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Paul Domowitch: Comparing contract dilemmas of DeSean Jackson & Chris Johnson

DOWN IN NASHVILLE, Titans running back Chris Johnson has been conspicuous by his absence from the team's voluntary workouts and offseason training program.

DeSean Jackson faces a maximum 30% salary increase due to the upcoming uncapped year. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
DeSean Jackson faces a maximum 30% salary increase due to the upcoming uncapped year. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)Read more

DOWN IN NASHVILLE, Titans running back Chris Johnson has been conspicuous by his absence from the team's voluntary workouts and offseason training program.

Johnson, who rushed for 2,006 yards last season and set an NFL record for yards from scrimmage, wants a contract extension, and wants it now, and he isn't interested in listening to any excuses why the team can't give him one. If that means being a Grade-A offseason distraction, so be it.

Meanwhile, over at One Nova-Care Way, wide receiver DeSean Jackson is in pretty much the same boat as Johnson. Like Johnson, the 2008 second-round pick clearly has outplayed his 4-year, $3.47 million rookie contract and is looking for an extension. Even hired The Extension King, Drew Rosenhaus, late last year, to help him.

But Jackson is facing the same difficult uncapped-year roadblock as Johnson: the 30 percent rule, which limits the year-to-year salary increases a player can receive in an extension.

While Jackson and Johnson are in the same boat, the two players have chosen two very different ways to deal with their current dilemmas. Johnson's way essentially is to ignore the realities of the uncapped year and stay home until the Titans find a way to show him the money.

Jackson, on the other hand, has dealt with his situation much more maturely. Just 2 years after falling into the middle of the second round of the draft because of character and work-ethic questions, the Pro Bowl wide receiver is rapidly developing into one of the locker-room leaders of a young Eagles team that has just one non-kicker over the age of 29 on its roster.

Jackson, who earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last season and scored 12 touchdowns as a receiver, runner and return man, hasn't squawked once about his contract.

He was a regular participant in the team's offseason conditioning program and is expected to be front-and-center next week when the Eagles commence 8 days of full-squad OTAs before their vacation break.

An Eagles executive said Jackson has been one of the most active players on the team this offseason with respect to charity work and appearances. He was one of three players, along with tight end Brent Celek and linebacker Stewart Bradley, who were on hand earlier this month at Franklin Field when the team unveiled plans to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Eagles championship team.

"We are appreciative of his work ethic and attitude this offseason, and we look forward to him having a long and successful career as an Eagle," said general manager Howie Roseman.

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not a big Rosenhaus fan. Too much hair gel and ego and not nearly enough moral fiber. But he's a smart guy who understands that there's not a lot the Eagles can do for Jackson right now. And unlike Johnson's agent, Joel Segal, he has been able to get that message across to his client.

"It's unfortunate, but you can't get frustrated because it's not going to change until the [union] makes a deal with the NFL," Jackson said 3 weeks ago. "You just have to deal with it and hopefully something will work out.

"I'm not here to make a big issue out of it or complain about it, because that's not what I do. I feel my relationship that I have with the team and the front office is a [good] one, and I'm patiently waiting."

Some have suggested that both the Eagles and Titans could do extensions for Jackson and Johnson if they really wanted to, citing 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb as examples of players who recently signed lucrative extensions.

But Willis was the 11th pick in the 2007 draft and had a much higher base salary to work from than Johnson, who was the 24th overall pick in the '08 draft, and Jackson, who was the 49th pick in that same draft. The Eagles were able to do a short extension with Kolb, who only had 1 year left on his rookie deal. But there's no reason for Jackson or Johnson to be interested in short deals right now.

Jackson is scheduled to earn just $470,000 in base salary this year, Johnson $550,000. The only way to get around the 30 percent rule and pay both players what they're worth would be to give them enormous signing bonuses. By enormous, I'm talking in the $30 million-to-$40 million range. Minimum.

There are two reasons the Eagles and Titans aren't going to do that. One is the increased injury risk involved because of the small size of the two players. The other is the language in the current CBA restricting forfeiture of signing bonuses if a player gets into a Michael Vick-like mess.

Signing-bonus forfeitures are limited to cases of holdouts or retirement and limits any forfeiture to 25 percent of the total prorated amount. Last year, NFL special master Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, ruled in the Plaxico Burress case that a player can violate behavior clauses in his contract and still be entitled to bonus money.

So, both Jackson and Johnson will have to wait a little while for their big paydays. For now, Jackson is OK with that. Johnson, not so much. *

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