It's been a few weeks since ESPN and the San Diego Union-Tribune has said or written anything about Vincent Jackson, so I wasn't surprised yesterday when stories and links and questions about VJ started pouring into my twitter feed and e-mail inbox. This has happened so many times over the last six months that I knew nothing had happened, and I was right.
Now, I will categorically try and explain why stories popped up yesterday, and why nobody should've cared.
First, let me clarify Jackson's "suspension" and what it means. Due to his off-the-field issues with the law, Jackson was suspended by the NFL for 3 games. Those games have already been served. There is no suspension left to serve.
However, many people continue to categorize the Chargers putting VJ on the "roster exempt list" as a suspension. I assure you, it is not. Would Marcus McNeill have been ready to play 3 weeks ago? Probably not, he needed time with the coaches and in practice to get on the same page with the rest of the offensive line. This is the reason for the "roster exempt list". It allows teams' 3 weeks to get the player up to speed before he has to be officially added to the roster.
What this means for Jackson is that if he wants to play in 6 games this season, he needs to report before the 7th game of the regular season. He would then spend 3 weeks getting up to speed and 6 weeks as a fully-fledged member of the San Diego Chargers. Here's why that's important:
Here's where the "news" happened this week. Since I am a layman, allow me to explain this situation in layman's terms:
Current NFL rules state that you cannot be an Unrestricted Free Agent until you have played six seasons in the NFL. A "season" is defined as six games spent on an NFL roster. Vincent Jackson has played five seasons in the NFL, and (under the current rules) belongs to the Chargers until they trade him or until he plays one more "season" with them.
Now, here is where the real stalemate has been between the two sides....and here is where ownership is playing a bigger role in the non-negotiations than the GM is. Before the 2010 season, the rule was that a player only needed four years of NFL service before they could be an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA). Nobody knows for sure what the rule will be once the owners and players settle on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The players are lobbying for it to drop back down to four years (or sooner), the owners want it to stay at six. One of the more vocal owners in negotiations over the new CBA has been the Chargers' Dean Spanos.
So, forget about the money and the long-term deal for a minute here. The biggest story that has been going on is that Spanos has essentially bet that, even if Jackson holds out for the entire season, VJ will still be a Restricted Free Agent come next season and under the new CBA rules. It will have been an entire year taken off, which is valuable in a league full of young men, with nothing gained at all.
On the flip side of that has been Jackson and his agents. Up until this point, they had been lead to believe that the maximum service time necessary for Jackson to be a UFA next season would be five seasons (which he already has). While Spanos was sitting there thinking "At best we have him again next season at the same price, at worst we get a 3rd round draft pick as compensation", Jackson and his agents were thinking "At best Jackson is a UFA next season without having to risk an injury this season, at worst he has to play 6 games this season."
It looks as though the "worst case scenario" is going to happen for both sides, because the "news" yesterday was that the NFL Players Association told both Jackson and Logan Mankins (the other holdout in the league) that there is no guarantee that the "service time" needed to be a UFA would drop in the new CBA. This would be a sign that negotiations are moving forward and that the owners are winning, and I'd argue that Spanos' worst-case scenario is significantly easier to swallow at this point. He gets a star WR on his team for 6 games, while paying him essentially nothing, and gets a decent draft pick in return. All Vincent Jackson got from holding out is a 3 month break from having to risk injury for little to no money.
Perceived Value vs. Earning Your Wage
Here is where the advantage really starts to slide in the favor of the Chargers front-office. Vincent Jackson wants to be one of the top paid WRs in the league based off of his last two seasons of production. The FO believed that the value was based largely on Philip Rivers throwing Jackson the football, and that he could be replaced by Malcom Floyd, and so gar it would appear that they are correct. By simply showing the rest of the league that they could be a top passing offense without Jackson, they have lowered his value to other teams. Now there is that hint of doubt of "Would he be able to be a dominating WR without an elite QB throwing to him?" Nevermind the fact that almost no WR could be, it's a thought that wasn't as prominent before as it is today.
Jackson, like Shawne Merriman this season, now has to come back and show the rest of the league that he's as talented and dominating as his contract demands say he is. He needs to use those 6 games to put up huge numbers against the league's best coverage if he wants the money he's asking for. In a nutshell, Dean Spanos does not need to worry about whether or not Jackson will be motivated to play hard to his team. VJ will need to play hard for himself.
This is assuming that Jackson reports, at the guidance of the NFL Players Association, before Week 8 so that he can be on the roster for Week 11....
- Will make $218,625 (or $36,437 per game) for the 2010 NFL Season.
- Will have 6 weeks to prove he is an elite NFL WR after not playing for 10 months or so.
- Did not help his reputation of an off-the-field issue by challenging the Front Office of the team that drafted and developed him.
- Will get a motivated star WR for the stretch-run for what amounts to pocket-change for an NFL franchise.
- Will not be on the hook for a lot of money should star WR get injured.
- Will most-likely get a 3rd round compensatory draft pick when WR signs elsewhere.
- Will have boosted the reputation of the Front Office (tough, but they know what they're doing) and the QB (can make any WR good).