All along San Diego Chargers’ general manager A.J. Smith’s stance towards long-term holdouts Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson was this: Sign your restricted free agent tender, get to work with the team and we’ll talk about long-term contracts with you. Say what you want about Smith, his ego and the way he carries himself, but the guy is not a liar and rarely – if ever – says something he doesn’t mean.
Last week, McNeill finally broke down, signed his tender and got back to work. And, sure enough, Monday night, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Chargers had rewarded McNeill with a five-year contract extension.
Well, today Chargers’ director of public relations Bill Johnston tweeted the following: “Nearing 5-yr deal for Marcus McNeill. Team always said to 73 & 83: sign tender, go to work & we’ll see how it goes. It went well for Mac.”
One of two things is happening here, either Johnston is sending a message to the fans that the Chargers are not the problem in the protracted Jackson holdout, or the team is sending a message to Jackson that there is still room for him to return.
It might be a combination of the two. Jackson is certainly a very talented player, but his well-publicized off-field issues have been an embarrassing distraction for the franchise. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kevin Acee pointed out months ago that the Chargers made the decision last offseason that Jackson was not in the team’s long-term plans. But, as with all things in sports, things can change.
The problem for Jackson here is that regardless of what his agents tell him, there hasn’t been an explosive market for his services. The entire NFL is well aware of his off-field issues and this coming offseason teams may not be willing to give a Brandon Marshall-type deal to a guy who hasn’t played in a year, has had an embarrassing public holdout and obviously isn’t the best citizen.
Jackson’s best bet may be to try and do what McNeill did and attempt to repair his relationship with the Bolts. The Chargers know Jackson and quarterback Philip Rivers have a great relationship on the field and know how he fits the team’s offense. Other teams won’t know how he’ll fit.
And, frankly, Rivers and the Chargers’ offense hasn’t missed Jackson thus far in 2010. Rivers leads the NFL in passing yardage (1,759 yards), is third in quarterback rating (105.4) and leads in yards per attempt (9.61).
In addition, Malcom Floyd, the guy who replaced Jackson as the team’s No. 1 receiver, is currently third in the NFL in receiving yards (498), while tight end Antonio Gates is fourth (478).
Additionally Floyd has 22 catches and three touchdowns, and leads the league in yards per catch (among players with more than 10 receptions) at 22.6. He and Gates are also tied for second in the NFL with 10 catches of 20-plus yards each. Gates also leads the league with seven touchdown catches.
So yeah, it’d be nice to add Jackson to that mix, but Rivers and company are doing just fine without him. The fact that the team hasn’t missed a beat will also give other teams pause, thinking that maybe it wasn’t Jackson’s talent, but Rivers and the system that made the receiver shine.