With contract out of way, time for Jackson to validate Eagles' actions

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- When the Philadelphia Eagles signed DeSean Jackson to a five-year, $51 million extension this spring, critics wondered what they were doing. Well, listen up: They were trying to remove the speed bumps that last year slowed down the star receiver.

I don't know if it will work, but if I'm Andy Reid, I give it a shot.

The Eagles coach is under orders to put his team back on track and return it to the playoffs, and Philadelphia doesn't make it unless Jackson becomes the impact player he was two years ago. To get there, the Eagles had to relieve Jackson of the angst that made him more of a distraction than a playmaker in 2011 ... which meant they had to get him to stop thinking about a new contract.

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With a deal that keeps Jackson signed through the 2016 season, they may have succeeded.

I say "may" because I don't know what a big payday does for the guy, but Jackson thinks he does. He's confident you'll see a different player this year.

"Now, I'm able to focus on my job, which is to come in here and play football," he said. "The past year I think I was carrying a lot of weight on my shoulders where, financially, I wanted to be in a position to take care of my family.

"With my contract out of the way, I'm able to be set up financially and not be stressed and worried about how I'm going to take care of this or how I'm going to do that. I'm at ease. And that's a good position because I felt in my first four years, I definitely earned a position to be one of the best playmakers in the NFL.

"After saying that, I'm just very happy I got my contract and am able to go out there and focus on nothing but football. It's a free-of-mind type of deal where I'm able to come out here, work, have fun with my teammates and do what I love to do."

Hallelujah. It's about time.

I recall Jackson's desultory performance in a blowout loss to New England last season, when he was benched in the second half after failing to catch a pair of touchdown passes. I also remember what happened two weeks earlier when he was sidelined for an entire game -- another one the Eagles lost -- after missing a special teams meeting the day before.

To put it mildly, last year was not a good one for Jackson or the Eagles. Something had to give and something did ... or someone did ... and it was the Eagles.

"I think the contract affected me a couple of different ways -- with my focus and with what was on my mind," Jackson said. "Football is a sport where, while you're playing, you have to be totally 100 percent involved. And if you're not, any distraction is going to show on the field.

"I just had other things on my mind when I shouldn't have been worrying about them -- where I should've been worried about playing football, and it kind of showed on the field, with passes or catches that I wasn't catching ...

"But that was one year out of four I played. I think the first three years I proved and showed everybody what kind of player I was. It's just unfortunate last year that I had to go through what I did. As a man, it made me smarter and intelligent."

The question, of course, is: Were the Eagles smart and intelligent to give in to Jackson? We're about to find out. I don't know what happens next, but I do know this: There are no more excuses. Philadelphia gave DeSean Jackson what he wanted. It's up to him to give the Eagles what they need.

"You feel as if you have something to prove?" I asked him.

"Definitely," he said. "I feel like I'm at a level where, regardless of what I accomplished and what I proved so far in my first four years, I'm at that point where people still question me and say I'm a showoff or cocky or whatever the case may be.

"I feel I worked so hard to get to where I am right now that I just want to go out there and continue to make the plays I've been making and let everybody see I'm still the playmaker I came into this league to be."

Consider that a start.

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