Malik Jackson is coming to Philadelphia with something to prove.
Two years ago, the Eagles’ new defensive tackle had a career-high eight sacks and four forced fumbles, earned his first Pro Bowl invitation, and helped the Jacksonville Jaguars make it to the AFC championship game.
Last season, well, things didn’t go nearly as well for either Jackson or the Jags. Less than three years after signing a six-year, $85.5 million free-agent contract with the team, he was unceremoniously benched in the middle of a disastrous 5-11 season.
“You got to ask the coaches, man,’’ Jackson said Wednesday when asked why he was benched. “They told me I wasn’t playing the run too good. That’s all I really heard.
“But coming off a Pro Bowl the year before, I don’t think that was a valid excuse. It was very frustrating. It’s the first time something like that ever happened to me. I still worked hard. I didn’t become the guy who mopes around and curses out everybody and walks around mad.
“But it hurt a lot because I was one of the guys who changed the culture there. To get benched for younger guys, and guys who didn’t even get drafted, it hurt. But it’s a business. And once you understand that, you’ll be better for it.’’
Jackson was released by the Jaguars last week and quickly agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with the Eagles, who were looking for a new interior pass-rushing playmate for All-Pro Fletcher Cox after not picking up Tim Jernigan’s 2019 option.
“They’re a great organization that wanted to give me another chance to go out there and be who I want to be,’’ Jackson said. “That’s all I could ask for. It was an easy decision [to sign].’’
Despite finishing with just 3 ½ sacks last year, Jackson still was ranked fifth among interior linemen in pass-rush productivity by Pro Football Focus, behind only the Rams’ Aaron Donald, the Chiefs’ Chris Jones, Cox, and the Bengals’ Geno Atkins. His 55 total quarterback pressures were only nine fewer than he had in his 2017 Pro Bowl season.
Jackson often was double-teamed when he played for the Jags. Playing next to Cox, he figures to see a lot more one-on-one matchups.
“I see myself coming in and just helping,’’ Jackson said. “It’s not like it was in Jacksonville for me where I had to be the guy – oorah – and do this and that. I’m coming to a team that already has leaders.
“With Fletcher Cox next to me, it’s going to allow me to have more one-on-one rushes. Fletcher is a force to be reckoned with. He demands double-teams.
“Hopefully, I can come in here and do what I’m supposed to do and take the double-teams off of him. Hopefully, it’ll go hand in hand.’’
Cox is coming off the best season of his career, despite lining up next to a dubious cast of characters at the other tackle spot.
He had a career-high 10 ½ sacks, and his 95 total quarterback pressures were the second most in the league among all defensive linemen.
Jackson acknowledged that the opportunity to play alongside Cox was as big a factor in his decision to sign with the Eagles as the money, which includes $13 million in guarantees.
“It was a lot of my decision,’’ he said. “I wanted to go somewhere where there was a good defensive line. I want to get back to where I know I can be. To do that, I need a good defensive line around me. To come in here with (Derek) Barnett and (Brandon) Graham and Fletcher, I mean, hell, I don’t think there’s a better D-line in the league.’’
Jackson is a 3-technique tackle who lined up on the left side of the line on 65.1 percent of his pass-rush opportunities last season, according to PFF’s data. Cox rushed from the left side on 74.4 percent of his pass-rush snaps. So something is going to have to give.
Jackson said it’s no big deal.
“I can do all four [positions],’’ Jackson said. “That’s what sets me apart. I can play all four positions on the D-line and help wherever I’m needed.
“I’m just here to fit in. This is Fletcher’s team. Fletcher’s D-line. I’m just here to help them get back to the Super Bowl.’’
The Eagles got an up-close-and-personal look at Jackson last October in their Week 8 win over the Jaguars in London. He played pretty well in the game, particularly when he was matched up against Eagles left guard Isaac Seumalo.
He batted down an early pass attempt by Carson Wentz, and later got inside pressure against Seumalo and forced a hurried throw that resulted in a red-zone interception.
In the second quarter, his bull rush against Stefen Wisniewski forced Wentz out of the pocket and set up a sack by teammate Calais Campbell.
“I just want to get back to where I know I can be,’’ Jackson said. “Last year was very disappointing. I want to show everybody else who I am.
“That Pro Bowl wasn’t a hiccup. That’s who I am. I want to get back to that. Having Fletcher next to me will push me, like Calais did in Jacksonville. Fletcher is exactly who I want to be. A four-time Pro Bowler. An All Pro. A future Hall of Famer.