THE EAGLES have said a lot of really nice things about DeSean Jackson the last couple of weeks.
Coach Andy Reid praised Jackson for "showing maturity" after the two-time Pro Bowler acknowledged he spent much of the 2011 season acting totally immature over his contract situation. The big guy said he was "proud of him" for the way the little guy played in the last six games of the season, when he caught 23 passes. Pass the tissues.
General manager Howie Roseman followed that up last week by saying, "We feel fortunate to have him as part of our team." Also mentioned that Jackson's "got a great future ahead of him."
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I'm going to show my age here for a second, but those kinds of meaningless platitudes remind me of that devious Eddie Haskell repeatedly telling Mrs. Cleaver how lovely she looked on "Leave It to Beaver." (Google it, kids.)
Whether Jackson returns for a fifth season with the Eagles, either as the recipient of a new long-term contract or with the 1-year franchise tag around his neck, will have everything to do with what Jackson's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is telling club president Joe Banner, and nothing to do with the 25-year-old Jackson finally deciding to act like a grown up last December.
If Rosenhaus still is telling Banner that Jackson wants to be one of the league's seven or eight highest-paid wideouts, you can kiss little DeSean goodbye. No new deal. And probably no franchise tag.
With the free-agency signing period set to begin on March 13, NFL teams have a 2-week window starting today to place the franchise tag on one of their free agents-to-be.
Jackson already has said he would have no objection to being franchised, which is no surprise. If the Eagles franchise him and he signs the 1-year tender, he would be guaranteed nearly $10 million next season, which is more guaranteed money than he can expect to get in a new contract with the Eagles or another team.
The popular thinking is that, even if they don't want him back, the Eagles must franchise Jackson so they can hang on to his rights and get something for him in a trade.
I understand the rationale, but there are a couple of problems with that strategy. First, if they franchise Jackson strictly for the purpose of trading him, it's fairly likely they would try to sign a replacement when the free-agency signing period begins on March 13. Wide receiver is expected to be one of the deepest positions on the free-agent market.
But how much more difficult will it be to persuade a Vincent Jackson or a Marques Colston or a Dwayne Bowe to sign with the Eagles in mid-March if Jackson is still around?
Sure, the Eagles could tell them they have no intention of keeping Jackson. But their decision to hang on to all three of their cornerbacks last year, when they couldn't get what they wanted for Asante Samuel, is going to make it hard for those free agents to believe anything the Eagles say.
In addition, if they do manage to corral a top free-agent wideout, they will lose most of their bargaining position with respect to trading DeSean. There are a lot of people running NFL teams who aren't the brightest crayons in the box. But even most of them are smart enough to realize the last thing the Eagles want to do is pay an immature guy who had two red-zone receptions and four touchdown catches last season nearly $10 million in 2012. Once it becomes evident that the Eagles don't want to keep him, teams are going to be calling their bluff. They'll be lucky to get a fifth-round pick for Jackson, although we all know how much the Eagles love those late-round picks.
So, the best play here for the Eagles just might be to keep the franchise tag in the drawer, thank Jackson for the memories and go find a more productive replacement. I mean, if the Eagles sign Vincent Jackson, is anybody really going to care that they didn't get a draft pick for DeSean?
I understand the effect Jackson's zoom-zoom-zoom speed has on opposing defenses. But if you want big money in this league, you've got to put up big numbers.
It's not enough to clear out space for your teammates. Jackson may well lead the league in making safeties wet their pants. But his numbers, other than his yards-per-catch average, aren't the stuff of top-10 money.
* He finished 32nd in receptions among wideouts last season and 49th in 2010.
* Forty wide receivers had more touchdown catches than Jackson's four last season. Twelve had as many or more 40-plus yard catches.
* He had just two 100-yard receiving performances last season and has just three in his last 23 games.
* He's got just five touchdown catches in his last 22 games.
* Over the last two seasons, he has been targeted 19 times in the red zone, but had just six catches and four touchdowns.
Jackson's defenders have played down his poor red-zone production by claiming that small guys (he's 5-10, 175 pounds) usually aren't productive in the red zone. But that's nonsense.
Check out the red-zone numbers of four similarly sized wideouts - the Patriots' Wes Welker (5-9, 185), the Saints' Lance Moore (5-9, 190), the Jets' Santonio Holmes (5-10, 185) and the Redskins' Santana Moss (5-10, 185).
According to profootballfocus.com, Welker has been targeted 47 times in the red zone over the last two seasons. He has 35 catches and 13 TDs. Moore has been targeted 46 times and has 22 catches and 11 TDs. Holmes has 15 catches and eight TDs and Moss has 15 receptions and six TDs.
Many believe Jackson hasn't been the same player since suffering his second career concussion in Week 6 of the 2010 season when he was drilled by Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson. Some numbers support that, some don't. He's averaged fewer receptions and touchdown catches per game since the second concussion. But his yards per catch have increased. Then again, that might just indicate that he's being used more on deep routes and less in the middle of the field.
It's easy to spend other people's money. It's easy to suggest that the Eagles should just franchise Jackson, hang on to him and pay him $9.5 million next season. But considering the quality of the free-agent wide receivers who will be hitting the market next month, I think they can do better than overpaying a 175-pound guy who could be one more concussion away from retirement.
And those pearls look really good on you, Mrs. Cleaver.