A LITTLE LESS than 4 months ago, Eagles coach Andy Reid directed DeSean Jackson to stay home from a crucial home game against the Arizona Cardinals, after Jackson blew off a special-teams meeting the previous day.
"He needs to step back and make sure that it doesn't happen again," Reid said after the ensuing 21-17 loss that ranks as one of half-a-dozen avoidable disasters that kept the Birds out of the playoffs. The vibe around the organization then was that the Eagles would rid themselves of Jackson and the distraction his contract impasse was causing just as soon as possible.
Clearly, a lot happened behind the scenes from that day until yesterday, when Reid sat in his second-floor NovaCare office and affirmed his belief in Jackson as a big part of his offense going forward.
In a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview with the Daily News, Reid said he has spoken with Jackson since the Birds last week used the franchise tag on their 25-year-old wideout, and that all is well between them.
"I think he'll sign the tender," Reid said. "He was very positive about it."
Reid reiterated what he said last month, that Jackson's attitude change down the stretch convinced him his undersized, two-time Pro Bowl deep threat could be a good teammate and a solid citizen after a rough middle of the season.
"That was important," Reid said.
A few weeks ago at the NFL Scouting Combine, ESPN.com reported that the Eagles would listen to trade offers for Jackson, but that did not seem to be Reid's mind-set yesterday. It was clear from the tone of his remarks that Reid - a man who often speaks of "doing homework" before making a decision - has spoken not only to Jackson but to people around Jackson, and feels he has a solid basis to expect the best from DeSean, who will make about $9.4 million guaranteed this season, assuming he signs the tender and that no longer-term deal is forthcoming.
Reid also addressed other timely topics:
* "We're obviously happy with Michael [Vick]," Reid said when asked about Peyton Manning, whose parting from Indianapolis was playing out as Reid was being interviewed. Reid also said, "You could ask that question of probably everybody in the National Football League except the Giants, right? . . . That's not something we're - we're happy with Michael." Translation: Everybody could use a healthy Peyton Manning, but whoever signs him isn't going to also be paying a QB the caliber of Michael Vick. If Manning were to show up outside the NovaCare gates and plead to be allowed inside, that might be different, but with several teams in apparent hot pursuit of Manning, don't hold your breath.
* Asked about the New Orleans Bountygate scandal, Reid said he was reluctant to say a lot because he said he doesn't know all the details. "But I think I am surprised," he said. "I haven't read all the documents, but by definition of the word 'bounty,' you don't do that with other [teams'] players. That's not where you go. That's not how you do business . . . Players want to hit you and hit you hard, but they don't want to come in and, like, ruin your career . . . That's just not how guys are wired."
* Reid thinks he can fix the Eagles' red-zone problems without "necessarily" adding a bigger target. He said he "hasn't gone there" as far as picturing Plaxico Burress in Eagles green next season, despite Plax's campaign to play here. (Technically, Burress is still a Jet, so talking on the record about him would be tampering.) Reid acknowledged having spoken with Burress last summer, before he signed with the Jets. He said Burress turned out to be much closer to playing shape when he got out of prison than Vick was in 2009 - Reid seemed surprised Burress was able to be effective in 2011. That could mean the Eagles have more interest now than they showed last summer. Or not.
* Reid sees Mike Kafka as his No. 2 QB going into training camp, with Trent Edwards maybe No. 3, depending on how Edwards does and what else develops, via the draft, for instance. He said he signed Edwards, who was out of the league in 2011, because "he's smart, he's accurate, pretty good feel for a game, experience. For a while there [in Buffalo] he had it going, you know?"
* We talked a good while about the new CBA rules that lessen the contact between coaches and players in the offseason. Reid said, "I think we'll be OK," and "I think we'll end up having plenty of time," despite on-field spring workout days being reduced from 14 to 10.
* Reid wouldn't acknowledge that the wide-nine defensive alignment changes the linebacking equation. He stuck with his explanation about young guys needing time to adjust last season. Kept a straight face while doing so. "They had to grow up real fast. I think the way they finished was a positive," he said. "We thought they improved. Do they still need to improve [more]? Yeah." Asked if he wouldn't like to have to do a little less situational shuffling, Reid said: "There are a lot of teams that do it the way we did it. We'll just see. We'll see how the offseason presents itself . . . Every position, we're looking at."
* Reid wasn't interested in discussing Luke Kuechly, the Boston College linebacker widely cited as a first-round Eagles draft target; Reid said he isn't supposed to discuss juniors who declare for the draft. Reid agreed that there are some really intriguing defensive tackles who figure to be available when the Birds' 15th overall selection comes up, along with 6-3 Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd, who just might be that missing red-zone target.
* On meeting with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III at the combine, Reid said he tries to meet with all the quarterbacks. "I was impressed with him. He did a nice job in our interview. Good kid, smart," said Reid, who also didn't seem to envision the Eagles moving all the way up to No. 2 overall to draft the Baylor star.
* Overall on the draft, natural evasiveness aside, Reid said he thinks it's too soon, when you're picking 15th, to have a feel for who might be there and even exactly what your priorities will be, since free agency hasn't even begun yet. He didn't seem to envision a blockbuster free-agency period for the Birds, on the heels of last year's spendathon.