Should They, Will They? DeSean Jackson, the Eagles, & the Franchise Tag

Should They, Will They? DeSean Jackson, the Eagles, & the Franchise Tag

Citing league sources, the Inquirer's Jeff McLane is reporting the Eagles will apply the franchise tag to DeSean Jackson before the free agent period begins. Assuming he signs, Jackson is guaranteed a one-year deal worth the average of the five highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, a figure estimated at nearly $10 million.

Should McLane's report come to fruition, the decision is no surprise. Jackson's production dipped in 2011 as the two-time Pro Bowler sulked throughout the season over an unresolved contract issue, but the team would be crazy to let his talent simply walk out the front door. The franchise tag restricts DJacc's freedom to negotiate with other clubs, while leaving the front office a measure of flexibility with respect to their next move.

So it's not as much a matter of should they or will they franchise DeSean -- that much is almost a no-brainer*. Rather, should the Eagles use the franchise tag as a means to re-sign Jackson for one or multiple years, or should they use the provision to hold him up until they can at least trade him.

Most importantly, what will they do? Full analysis of this story after the jump as we kick off our free agency coverage.

MOVING ON IS HARD TO DO
A few months back, when DJacc was dropping practically as many footballs as he was hauling in, a tag and trade looked like it might be the most promising option. Once a player develops a pattern of putting the rock on the carpet, while ducking any and all contact, there is always some concern as to whether he can get his head or his heart back in the game.

The Eagles were also in a free fall at the time, and there was a sense that blowing this team up might be a possibility. For better or worse, that fire is extinguished.

The other problem with the idea: it turns out the free agent market is loaded with talent at wide receiver. Some of the great players scheduled to have unrestricted rights, like DeSean, inevitably will wind up franchised, but plenty of others will be priced to move. With so many Pro Bowlers and budding superstars readily available, what would compel a team to exchange high draft picks or starting-caliber players instead?

Not that it completely precludes a swap from taking place, but the front office would need to significantly reduce its expectations on the return. Rather than trade Jackson for less than he's worth -- here's where the "almost a no-brainer" comes in -- it actually makes more sense to let him leave, and pursue his replacement against 31 other clubs.

And that is an alternative that merits consideration, or mention anyway. Jackson is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, fourth among active players with 17.8 yards per reception and second in punt return touchdowns among active players. He's also an unconventional target, neither imposing in size nor somebody who will catch 90 to 100 passes a season. From that standpoint, the Eagles could conceivably upgrade with the right addition, perhaps a guy like Vincent Jackson.

Of course, that is highly speculative. DeSean's ability to stretch the field is unique. It creates match-up problems in the secondary, and prevents defenses from keying on LeSean McCoy. When do you ever see the opponent's safety lined up closer than 15 yards to the line of scrimmage? This is not something easily replicated.

Finally, factor in continuity. If next season is actually Super Bowl or bust for Andy Reid, the volatility involved with bringing another wide receiver into a new scheme may prove to be counterproductive. Jackson knows the offense, knows what is expected of him, and bringing him back eliminates any chance the front office swings and misses in free agency.

LEVEL OF COMMITMENT
Anybody who still holds out hope the Eagles will come to terms with DJacc on a lengthy extension this offseason needs to open their eyes and see that ship has sailed for the time being. It could return to port at a later date, but after this past season, and with the future directions of the franchise uncertain, it would be flat out irresponsible to commit to a malcontent whose numbers experienced a significant decline.

Just to briefly summarize how we reached this point, Jackson made less than $1 million  each of the last two seasons. Due to special rules that were in effect to prevent a lockout, the front office could not easily extend his rookie deal in 2010, and last summer the two sides apparently talked, but negotiations were described as being far apart. Jackson pouted (somewhat understandably), and 2011 became something of a lost year.

As lost years go, Jackson's 961 yards weren't too bad, but when you're asking to be paid in line with the best in the game, that's not cutting it.

The good news is, DeSean claims he has no problem with the franchise tag. Many players see it as a "slap in the face," because while they earn a huge lump sum of cash up front, they still take on a lot of risk without the benefit of guaranteed money in future years. In DJacc's case, there have been rumors about his fiscal well-being, and he didn't do himself any favors on the field toward landing mega bucks in a crowded free agency, so the tag might be the best outcome until he rehabs his image.

Some might say the Eagles are overpaying even at $10 million, but a team cannot truly overpay on a one-year contract. Either DeSean lives up to the lofty expectations he created, and the Birds get their money's worth, or he continues falling back to earth, and he becomes a free agent again in 2013. The dollar amount is only significant when taken over a period of time.

Besides, when you consider how grossly underpaid Jackson has been compared to his peers, you could argue he deserves to earn slightly more than he is worth.

When you look at it that way, the franchise tag is the only way to go, because the front office gets the best of every world. They maintain continuity in their starting lineup in a probable make or break year for Andy Reid, avoid getting locked into a long-term extension with a player who underperformed in 2011, and still manage to keep DeSean Jackson relatively happy for the immediate future with a hefty payday.

If they intend to keep him when next year rolls around, they can even franchise him again, then work out an extension.

Don't count on the Eagles resting on that small comfort though. Chances are if the organization doesn't feel he's worth his demands now, they won't be any closer to caving later. With a healthy amount of picks in this April's draft, and a limited number of immediate, front-line needs, a franchise that has its eye on the future would most likely use a relatively early selection on a wide receiver, and begin grooming Jackson's eventual successor.

Just in case, of course. DJacc is totally going to be here for a long time (wink).

Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

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Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points, and the Chicago Bulls handed San Antonio its first road loss after a 13-0 start, hanging on to beat the Spurs 95-91 on Thursday night.

San Antonio fell one win shy of matching the NBA's best road start set by the Golden State Warriors last season. The Spurs cut an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to four in the closing minutes, only to come up short.

Kawhi Leonard scored 24 for San Antonio. Patty Mills added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Former Bull Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in Chicago since signing with San Antonio in the summer, but the Spurs lost a road game for the first time since Oklahoma City knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Jimmy Butler scored all of his 13 points for Chicago in the second half. Rajon Rondo added 12 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, and Chicago picked up the win after dropping three in a row and six of nine.

The Spurs hadn't dropped a regular-season road game since Denver beat them on April 8 (see full recap).

Scoreboard malfunction, quiet crowd don’t stop Wizards’ rally
WASHINGTON -- Overcoming a sluggish start in front of a sparse, silent crowd and with a malfunctioning scoreboard, the Washington Wizards came back to beat the Nuggets 92-85 on Thursday night, thanks mainly to Bradley Beal's 26 points and Denver's season-high 29 turnovers.

John Wall scored only 15 points one game after a career-best 52, but nine came in the fourth quarter for Washington, which trailed by as many as 14 in the first half.

With starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay inactive because of what the team said was a sprained right ankle, the Nuggets went 5 1/2 minutes without a point in the fourth quarter.

In that final period, they had 10 of their turnovers and shot 1 for 14 on 3-pointers -- including 0 for 4 in one last-minute possession (see full recap).

Gasol, clutch free throws lift Grizzlies over
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol scored 36 points and Toney Douglas made two free throws with less than a second left to give the Memphis Grizzlies an 88-86 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Douglas finished with 11 points, scoring the game's final six points to seal Memphis' fifth straight victory.

Gasol was 13 of 24 from the field, including 4 of 6 from outside the arc. But Douglas, signed by Memphis this week because of injuries, took over down the stretch. The guard scored on a 19-footer with 34 seconds left, then converted two pairs of free throws in the last 20 seconds.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 24 points, and Damian Lillard had 19 on 6-of-18 shooting. Evan Turner had 15 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Sixers beat Pelicans without Joel Embiid leading the way

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Sixers beat Pelicans without Joel Embiid leading the way

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS -- Joel Embiid shot just 5 for 15 from the field and the Sixers … wait … the Sixers won. 

Surprising? Actually, that’s just how the Sixers envision finding success.

It’s not about Embiid having a relatively quiet night on offense with 14 points, especially going 0 for 5 from three. It’s about other players getting involved and taking the burden off the rookie. Embiid has proved he can do a lot of things, but carrying a team each night in his first season isn’t what the Sixers have in mind. 

“I think that’s when we’re at our best,” Nik Stauskas said after the Sixers beat the Pelicans 99-88 (see Instant Replay). “Obviously there are a few guys in the NBA like a LeBron (James), KD (Kevin Durant) or Steph (Curry) that can single-handedly win a game throughout the entire season. But most of the teams are going to rely on bench players to step up and make shots and make plays. I think that’s when we’re most effective.”

Embiid entered Thursday night averaging 24.3 points and shooting 48.9 percent in Sixers wins (three games played). His 14 points against the Pelicans were his fewest in a victory this season. He also grabbed seven boards with four blocks and three steals. Embiid was a game-high plus-27, which Brett Brown called "massive."

Instead of being powered offensively by their centerpiece, the Sixers received solid efforts from the starters and reserves. Ersan Ilyasova scored 23 points (along with eight rebounds) for the second straight game. Sergio Rodriguez chipped in 16 points and eight assists. Off the bench,  Stauskas hit three treys en route to 14 points while Dario Saric scored 10 points with five rebounds as the team snapped an overall eight-game losing skid and a 23-game road losing streak. 

Embiid’s teammates attribute their success to the fact he is such a focal point of the opponents’ defense. In comparison to the beginning of the season when Embiid was getting stifled by double-teams, he has been learning how to pass out of them. Embiid expects to see two defenders every game and has been making adjustments to create opportunities for others to shoot rather than committing turnovers. 

“We’re not standing around a lot and just focusing on what Jo can do,” Robert Covington said. “Jo is making great moves to find guys that are open. He’s willing to pass. We’re starting to build the chemistry that everyone’s been looking for.”

Ilyasova has noticed a change in the flow of the offense and has capitalized on defensive mismatches when opponents swarm Embiid. 

“We just share the ball well,” Ilyasova said. “I find myself open. Obviously Joel does a great job of as far as when there is a double-team, just kicking out. When I see the open look, I try to knock that shot down.” 

This style of play is mutually beneficial for both Embiid and his teammates. Just because Embiid is passing out doesn't mean he's not getting his looks. Oftentimes, dishing out of a double-team allows him to get a better look on the next touch. 

“It’s a team effort," Covington said. "We’re doing so much as a unit that we’re not just focusing on just get Jo the ball and let him do his thing. He’s getting the ball, he’s surveying the floor and then he’s making his moves. He’s reading the defense really well. He’s doing a lot of [kicking out]. Then we find him a lot of re-posts and finding the open shot and making it easy for him to find the easy bucket.” 

Embiid is capable of scoring 20-plus in spite of his 28-minute restriction. The Sixers are making strides, though, by finding ways to win when he isn’t the running up the scoreboard. 

“I think there’s no doubt Jo is our best player and our offense is going to revolve around him most of the time,” Stauskas said. “But we’re playing our best when he’s posting up and kicking out to guys and they’re hitting threes or we’re taking pressure off him by making plays and the defense can’t just be solely focused on him. In a game like tonight, that’s kind of what you saw.”