a stellar first three quarters against the Jets, Romo fell apart with his team carrying a 14-point lead in the fourth. He fumbled on a sack; tried to force a throw to a gimpy, tired Dez Bryant that Darrelle Revis easily intercepted; and then wasn't ready for a snap on the second-to-last play of the game. Not good. Yes, the Cowboys' special teams gave up a touchdown, but Romo's late-game play was just as much to blame for an eventual 27-24 loss.
The Falcons' offense struggled again: Going back to their playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers last year, the Atlanta Falcons have been outscored by 45 points in their last two games. A big deal? Well, yes. It makes Atlanta's 0-4 preseason look potentially meaningful. In a 30-12 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Falcons did not attack. They were not aggressive. Quarterback Matt Ryan rarely threw downfield. They didn't move the ball. This is a problem, with Philadelphia coming to town in Week 2. The Eagles will score points, and the Falcons will have to keep up. Otherwise, they will be looking at 0-2.
Notable tweets from around the league:
"Very excited! Thx to God, my family, the Vikings, the fans for support. Can't wait to get a ring and finish my career in Minn." -- Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson on Saturday after signing a seven-year contract extension worth $100 million, with $36 million guaranteed.
"Great game today no matter what it look like! The boy cam newton gonna be a good one, but its Birdgang all day! Next stop 'DC'!!" -- Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, after the Cardinals beat Carolina 28-21, despite allowing rookie Cam Newton pass for 422 yards and two touchdowns.
Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.