The Eagles say they are aware of Jackson’s increasing anxiety and have attempted to manage the unhappy receiver. Coach Andy Reid has said he is pleased with Jackson’s work ethic and performance and considers him a key part of the team’s future.
But the disconnect between player and team was brought into focus Sunday in Chicago when Jackson declined to field practice punts before the game against the Bears, and Reid reprimanded the 24-year-old after the bitter loss.
Jackson, who has avoided questions about his finances for most of the season, was asked on Tuesday if his contract had anything to do with his recent state of mind.
“That has nothing to do with anything,” he said.
Sources close to Jackson, however, paint a different picture – one of a young star receiver who believes he has outperformed his original contract and is increasingly under the sway of the controversial Rosenhaus. The agent, one source said, has continually stressed to Jackson the importance of padding his receiving statistics, pointing out that lower numbers will be used against him in negotiations with the Eagles.
Jason Rosenhaus, Drew’s brother and business partner, said that neither he nor the agent would comment on the issue.
Drew Rosenhaus represents more NFL players than any other agent but has a history of contentious dealings with teams, often involving topflight receivers. He has negotiated many transactions with the Eagles, but Rosenhaus also has tussled with the front office, especially when one of his clients – most notably wide receiver Terrell Owens and cornerback Lito Sheppard – wanted to rework his contract.
Jackson fired DeBartolo Sports as his representation and hired Rosenhaus in November 2009. A few months later, Jackson said he was “shooting for the top” in terms of getting a new deal before the season. But he changed his tune and demurely handled contract talk when it became apparent that a new offer was not going to happen.
Jackson’s contract situation is not uncommon. Because of his size – he is listed at a generous 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds – and concerns about his character, the former California star was not chosen until the second round of the 2008 draft. He signed a four-year, $3.46 million rookie contract but is comparatively underpaid to other Pro Bowl receivers after two-plus seasons of electrifying football.
Under normal circumstances, Jackson and the Eagles would have agreed to a restructured deal at this point. But a new rule in the collective bargaining agreement that limits rookie contract pay increases to 30 percent hampered progress. Now, the NFL’s expiring deal with the union, which could lead to a work stoppage, has delayed talks on Jackson’s extension.
The Eagles have dealt with similar contract situations before. But the confluence of labor unrest, Rosenhaus as the player’s representative, and Jackson’s fragile state of mind has created a tense climate at the NovaCare Complex, team sources said.
The Eagles, through a team spokesman, had no comment.
Jackson’s father, Bill, died in May after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Without a strong male influence in Jackson’s life, Reid and some of his assistants have attempted to guide the young man, according to a team source. Still, the receiver’s temperament has been as up and down as his performance this season.
Those inconsistencies became an afterthought when Jackson was knocked unconscious against Atlanta on Oct. 17. He missed a game after suffering a concussion but returned and played splendidly in his first two games back. In the next two games, however, the Giants and Bears shut down deep passes to Jackson as the Eagles limited his crossing routes for fear of another collision.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s frustrations mounted, sources close to the receiver said, and his teammates became more aware of the issue. Aside from the constant reminder that he is paid significantly less than his peers, Jackson has become increasingly disinterested in returning punts.
His return numbers are significantly lower than last season – from 15.2 to 9.3 yards per return – and Jackson has stated that returning punts can tire him out.
While Jackson is one of the few players with the ability to score from anywhere on the field, his 160 catches over the last three seasons rank only 32d in the NFL. The league’s highest-paid receiver, Andre Johnson of the Texans – whom the Eagles face Thursday night – has a second-ranked 281 receptions in the same span. (Wes Welker is No. 1 with 299.)
So when Jackson was told it was his turn to field punts during pregame warm-ups in Chicago, he blew off an assistant and returned to the locker room, according to several team sources. He did have two punt returns in the game, one of which he took back for a season-high 35 yards. But Reid was livid about the pregame snub.
As a receiver, Jackson finished with just two catches for 26 yards, with one drop inside the 10-yard line and an incompletion at the goal line that his coaches thought he should have had. Jackson short-armed the catch, but Eagles coaches were more upset because the drop came a week after he should have had pulled in a touchdown pass against the Giants.
After the 31-26 loss to the Bears, Reid laid into his team. He expects direct eye contact from his players and when he noticed Jackson wasn’t paying attention – for whatever reason – Reid called him out.
By the time reporters entered the visitors’ locker room at Soldier Field, a despondent Jackson sat in front of his locker with head in hands. He declined to answer questions until Tuesday, when he said he preferred to look ahead rather than recount his rift with Reid, who was effusive in his praise of Jackson earlier that morning.
The next day Jackson turned 24.
Just before the stroke of midnight, he tweeted a number of messages, one of which read: “Dec 1st 1986 A young Star/Legend was born . . . I’m here to stay foe the long run . . . And I’m gettn it!! Skys the limit!!”