Well, here we are. After all the gloom and noise and worry, the longest offseason in the history of the NFL is over. The shortest preseason ever is officially underway. Live, professional NFL football will be on your TV or radio in three days. Three days. The Eagles (some of them, anyway) will be playing the Ravens Thursday night in what could be the most tense, nerve-wracking sixty minutes of my life.
Every preseason game comes with some risk – we’re all aware of that by now – but this year is different. In a bad way. Those of us who predicted the lockout and the loss of OTAs and offseason training programs would ultimately give rise to a rash of injuries when training camp finally resumed were right. And believe me, I’m not happy about it.
This week, the buzz phrase seems to be Achilles injury. The latest victim is Detroit’s rookie running back Mikel LeShoure, done for the season. If you’re not a Lion fan, this might not seem like that big a deal. Most people probably just moved Jahvid Best up their fantasy draft boards and moved on. But the smart people out there are worried. A trend is forming, and it bodes ill for every team in the league. Five days ago the Titans lost cornerback Ryan Mouton, most likely for the year. Giants first round pick Prince Amukamara broke part of his foot. So far, the Eagles have only had one big scare, and luckily it looks like Mike Patterson’s neurological issues aren’t as serious as they first seemed and he shouldn’t miss a lot of time.
But foot and ankle and thigh injuries are popping up like weeds on practice fields throughout the NFL, and we’re still only a couple weeks into training camp. In 72 hours all of these ill-trained rookies and rusty veterans will actually take the field in front of TV cameras and thousands of fans in full-contact, full-go competition to try to play their way into a roster spot. They may not be as vicious as a playoff game, but these preseason games won’t be like the Pro Bowl either. Guys are going to be be playing hard, hitting hard, and running hard. For the next three weeks, every meaningless preseason game we play will be one more opportunity for Jarrett or Watkins or Herremans to ride out on a cart. I’m worried, in short, and I won’t stop worrying until the clock reads 00:00 in New York on Septermber 1st.
If I were Andy Reid, I would forfeit every preseason game, stay home and spend that time practicing at the NovaCare complex. Short of that, I would bench anyone with an 8-digit contract and send the future practice squad players out there to get beat silly by Ray Lewis and set home in a body cast. I see no reason for Michael Vick, Desean Jackson, Nnamdi Asomugha, LeSean McCoy etc. to step on a live field any time prior to September. They will, of course, and I’ll be unable to breathe the entire time they’re on the field, but I’m hoping it will be for no more than a series or two.
One thing I don’t have to worry about, finally, is Desean Jackson. The most dangerous man in football has reported to camp (as we all knew he would) precisely one day before he would have lost an accredited year toward free agency. He took a physical today and talked to reporters at Lehigh, but he has yet to don a helmet and participate in practice. It’ll be interesting to see if he does.
Trust me, the DJax drama is far from over. Just because he’s in camp doesn’t mean he’s ready to go or fully on board. He brought Drew Rosenhaus to camp with him. In 2005, a similarly talented receiver with his own contract demands showed up to camp with Rosenhaus and continued to work and participate as usual. He told the media he was glad to be working with his teammates again and ready to make another run at a title. Everything seemed ok, until the season started.
Then T.O. started speaking out to the media, bad-mouthing his coach and his teammates. He divided a locker room, provoked full-on fist fights at team facilities and eventually disrupted the team so inexorably that Andy had to bench him for the final months of the season and after some ugly, ugly losses we missed the playoffs. 11 months after playing in the Superbowl.
I’m not saying that’s what going to happen. I’m praying it doesn’t. But with Rosenhaus involved, you have to at least consider it a possibility. The Eagles front office definitely has to consider it a possibility.
If they are firmly committed to the idea that “Desean is under contract, he has to play, we’ll work on his deal next offseason,” I think they’re setting themselves up for a huge distraction and a serious drop in offensive production for the entirety of this season. It could be 2005 all over again.
But I find it hard to believe Reid would be able to underestimate the impact number 10 has on this team, or be willing to say publicly that the guy hasn’t outperformed his second-round contract. Reid hasn’t forgotten all the years of Reggie Brown, Donte Stallworth, Freddie Mitchell, Hank Baskett, Kevin Curtis, Greg Lewis, James Thrash, and the dozens of other sub-par receivers who just couldn’t push the field and open up the aerial attack the way he wanted to. Reid remembers how long it took him to find Desean, and I’d be shocked if six million dollars in cap room would be enough to make him forget.
Here’s hoping the Eagles were just unwilling to negotiate with Jackson while he was holding out from camp, and are now ready to sit down and work something out. My guess is that Roseman and his people were trying to convince DJax to play out his contract this season so he would be eligible for the franchise tag next year, which would net him the average salary of the top five wideouts in the league.
But after watching Leonard Weaver get cut for failing a physical, I’m pretty DJax and Rosenhaus know better than to trade guaranteed money now for the possibility of more in the future. If Jackson were to suffer a massive injury this year, he would end up walking with nothing next year. And if you think the Eagles would just “do right by him” anyway then you really don’t understand the business of football. Ask Weaver if he thinks the Birds “did right by him” after he was unable to contribute the way he used to.
The bottom line is that DJax has earned a new contract, and the Eagles need to give it to him. Obviously, the Birds don’t want to set a precedent or a poor example for other players who may try to imitate Jackson’s tactics in search of their own new contracts, but it’s not the guy’s second season. He’s played three years of a four year contract, he’s consistently played at a first-round level, he leads the league in yards per catch, he’s a big play monster, he returns punts (unlike some other “elite WRs” I could mention), he’s a media magnet and his conduct off the field has been nothing short of pristine. Whether it was McNabb, Kolb or Vick he’s vocally supported his quarterback and he never questions his head coach. He doesn’t call for the ball like T.O. and he loves to block downfield for running backs and Vick.
In the words of a Russian John Malkovich: “Pey det meyn hees mahnee.” If a bunch of other players come up to you afterwards and say “Hey! You gave Desean more money, I want some to,” all you have to say is “Well, he’s Desean. You play like Desean, and I’ll pay you too.”
Then this whole mess will be behind us and we can finally start ordering the ticker tape.