San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson has been suspended for three games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, as it relates to his second DUI conviction in as many years. This contributes to what's already been a tumultuous offseason for Jackson, who's also locked in a stalemate with the Chargers over his contract.
Jackson is a five-year veteran who would've been an unrestricted free agent under the old salary-cap system, but because the NFL's collective bargaining agreement is in its final season, Jackson (and dozens of other players) is instead a restricted free agent who doesn't want to play for the RFA tender the Chargers have offered him. Thus, Jackson has already threatened to hold out for 10 games, the maximum duration he could hold out and still accrue a year of service time upon his return. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith hasn't been sympathetic to these threats of Jackson's (and similar ones from starting left tackle Marcus McNeill), creating the possibility of Philip Rivers being without his best blind-side blocker and his best wideout for 2½ months of the regular season.
In itself, this suspension -- which, given recent history, could very well be reduced to one or two games if Jackson behaves well and shows sufficient remorse -- might not affect Jackson's fantasy value much. It seems strange to say, but NFL rules actually allow Jackson to fulfill his suspension while he holds out. What the suspension does do, however, is increase the likelihood that Jackson won't blink on his contract demands, at least for the season's first three weeks, since he knows he won't be playing anyway. It also makes a trade -- about which rumors have been flying during the past week, rumors involving the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, among others -- less likely. The bottom line: The Chargers are definitely going to be without Jackson to begin the year, and could still be without him for much longer, and I think it makes sense to drop him in our estimation a bit.
From a fantasy perspective, this opens the door for Malcom Floyd and/or Legedu Naanee to put together a solid first few games, and perhaps overtake Jackson as the Chargers' No. 1 wideout threat. Certainly, Antonio Gates remains Rivers' most likely target, but Floyd and Naanee have similar size/speed combinations to Jackson, and could absolutely become downfield threats on the same order of magnitude. If I were picking one guy right now, I'd probably pick Floyd, who's 6-foot-5 to Naanee's 6-foot-2, and who finished fourth in the NFL in yards per catch last season. Clearly, Jackson's draft stock necessarily drops as a result of the fact that we now know with certainty that he'll miss regular-season games. Because I already believed in the seriousness of Jackson's holdout intentions, I already had him dropped from well inside my top 10 receivers down to No. 16. With this news, I've dumped him to No. 26, though that ranking will likely ebb and flow as we get more news about his holdout and eventual suspension reduction. Floyd was No. 45 on my receiver list and Naanee was around No. 100 before this latest news; now I've put Floyd at No. 36 and Naanee around No. 70. Obviously this implies I'd probably still draft Jackson before I would Floyd, and the reason is relatively simple: Floyd hasn't yet proven he can take advantage of an opportunity of this magnitude, and Jackson could be on the field as soon as Week 4 (or even sooner, if the suspension is reduced).
What does this news do to Rivers? I'm not ready to drop him in my quarterback ranks just yet, because the Chargers are still extraordinarily potential-laden on offense. In fact, I dare say for Rivers' purposes, the McNeill holdout has the potential to be more damaging than the Jackson holdout. At the moment, the Chargers appear willing to go forward with aging veteran Tra Thomas at left tackle, which could be quite hazardous to Rivers' health. I have Rivers at No. 6 in my QB ranks because I trust that he still wants to fling it downfield early and often, but I'm more willing than ever to be swayed that that might be a couple spots too high, especially if Tony Romo's offensive line rounds into shape during training camp, and Brett Favre comes back in August in fine form.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.