Late last season, when DeSean Jacksons future with the Eagles appeared the bleakest, he had a brief meeting in a hallway of the NovaCare Complex with owner Jeff Lurie.
Just me and him looking eye-to-eye, Jackson recalled. And regardless of the tough times and the adversity we went through as a team and individually I went through myself, we were still (able) to look in each others eyes and come to an agreement to say we were going to get this done.
I can remember it like yesterday, and that was December. Im very appreciative for him to give me the opportunity to be able to come back and play for a team like the Eagles.
Jackson was back at the NovaCare Complex Thursday, one day after signing a five-year contract extension that gives the Eagles Jacksons rights through 2016 and makes him the highest-paid receiver in Eagles history.
Jackson, a Pro Bowl pick in 2009 and 2010, sounded more grown up and more mature than what weve all seen in the past.
He didnt seem like the reckless kid who last year held out of training camp, was suspended for a game after missing a meeting, struggled with his performance and dropped six touchdowns.
He also guaranteed a Super Bowl championship. More on that later.
I just want to go out and play with the edge of being the best receiver in the NFL and still continuing to handle my business and be a leader, Jackson said. Because this team is full of young leaders and all of us have had a lot of success at a young age, but we still have to handle it in a well-mannered ways, and thats what Im going to continue to do regardless of how much money Im being paid.
Get away from all the negative and shine it in a positive way, and thats what Im going to focus on the rest of my career.
Theres never been any question of Jacksons talent. He has world-class speed, a tremendous knack for getting on top of cornerbacks, generally terrific hands and surprising toughness for a guy who stands 6-foot, 170 pounds.
Its been a long journey, a lot of long nights, a lot of hard work paid off, Jackson said. I wouldnt rather see myself playing anywhere else. This has been home to me since Day 1.
At the end of the day, I always was confident of what Im capable of doing on the field. The things I really wanted to tighten up and show people (is that) Im a professional. Its just me being young. I might have been immature. I might have made some (bad) decisions.
Going on my fifth year, Ive matured. Its like night and day. I understand what its about now. I dont want to look back anymore. Im at a point now where Im comfortable, Im happy with the situation, Im going to go out and give it my all. Its a challenge for myself and I live my life to go through challenges.
Now I can focus on football, something Ive wanted to do in so long. Im just going to give it my all. Im excited about the situation. I dont want to lookat the past. Im excited. Ready for this year. Its a big year for us.
And the distractions? The poor judgment? Missed meetings? Suspensions? Holdouts?
All in the past.
I can say it wont happen again, he said.
Since he got here in 2008, Jackson has had a chip on his shoulder. He was drafted in the second round when he thought he should be a first-round pick. He was as underpaid as anybody in the league. Jackson saw the Eagles give Steve Smith 2 million last year for virtually nothing while he played for the NFL minimum of 685,000.
Now hes set for life, thanks to a five-year deal worth 46.75 million, including 15 million in guaranteed components, with incentives that could increase the total value to 50.75 million.
Jackson will earn 250,000 each year from 2012 through 2015 for every Pro Bowl he makes, another 250,000 for every 10-receiving TD season he has, 250,000 for each 1,300-yard season and another 250,000 for every Super Bowl the Eagles win during the next four years.
Having a quarterback like Michael Vick (teammates like) LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek ... I think were going to be one of the best teams in the NFL. We just have to play together and play as a team.
Jackson has already scored 13 touchdowns of 60 yards or more, the most in NFL history by a player before his 26th birthday. Hes got 22 TDs of 30 yards or more and has averaged 58 receptions, 1,024 yards and seven TDs in his four seasons.
I feel like Im born for that stage, Jackson said. Sunday night lights. Big games. Bigger games, Jackson said. I just feel the destiny here with the Eagles is very bright. Im just happy to still be here.
Im going to guarantee a Super Bowl. Weve been so close since Ive been here. The way we caught on fire at th end of the year. I see the skys the limit.
Jacksons 9.35 million average annual salary makes him the sixth-highest-paid receiver in the NFL, behind only Calvin Johnson (16.5 million average), Brandon Marshall (11.195 million), Vincent Jackson (11.11 million), the Panthers Steve Smith (10.9 million) and Larry Fitzgerald (10 million).
When people said its not possible for DeSean Jackson to get a five-year deal, Andy Reid and General Manager Howie Roseman stepped up to the plate, Jackson said. Im acountable for it. I gave them my word Im going to come in here and lay it on the line, and they gave me their word. And from there, everything is set.
Considering some of the other deals, notably Vincent Jacksons, its easy to sit back and say that Jackson could have made more money if he had played out the franchise year and hit the open market or if he had waited and played hardball with the Eagles.
Not in his plans, Jackson said. Once the Eagles came up with a figure he felt was fair, he signed. It was that simple.
It was just more of what was here in front of my face and what was down the road to come, he said. I could have waited it out and play through a franchise or be set right now and handle everything I needed to handle. All I really wanted was everything set up in my life. I have a family that I care for to the utmost -- brothers, nephews, sisters -- I just want to be able to take care of my family, and Im able to do that now, and its a blessing to be able to do that now and not have to worry about it during the season.
I felt good what was on the table and I didnt want to pass that up. The relationship I have with the Eagles, I would rather take the opportunity than go anywhere else. Regardless how much more money I could have gotten, Im comfortable. Im not greedy. I like where I am now. Im just here to play football and have fun and get this city a Super Bowl.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org