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).

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

BOX SCORE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Suddenly, these Golden State Warriors who have been compared all season to the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s are on the brink of elimination.

Russell Westbrook had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Warriors 118-94 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State, which won a league record 73 games in the regular season, lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

The Warriors must win Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland to keep their season alive.

"We all have to bounce back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "The good news is, we go home. Obviously we play well at home. The idea now is to go home and get one win. Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we'll see what happens."

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 26 points, but two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was limited to 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Curry's shooting performance was so uncharacteristic that reporters asked if he was hurt.

"He's not injured," Kerr said. "He's coming back from the knee, but he's not injured. He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world."

The Warriors lost consecutive playoff games by at least 20 points for the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 1972 Western Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State's Draymond Green, who was fined for kicking Steven Adams in the groin in Game 3, finished with six points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City got a boost from an unlikely source. Andre Roberson, a player the Warriors have ignored at times during the series, scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Kevin Durant added 26 points and 11 rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and seven rebounds.

As for Westbrook, it was his first triple-double of the playoffs after posting 18 in the regular season. It was his fifth career playoff triple-double.

"I play every game like it's my last, regardless of who's in front of me," he said. "That's my job, and my job is to worry about my team, and that's all I do."

The Thunder know they have to close. Nine teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win.

"I think we're in a good place, but like I said, this game is over," Westbrook said. "We've got to move on to the next game. Every game is different."

The Thunder led 30-26 at the end of the first quarter, then gained control in the second. In the most unlikely of connections, Adams threw a bullet pass to Roberson near the basket for a dunk that gave the Thunder a 56-43 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.

Oklahoma City finished with a flurry and led 72-53 at halftime. The Thunder matched the most points they have scored in a first half in franchise playoff history, a mark they set the previous game against the Warriors. It also matched the most points Golden State has allowed in a half this season for the second straight game.

Westbrook had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds in the first half, and Durant had 18 points and six boards.

Thompson tried to keep the Warriors in it, scoring 19 points in just over seven minutes to start the third quarter. But the Thunder maintained their composure, led 94-82 at the end of the period and remained in control in the fourth.

"This is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn't over," Curry said.

Quotable
Kerr, on the pressure of trying to win a title after setting the regular-season wins record: "We had a tremendous regular season, our guys competed every single night and did something no one has ever done and they're proud of that. But in the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0. So there's no extra pressure, whether you're talking about defending our title or trying to back up the regular season."

Stat lines
According to Thunder Public Relations, the last team to score 72 or more points in the first half of two straight playoff games was the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers.

Tip-ins
Warriors: Curry went 1 for 7 in the first quarter, and made just 1 of 4 3-point attempts. ... Thompson committed his third foul with 7:55 left in the second quarter, and C Andrew Bogut committed his third about two minutes later. ... Curry made a 3-pointer for his 48th consecutive playoff game, extending his NBA record. ... The Warriors were 12-0 this season the game after a loss.

Thunder: Westbrook had five points, six assists and three rebounds in the first quarter. ... Oklahoma City forced 13 turnovers in the first half. ... The Thunder improved to 19-0 this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double. ... The Thunder outrebounded the Warriors 56-40 and outscored them 31-19 from the free throw line.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

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NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made good on Evgeni Malkin's pledge to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series with the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-3.

Game 7 is Thursday night, with the Penguins hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and the Lightning looking to advance to the Cup Final for the second straight year.

"I just told them to embrace the moment. It's a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

"They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: `We're going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh,'" Sullivan added. "And, certainly that's what they did."

Malkin was the most demonstrative of the players expressing confidence the Penguins could take the series back to Pittsburgh, saying he believed in himself, his teammates and that they could return home for a seventh game "for sure."

Crosby stepped up with his third game-winning goal of the series. The Penguins captain assisted on Kessel's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the opening period and later skated around Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman into the clear before sending a wrist shot between goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's legs for a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the second period.

"We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate," Crosby said. "I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great.

"Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this you, don't do anything special, just do your job. I think that's gotten us this far."

Rookie goaltender Matt Murray returned to the lineup after being replaced as the starter for Game 5 by Marc-Andre Fleury, but his 10th playoff victory did not come without a bit of suspense.

Brian Boyle scored twice in the third period for Tampa Bay, with one of the goals bouncing off Kessel before getting past Murray, who finished with 28 saves. The second score drew the Lightning within one goal with 7:17 remaining.

Instead of flinching, the young goalie who turns 22 on Wednesday retained his composure down the stretch to help the Penguins avoid relinquishing a third-period lead for the second straight game.

"I just think it's part of his DNA. He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled if he lets a goal in. He continues to compete," Sullivan said.

"That's usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. And to have it at such a young age is impressive. I think one of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment."

Rust's breakaway goal at 17:52 of the third gave Pittsburgh breathing room, and Bonino added an empty-netter to finish it off.

"We had a great chance tonight and just tip-toed around a little bit," Boyle said. "We were tentative and weren't aggressive."

Kessel's goal was his team-leading ninth of the playoffs. Crosby had the primary assist, his first point since delivering game-winners in Games 2 and 3, and Malkin also had an assist to extend his point streak to four games after a slow start in the series.

The Lightning had an apparent goal by Jonathan Drouin waived off a little more than five minutes into the game, when Sullivan successfully challenged that the young Tampa Bay winger was offside on the play before tapping in a rebound off Ondrej Palat's shot that bounced off Murray's pads.

Sullivan announced the decision to go back to Murray following Tuesday's morning skate.

Murray started the first four games of the series. Fleury replaced him during the third period of Game 4, then made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, which Tampa Bay won 4-3 in overtime.

Before Game 5, Fleury had not started a game since March 31, when he suffered a concussion.

Tampa Bay entered the game determined to not come out flat in Game 6 of the conference final for the second straight year.

The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to go up 3-2 in that series, but were badly outplayed at home the next game and had to return to Madison Square Garden to finish the series.

Now, they'll have to win on the road again to make the third Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.

"I know we can. I've got confidence in this group. We believe we can do that," Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan said. "We've had success on the road in the playoffs. We've had success in their building already. It's going to be a good one."

Notes
The Penguins were 1 for 3 on the power play and are 4 for 19 in the series. The Lightning were 0 for 1, dropping to 2 for 12. ... Malkin was penalized in the first period for slashing Tampa Bay Bay's Ryan Callahan in what appeared to be retaliation for the Lightning forward whacking him across the wrist with his stick. ... Murray improved to 4-0 following a loss. He's 10-4 overall in the playoffs.

Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

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Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

BOSTON -- David Price scattered five hits over seven innings and Jackie Bradley Jr. had a pair of hits to extend his streak to 28 games as the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 8-3 on Tuesday night.

David Ortiz had a two-run double and a two-run single, and Dustin Pedroia added three hits to help Boston win its third straight game. Price (7-1) allowed three runs, walking one and striking out six to earn his third consecutive win.

Colorado lost for the fifth time in six games.

Jorge De La Rosa (1-4) made his first start after spending almost a month on the disabled list with a left groin strain. He gave up two runs in the first, two more in the second and left with one out in the fourth with two on and one run already in (see full recap).

Polanco, Pirates crush Diamondbacks
PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco hit a three-run homer and drove in a career-best five runs as the Pittsburgh Pirates rolled by the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-1 on Tuesday night.

Polanco's shot to the concourse in right-center field off Shelby Miller (1-6) in the first inning gave Pittsburgh an early boost. Francisco Liriano (4-3) scattered two hits in 5 2/3 innings and added an RBI single as the Pirates improved to 6-2 during a 10-game homestand.

After a short adjustment period, Polanco has thrived batting third in the lineup, hitting .317 (20 of 63) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 15 games. The Pirates spread their 17 hits among 11 batters.

Miller's recent recovery from a miserable start with the Diamondbacks took a step backward. Less than a year removed from an All-Star appearance with Atlanta, Miller's ERA ballooned to 7.09 after surrendering six runs in five innings (see full recap).

Strasburg strikes out 11 in Nationals' win
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg remained unbeaten with an 11-strikeout performance, and the Washington Nationals hit three of their season-high five home runs off struggling Matt Harvey in a 7-4 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Strasburg (8-0) gave up two runs and four hits over 6 2/3 innings in defeating Harvey and the Mets for the second time in six days. Strasburg has five games this season with at least 10 strikeouts and 26 over his seven-year career.

Harvey (3-7) stumbled through a third straight ineffective start, allowing five runs and eight hits over five rocky innings. The right-hander has yielded 16 earned runs and 31 hits over his last three outings.

Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon hit successive solo shots to put Washington ahead in the fourth inning, and Daniel Murphy added a two-run drive off his former teammate in the fifth for a 5-1 lead (see full recap).