One thing is clear from today's ruling by the NFL on Vincent Jackson's penalty: the NFL wants Chargers GM AJ Smith to stop dicking around and deal the disgruntled star receiver.
The ruling -- Jackson's penalty for his second DUI in three years is reduced to 4 games only if he's traded in the next six days -- is designed to create a controlled high-pressure market. The Rams and Vikings, among other teams, have been reportedly kicking the tires for weeks. Now, it's put up or shut up time.
Should the Rams put up? There are three questions to answer first.
Question 1: Do you believe Jackson when he says his mistakes are behind him?
There are several things that are apparent about Jackson in this interview with NFL.com's Jason LaCanfora: he's calm, he's confident, and he's wicked intelligent. (He scored a 33 on the Wonderlic, if that tells you anything.) But we can't tell whether he's truly remorseful about his DUI situation. And that's the number one question that Rams fans have about him, especially as he stands ready to step into the shadow still cast by Leonard Little.
I don't want to demonize either player here. I believe in redemption, and I like Little as a player, and his painful admission that he doesn't know whether he'd be welcomed back in Saint Louis stings. But he has penance to pay still for the life he took, and he knows it. Jackson was lucky enough to avoid a fatally destructive outcome from his DUI, but by the same token, he has not had to deal with such a massive blow to his own self. The forgiveness he seeks is that of a kid who messed up, not a man with a cross to bear.
Ultimately, I can't answer this question. And Spagnuolo is in a tough spot. He created the "Four Pillars" standard, and as the deeply moral person that he seems to be, is bound to stick to it. But he's also 1-16 as a head coach in the NFL, and while his seat isn't necessarily hot yet, he knows as well as anyone that he needs to win. And Jackson needs to play. When the coach looks into the player's eyes, looking for that sign of character, what will he see? And what might he project?
Question 2: Is the price worth it?
The price for Jackson is said to be a second round pick next year and a conditional pick depending on whether or not Jackson signs a long term deal with his new team. Of course, a long term deal for Jackson is certain to be a requirement for any team wanting to land the receiver.-- VanRam, Turf Show Times: "Rams back in the mix for Vincent Jackson"
The new standard for long term contracts for wide receivers is Andre Johnson's seven-year contract for a guaranteed $48 million, signed in August. And Baltimore's trade-and-sign deal for Anquan Boldin included $10 million guaranteed over four seasons. How does Jackson stack up with these two? Let's compare their 2008-09 stats
To my mind, it looks like the Rams would be ready to give up a 2nd, a 3rd, and something like $18 million guaranteed over five years, for a player in his physical prime. That's a hefty price, but the benefits -- getting a huge target that has five full seasons of route-running in his hip pocket, and posts elite yards per catch -- are significant. The Rams would potentially have the division's best quarterback, best running back, and best receiver as soon as week 5. And with that in hand, who knows what happens.
Question 3: Are the Rams getting played (again)?
The Rams were pawns in the Terrell Owens free agent scenario. They were walked on by Bryant Westbrook (doubly so, since he went to the hated 49ers). This hasn't been a banner year for the Rams and top-tier free agents. But this situation is different, because it's not the player's choice.
AJ Smith, asshole non pariel, controls Jackson's destiny. If the return was relatively similar, would he honestly rather do Jackson any favors by trading him to a legitimate Super Bowl contender in Minnesota? Would he be able to live down that trade if the Vikings and Chargers somehow met in Dallas?
Now, there's every likelihood that Smith has set his price, and isn't going to be undercut. He'll happily sit on Jackson all six games or longer if he needs to. And Jackson, for his part, is apparently content to sit out under those circumstances. (Remember, he isn't under contract -- he's essentially property without salary.)
So the question is to Billy Devaney: What's your answer to these three questions? The Rams have been making moves for the last three years, chipping away at roster rot, then using competition to bring the most out of lower-tier players. But here he has a chance at a thoroughbred. A racehorse with a racehorse price. Is he ready to make the deal?