- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The Vincent Jackson mess in San Diego has me perplexed.
How can a third alternate to the Pro Bowl be willing to let his one-year, $3.268 million tender slip to $682,000? How can the Chargers box themselves into a corner by reducing his tender, tempting him to miss a good part of the regular season? And now that Jackson has been suspended for three games, how do the Chargers expect to get a Brandon Marshall-like trade value for him?
If any situation calls for an arbitrator, Jackson and the Chargers should be locked in a room until they reach a solution. This is a standoff in which both sides lose.
As a talent, Jackson is an unappreciated gem. He's evolved behind Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson, so he was rarely going to be better than the third option for Philip Rivers. But Jackson and Rivers connect on some of the toughest routes in football. Gates and Jackson probably catch more deep throws against tight coverage than any pass-catchers in football.
With a career 17.2-yard average and back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Jackson has put himself in position to ask for the $10 million a year price tag of Marshall or Larry Fitzgerald. But his timing was all wrong. The salary cap is temporarily gone and the six-year free agency requirement robbed Jackson of the chance to secure the big bucks. He was a restricted free agent in a year long-term deals were restricted by teams.
The other problem is the suspension. Jackson is operating under the notion he will wipe out his three-game suspension by not signing a contract until three weeks into the regular season. Remember, unsigned players can't be fined for holdouts because they aren't under contract. The team believes he would still have to serve three games if he signs three weeks into the regular season. What a mess.
Teams such as the Seahawks, Redskins and others will monitor Jackson's status, but a trade is unlikely. Rivers needs Jackson and Jackson needs to find a way of not surrendering this season or playing it for pennies on the dollar. Too bad this doesn't qualify for arbitration.
From the inbox
Q: I was just reading your article about Cedric Benson and the Bengals' situation this year. I remember that at least in one of Benson's prior run-ins he said he was a set up by the police. Would Roger Goodell give him any leeway on something like that, where it's his word against law enforcement's?
Reed in San Diego
A: I think the commissioner will be a little lenient if he thinks Benson was provoked into throwing a punch, but Benson will have to be totally forthcoming in his talk with the commissioner. With a couple of strikes against him from the two previous drinking incidents, Benson is waking a tightrope that could lead to a one- or two-game suspension. Goodell was lenient with Vince Young because Young met with the police, turned the charge into the equivalent of a traffic ticket and took accountability for making a mistake. Benson is going to come out and be accountable too. I'd say the odds are Benson won't be suspended, but he is at risk.
Q: Do you think the Saints would have gotten better value for OT Jammal Brown by having waited to move him closer to training camp?
Gordon in New Orleans
A: I think they got the best value they could under the circumstances. Tackles usually go for fourth-round choices and the Redskins could end up giving the Saints a third depending on how they use Brown. Brown has been in the sights of the Redskins since a day or two before the draft. For value, the Saints did better than the Rams did for left tackle Alex Barron, who went to Dallas for linebacker Bobby Carpenter. The Saints did fine as far as trade value.
Q: I have a proposed a trade involving the Redskins, Raiders and Patriots. The Redskins get G Logan Mankins from the Patriots. The Raiders get DT Albert Haynesworth from the Redskins. The Patriots get CB Nnamdi Asomugha from the Raiders. Haynesworth is labeled as selfish and has an immense contract that only the Raiders would probably be willing to take. Mankins wants a new contract and the Redskins have, well, a lot of money.
Matthew in Charlotte, N.C.
A: Several problems. Al Davis would never trade one of the best cornerbacks in the league. The Raiders temporarily resolved their defensive tackle issues by getting Richard Seymour to sign his franchise tender and adding John Henderson. Finally, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is going to be stubborn and not trade Haynesworth, even though Haynesworth clearly is going to have a problem fitting back into the locker room.
Q: The more I get to know the Tom Brady situation the more puzzled I am. I feel that the only way for the Patriots and Brady to completely erase the nightmare of that Super Bowl upset to the Giants is to win one or two more Super Bowls. I don't see the kind of desperate commitment to it from either the Patriots (not wanting to take chances on Dez Bryant or Albert Haynesworth) or Brady (staying away in the offseason). What would you do if you were Bill Belichick? Would you do anything differently if you were Brady?
Jay in Mercer Island, Wash.
A: It's hard to argue with the success of the Patriots. They won three Super Bowls during the 2000s and remain the top team in the AFC East. You can see they are trying to get younger by loading up on second-round picks in the past two drafts. Sure, they let a couple of good starters slip away in free agency, but their nucleus remains strong. Haynesworth wouldn't work for them because the Patriots use a 3-4. Haynesworth doesn't want to be in a 3-4. Bryant might be a handful for coaches, but he could help any team. The commitment is there for the Patriots, though.
Q: Is the NFL really that weak in the defensive backfield? I keep hearing that teams are weak at corner or safety whenever there is an evaluation of a team. Is it that scouts really don't know what to look for in a defensive back or is it that most defensive backs have such a difficult time making the transition from college to the NFL? Or do analysts only consider a team solid at DB if it has Ed Reed at both safety spots and Charles Woodson playing both corner spots?
Gary in Middlebury, Ind.
A: You may be on to something when you say analysts can be too critical when it comes to evaluating defensive backfields, but it is hard to find six or seven good coverage players to go against the increasing number of spread formation plays they have to stop. Think about how the game has changed since, say, 2005. You have more accomplished slot receivers, which is a hard matchup. Quarterbacks are so much better in the fourth quarter with no-huddle offenses. The slow safety whose main job is to stop the run is being exploited by pass-heavy offenses. Injuries and free agency make it tough to keep secondaries together.
Q: John, don't you think the NFL could reduce injuries if thigh and knee pads become mandatory?
From Warren in Balad, Iraq
A: Great question. You must have consulted with commissioner Roger Goodell, who believes players are being silly not using knee and thigh pads more. In fact, there is going to be a push by the league to mandate that players wear more padding. The thought is players are more concerned about their appearance than safety by not wearing extra padding. The league is even looking into uniforms that have some of those extra pads built into them. Extra padding can't hurt.
Q: Do you think Logan Mankins' time in New England is done? I understand that he has been one of the best, most reliable guards in the NFL over the past six years, but isn't he being a bit impatient? The Pats have a history of paying their stars (Vince Wilfork is one example), so shouldn't he just suck it up and go to camp?
Chris in Boston
A: You would hope for the sake of the Patriots that this isn't Mankins' swan song. He's their best offensive lineman and one of the best guards in football. The problem is he's an $8 million-a-year property that the team would like to be able to sign for $6.5 million a year. He's not being impatient. He has established his value by his play on the field. Wilfork had to battle to get his deal. Mankins will have to battle to get his payday. What will be interesting to see is what Tom Brady, who has to get his own deal, thinks of this situation. In his last deal, Brady took less to keep as much of the team together as possible.
Lucas in Allen, Texas
A: This will be one of the key things to watch in training camp. Because he's been there longer, I would get the feeling Harrison would begin the season as the starter. Word is Hardesty has been looking good and the Browns do have a decent offensive line. Rookies have to learn how to pass protect to stay on the field, so the first half of the season could go to Harrison, but Hardesty could get the job by midseason if he does well. Can't wait to see him in training camp.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The Vincent Jackson situation is perplexing, and both the Chargers and Jackson have a lot to lose if a resolution can't be reached, John Clayton writes in his latest mailbag.