The Eagles, according to a source, are signing defensive end Malik Jackson to a three-year deal worth $30 million.
Was this a good move? Each of our four Eagles writers give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and explain.
Zach Berman: thumbs-up 👍
When Jacksonville cut Jackson on Friday, I immediately thought that he’s a player that would fit the Eagles. That opinion only grew during that weekend, so when the Eagles signed Jackson on Monday, I thought it was a smart, sensible move at a price consistent with a player of his caliber. He’s a good player with a Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl on his resume, and at 29, he should still be productive. He’s three years removed from being a coveted free agent who signed a six-year, $80-plus million contract, and though he lost his starting spot with the Jaguars last season, he should be a disruptive interior pass rusher versatile enough to move around the formation.
He has 18 sacks the past three years and now gets to play next to Fletcher Cox in a scheme that emphasizes penetration. He’ll need to show he can be a capable run defender, though, but this is about as well as the Eagles could have done on the free-agent market. An added bonus to the move is that Jackson will not count against the compensatory pick formula because he was cut by the Jaguars; the Eagles are paying attention to that formula and hope to accumulate extra 2020 picks.
I still expect the Eagles to address the position in the draft – perhaps even early. They’ll play at least a three-man rotation at defensive tackle, so I can see them taking an interior lineman who fits in the rotation this season and eventually replaces Jackson. But entering the offseason, I viewed defensive tackle as one of the Eagles’ biggest needs. This was a strong way for Howie Roseman and Co. to start free agency.
Paul Domowitch: thumbs-up 👍
It’s hard not to like the Jackson signing. He’s going to immediately improve the Eagles’ interior pass rush, and they didn’t have to spend stupid money to get him.
The first-year cap number on his three-year, $30 million deal figures to be somewhere in the vicinity of $6 million, which is considerably lower than what it would’ve cost to hang on to Tim Jernigan, who: a) isn’t as good as Jackson; and b) would’ve been ongoing injury risk.
Even before he hurt his back, Jernigan wasn’t able to take advantage of enough of the one-on-one matchups created by the constant double teams against Fletcher Cox. Which is the reason they got him in the first place.
The 6-5, 290-pound Jackson had eight sacks and four forced fumbles for Jacksonville in 2017. His sack total dropped to 3 ½ last year, but Pro Football Focus still ranked him fifth in overall pass-rush productivity among interior linemen, behind only the Rams’ Aaron Donald, the Chiefs’ Chris Jones, Cox and the Bengals’ Geno Atkins. He had 51 total pressures.
Assuming Jackson stays relatively healthy, his addition will lessen the need for Jim Schwartz to slide edge-rushers like Brandon Graham inside as much, which should keep Graham fresher.
Improving their interior pass rush is a high offseason priority for the Eagles. They figured to address it in the draft, maybe even in the first round. But the signing of Jackson allows them to broaden their early-round thinking.
Jeff McLane: thumbs-up 👍
The Eagles were bound to address the interior of their defensive line in free agency, but signing Jackson before the market even officially opens -- because he was released by the Jaguars last week -- is a win. They get an accomplished defensive tackle and they didn’t necessarily break the bank. Jackson’s three-year contract is worth up to $30 million, but the Eagles are likely on the books for only the first year, in terms of a fully guaranteed base salary.
The second year is key, obviously, and there will likely be a significant cap hit if the Eagles trade/release Jackson. But he’s only 29, is only one season removed from registering eight sacks and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl, and should thrive lining up next to all pro Fletcher Cox. He’s an upgrade over Jernigan, who the Eagles released last week, and over Haloti Ngata, who is expected to walk in free agency.
But his play declined in 2018. He recorded only 3½ sacks and lost his starting spot in the final six games. Was it his individual performance or was it a byproduct of the overall discord in Jacksonville? Jackson was unlikely to be retained given his cap number for 2019 ($15 million). He originally signed a massive deal after four seasons with the Broncos. But he made the decision far too easy.
The Eagles can still address the interior of their d-line in the draft, which could be one of the deepest ever for defensive linemen. They’ve done a solid job, in recent years, of addressing holes in free agency or with trades before the draft. That practice has kept them from having to press needs, especially in the early rounds. The Jackson additional doesn’t preclude the Eagles from selecting a defensive tackle in the first few rounds.
Without knowing the exact details of Jackson’s contract, this is a decent signing for the Eagles. It gets a thumbs up from this vantage point, but not that far up.
Les Bowen: thumbs-up 👍
Malik Jackson’s numbers declined in 2018 on a crowded Jaguars d-line. That doesn’t bother me much, at 29 he seems healthy and he certainly has compiled a solid body of work that includes a prominent role on the Denver team that won Super Bowl 50. (In fact, Jackson scored the first touchdown of that game, pouncing on a Cam Newton fumble forced by Von Miller.) When you emphasize a defensive line rotation, you need guys who can adapt to that, and Jackson seems to have done so; not being happy as part of a rotation is a big reason Michael Bennett was traded.
This is one of those signings where you figure the guy is good enough to replace something you’ve lost -- Jackson is at least as good as a healthy Tim Jernigan, and is a much bigger player -- but Jackson isn’t such a superstar that you can’t add more to the d-line mix through free agency and the draft. His $30-million deal doesn’t mean you have to play him every down. Jackson was an eight-sack, Pro Bowl defensive tackle for the Jaguars team that was in the 2017 season AFC title game, and playing next to Fletcher Cox, I expect him to put up similar numbers. His reputation for not being a run-stopper is a little concerning but not enough to sour me on the signing.
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