Each player had a full offseason to work with his position coach. There were no holdouts. Multiple stars received offseason contract extensions. There are no free agent acquisitions looking for a one-year stint to improve their career. Even the incompetent defensive coordinator has had an offseason–his first, actually–to learn the x’s and o’s of coaching an NFL defense.
The purpose of this upcoming series is to rank the 10 most important players to the 2012 Eagles. These players were chosen for a number of reasons. Obviously they are all talented starters. But it’s also worth looking at the backups. If this player goes down for the year in week three, who will step up and perform?
6. DeSean Jackson
Last offseason, the Eagles were the talk of the football world as they acquired one star player after another.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were acquired to fix a pass defense that allowed a franchise-record 31 touchdowns in 2010. Jason Babin was signed to compensate for the slow development of 2010 first round draft pick Brandon Graham, while Cullen Jenkins was added to bolster the Eagles’ pass rush up the middle. Oh, and Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, and Steve Smith were brought in to be key backups.
But while the Eagles were handing out the big bucks to every 30-year old former Pro Bowler, they neglected one very important player. That would be wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who entered his fourth season in the league making less than a million dollars. In fact, he was making less than fourth wide receiver Steve Smith, who caught just 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown all of last season.
It would be an understatement to say that Jackson had an attitude problem last season. It was, quite honestly, as bad as Terrell Owens in 2005.
He held out at the beginning of training camp. He sulked throughout the season. He short armed passes. He dropped six touchdowns and was benched against the New England Patriots. He “overslept” for a team meeting the day before a crucial game against the Arizona Cardinals, and was deactivated, costing the Eagles a win, and likely a playoff spot. There were even rumors that the Eagles would suspend Jackson for the final stretch of the season.
He still ended the season by catching 58 passes for 961 yards and four touchdowns, almost as many yards as the previous season. But anybody who watched Jackson could tell that it wasn’t his best effort, which he even admitted after the year. The DeSean drama that lasted all year made up for anything good he did on the football field.
So the Eagles made a crucial decision during the offseason to right a wrong from the previous year. They paid Jackson, a five-year, $51 million deal that will keep him in an Eagles uniform until he is 30 years old. (They also extended lifelong teammates LeSean McCoy, Todd Herremans, and Trent Cole.)
Jackson has absolutely no reason to not give it all this year. In fact, I would be surprised if he didn’t turn in his best season. He should be playing with a chip on his shoulder because there are a lot of Eagles fans who are still bitter over his disastrous outing in 2011.
The Eagles are an extremely talented team heading into 2012. They have a lot of pressure on them to win, both by the league and self-inflicted. This is a make or break season for head coach Andy Reid, as well as 32-year old quarterback Michael Vick.
Quite simply, this team couldn’t function in 2012 without DeSean Jackson making plays, or even without him on the field. He forces the safeties to play much deeper, opening up underneath opportunities for Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Brent Celek, and his speed is as good as any receiver in the NFL.
I have high expectations that Jackson will earn his third Pro Bowl selection this season, with about 70 catches for 1250 yards and 11 touchdowns.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.