Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jackson Right to Hold Out, Vikings Right to Hold Firm in Negotiations for Jackson

At the end of the 2009 NFL season, the contract of San Diego Chargers' number one wide-receiver Vincent Jackson, a perennial top 15 wide-out since entering the league in 2005, expired. In any other year, that would have entitled Jackson to free-agency and a probable high payout. This was not any other year, however.

When the NFL owners seized on the opportunity afforded under the current collective bargaining agreement to opt out of the essential terms of the agreement in 2010, one of the consequences was that players with less than six years of service in the NFL who otherwise would have been free agents were denied free agency. Vincent Jackson fell in this category of players.

That did not make Jackson happy, but it did please the Chargers who tendered the restricted free-agent $3.268 million for 2010, a figure well below what Jackson would have received as a signing bonus, alone, had he hit free-agency this year. When Jackson failed to sign his tender by June 15, the Chargers reduced their offer, as per the terms of the CBA, to $768,000. That figure is further reduced due to Jackson's three-game DUI-related suspension and his three-game suspension for failing to report to the team.

The only legitimate argument against Jackson's recalcitrance is that he elected to sign a five-year deal with the Chargers as a rookie, when either he knew or he (or his agent) should have known that the owners had the right to void the CBA and, thus, activate the six-year free-agency clause. With that said, it is otherwise difficult to fault Jackson for his response to the Chargers' offer. Even at $3.268 million, Jackson would be receiving well below what free-agent receivers of his stature currently receive. With the risk of injury that playing in the NFL brings, he is far wiser simply to sit out 2010 and wait for free-agency in 2011.

As Jackson properly looked out for his best interests in the face of a hold-the-line Chargers' offer that borders on the petulant, the Minnesota Vikings, too, rightly held their ground in negotiations for the receiver. Although the addition of Hank Baskett provides the Vikings with little more than a B-string punt and kick returner--still an upgrade over Bernard Berrian or Greg Camarillo in those roles--and leaves the Vikings with few, if any, weapons at the wide-receiver position, San Diego Chargers' G.M. A.J. Smith's asking price of a second- and third- or fourth-round draft pick for Jackson was absurd and only further suggests that Smith, rather than Jackson, has been the obstacle to the Chargers resolution of their issue with Jackson.

Should the Chargers wait until the end of the season to part ways with Jackson, an effective certainly should the October 19th trade deadline pass without a deal for Jackson, they will receive, at best, a third-round compensatory pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and could even receive far less or nothing at all depending both on how much Jackson signs for in free-agency and the terms of the next CBA. The Chargers can still negotiate a trade through the trade deadline, but they must now contend with the fact that Jackson will only be eligible in week seven--and that assumes Jackson is up to speed on a team's playbook and fit to play that week. That only diminishes the Chargers' leverage and increases the Vikings'.

In short, the Chargers vastly over-played their hand, the very same way they over-played their hand in the Michael Turner fiasco. And there was no reason for the Vikings to step in and save Smith from himself.

The Vikings offered the Chargers a second-round pick and a conditional pick, reported to have been a third-round pick, predicated on whether the team and Jackson agreed to a long-term deal. The Chargers wanted the conditional pick guaranteed. The Vikings' declined that invitation.

Now, the Chargers will be fortunate to get more than a guaranteed third-round pick in 2011. In the real world, that's better than the 2012 compensatory pick that the Chargers could receive in 2012, but that's not Smith's world. Instead, Smith is willing to gamble that Jackson's loss of a season and non-production in 2010 will not hurt his free-agency value in 2011 and that the NFL will maintain or improve upon, from a team perspective, the terms of compensation for the loss of a free-agent under the new CBA. Neither seems likely.

More likely is that some team will sign Jackson to a long-term deal with the Chargers receiving virtually nothing in return until at least 2012. That's a fool's move by Smith who could have avoided the entire affair by working out a long-term deal with Jackson last Spring or trading Jackson prior to yesterday's deadline, a movement by which would have made Jackson eligible to play in week five. Perhaps Smith will be enlightened over the next month, but few are betting on it, meaning that the Vikings likely will have to look elsewhere to resolve their 2010 receiver issues.

Up Next: Moving the Pieces for a Better Fit.

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