When the Eagles first had the chance to acquire DeSean Jackson, they saw an opportunity.
Here was an electric receiver and return man, a cheetah in shoulder pads sitting there in the middle of the second round. Questions about his attitude and durability lurked, but the potential reward outweighed the low risk of a second-round pick.
The Eagles picked him. The decision instantly paid off.
Jackson made the Pro Bowl in his second and third seasons. At times, he was unstoppable.
But despite his highlight reel, questions still linger about the receiver whose talents may flare to life one week and fizzle the next. The Eagles entered this off-season again having to weigh Jackson's explosive play against his occasional implosions.
The team on Wednesday again bet on Jackson's skill, but as it had done four years ago, it bet cautiously, making a comparatively small investment on a player who can pay massive dividends.
That's the story behind the five-year deal that will keep Jackson an Eagle.
At first glance, the size and length of the contract were surprising, given the way Jackson's play and attitude soured last season. The Eagles could have forced him to play out the season on the franchise tag. Instead, they gave Jackson security and a raise beyond the $9.5 million they'd have paid under the tag.
But we have to look beyond the $51 million contract headline, much as we looked past the $100 million hype that accompanied Michael Vick's deal last year.
Jackson's contract gives him $15 million fully guaranteed, $18 million if you count protections against injury. Nearly all of that guaranteed money comes in the next two seasons. As with Vick, the Eagles have an out.
Here's how other top receivers have fared: Vincent Jackson got $26 million guaranteed, Santonio Holmes $24 million. Marques Colston, with a history of knee surgeries, got a $19 million guarantee. Even Pierre Garcon was assured $20.5 million.
Only Vincent Jackson could make the argument that he has more impact than the Eagles' No. 10, and even that claim would spark some debate. (Jackson's maximum salary could top those of Garcon, Colston, and Holmes, but players rarely see the entirety of their deals.)
In other words, the Eagles took another calculated gamble on Jackson, securing his brilliant talent while limiting their risk with a discount price.
The upside is obvious: when he's at his best, Jackson can turn games around and terrorize defenses. If you believe that his play suffered because of contract concerns, this deal could help him get back to his Pro Bowl ways.
On the other hand, Jackson has shown he can shut down if things don't go his way. It may be that his four-touchdown 2011 is not a blip but a sign of things to come, that his performance slipped not because of contract worries but because defenses figured him out. It could be that he won't deliver the consistency that separates elite competitors from mere athletic talents.
That's the danger for the Eagles.
But there was no entirely safe choice. If Jackson's future was left in doubt, the Eagles risked one day watching him flourish elsewhere when they could have had him in his prime.
So the team again took a chance on Jackson's talent, and in the end didn't have to bet too big. It's another gamble worth taking.