Of the many critical decisions that Chargers’ General Manager A.J. Smith will have to make this offseason, the plan with wide receiver Vincent Jackson has been at or near the top of that list. The Bolts’ dynamic pass catcher has been with the club since being selected in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft out of Division II Northern Colorado as a relative unknown. He has since blossomed into everything the club thought he could be and then some with his 60 receptions and 1,106 yards in 2011 along with 9 touchdowns representing one of his best years in his career to date.
The apprehension from the Chargers organization toward giving Jackson a long-term contract stems from his issues with the law for DUI arrests in both 2006 and 2009. Although these problems seem to be behind the now 29 year old receiver, the team is still reluctant to make a significant investment in a player with such a checkered past.
Jackson took part in the Pro Bowl this past weekend with four catches for 64 yards in the NFL’s annual Hawaiian exhibition game. He discussed his thoughts on his future with NFL.com saying: "There hasn't been any communication as far as contracts go. If that's their feeling, that's great. I would like to stay in San Diego. Obviously, that's my home, that's where I was drafted. I've got some good guys around me. Philip Rivers, (Antonio) Gates, Ryan Mathews. It would be a great place for me to stay, so we'll see if that works out."
The truth is that Jackson is at the pinnacle of his career right now and this will be his one and only chance to cash in on that peak. San Diego has a reputation for being stingy with their cap room and choosing to let pricey players leave (see: Darren Sproles last year) rather than paying up. Still this will be a difficult decision for all parties involved with many different entities pulling in separate directions.
Bolts’ Head Coach Norv Turner has enjoyed having Jackson as an offensive weapon during his tenure with the team and his ability to stretch the field gives Turner plenty of play-calling flexibility at all times. Defenses have to respect Jackson’s ability to get open over the top of coverage by keeping a safety deep at all times or risk having balls thrown over their heads. Of Jackson’s value to the team, Turner told the National Football Post: “The way he performed this year speaks to how valuable he is to our team. From a coaching standpoint, I’d love to have him here. When you look at his production, his average per catch separates him from a lot of guys. “
Certainly the statistics say that Jackson is an elite receiver, but to play devil’s advocate, couldn’t Rivers be just as responsible for that success? Clearly Rivers doesn’t pick favorites when distributing the pigskin and his knack for finding the open man rather than throwing to a particular number could suggest that any old receiver would do just fine. Even rookie Vincent Brown meshed quite well with the Bolts’ signal caller in year one becoming one of his go-to targets down the stretch. There’s no reason to think that a receiving corps of Malcom Floyd, Brown, and a lower priced free agent or incoming rookie wouldn’t be just as productive as the lineup with Jackson included.
Obviously a lack of talent wouldn’t be the reason to look in a different direction from Jackson, but management has shown a propensity for siding with the less expensive option in the recent past rather than shelling out the dough for a proven commodity. The need to win will be heightened for those in charge given the team’s lack of success over the last two seasons, but it’s difficult to convince anyone that a receiver will make that big of a difference. As a dependent player, it may not be much of an issue to see the Bolts part ways with Jackson this offseason and spend their big money on more urgent needs such as offensive or defensive line help.
Now it’s your turn. Do you see Vincent Jackson as irreplaceable for the Chargers or could they find a more economical replacement in the draft or free agency? Would the offense struggle to be productive if V Jack isn’t kept or will they fail to miss a beat with Rivers orchestrating the attack? Should the team focus all of its resources this offseason on keeping Jackson a Bolt or would they be better served zeroing in on other areas of need? The final exam… is Jackson in San Diego in 2012 or will he be wearing a different uniform? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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