Bullet hits the bone moment for Eagles— DJax, Plaxico, or both?

Is there enough salary cap room for the Eagles to both franchise DeSean Jackson and sign Plaxico Burress at the same time?  You bet there is…

This is the edge Burress gives you in the red zone… even at age 35…  but is the emotional baggage the guy brings to your team worth the investment of money and potential locker room turmoil?

Plaxico Burress, who signed a one-year, $3.017 million contract with the Jets last July following his release from prison, expressed interest in joining the Eagles while in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl, according to sports radio personality Howard Eskin of Philadelphia station WIP.

Eskin, who ended his WIP talk show last year but continues with the station as a member of its broadcast team for Eagles games, said on Wednesday via his Twitter account (+howardeskin) that he “Saw and talked to Plaxico Burress at the Super Bowl,” and that Burress said “he wants to play for the Eagles. Badly!”

Burress, who will be 35 when the 2012 season begins, caught 45 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. It was his first season since the 2008 campaign, when he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh at a nightclub while he was with the New York Giants. Burress subsequently pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon. He was released from prison last June.

The Eagles, like the Jets, finished 8-8 in 2011 and missed the playoffs despite high preseason expectations. If Burress were to join the Eagles as a free agent, it would be his first season outside the New York area since 2004, when he played the last of his five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Jets allowed a contract clause to kick in this week for leading wide receiver Santonio Holmes… Holmes, who was second on the Jets in receiving yards last season with 654 (tight end Dustin Keller led the team with 815 yards), is guaranteed $15.25 million over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The team would have had to release Holmes before the waiver period in order to avoid paying the big money.

The commitment of big bucks to Holmes by the Jets would appear to make Plaxico Burress expendable.

That’s where the Eagles could come in to fill in the blanks on Burress’ next paycheck…

Popular concensus is: the Eagles need to get a jump-ball wide receiver to help them score more touchdowns inside the 20. Jeremy Maclin would be the Eagles’ number one wideout if DeSean Jackson is gone, but winning jump balls is about the only thing Maclin doesn’t excel at. Riley Cooper was supposed to be that type of player, but he rarely comes back to the football in a jump situation and has failed to win jump balls against even the smaller corners. 

A healthy Burress would allow the Eagles to get that desired red-zone target at a much cheaper rate than a Vincent Jackson or a Dwayne Bowe. The Eagles would still need to get a quality outside receiver to play opposite of Maclin if DJax leaves the team, as Burress isn’t an “every down” outside receiver anymore.

The Eagles have the 15th overall pick in the draft and two second-round picks as well to use to get a big name wideout in the draft— like a Justin Blackmon if they decide to trade up, or take a Mohamed Sanu or Michael Floyd with their first-round pick.  

In a dream scenario the Eagles would use their three draft picks in the first two rounds to move up and take a player that can come in right away and play as a Pro Bowl caliber player. Justin Blackmon is that player, and if DeSean Jackson goes elsewhere Blackmon could be a definite replacement. 

Blackmon could be the perfect complement to Jeremy Maclin on the outside. He is listed at just 6’1″, 215 pounds, but when you watch him on film he plays more like a 6’5″, 230-pound receiver. He has the athleticism to jump out of the building and he is an incredibly strong receiver for someone listed under 220 lbs.

Justin Blackmon, WR, (#81), 6-1, 215, Oklahoma State, is within range of early Eagles draft pick as insurance against DeSean Jackson’s free agency…After redshirting his freshman year, Justin Blackmon started to immediately make an impact. In his redshirt freshman season, he saw snaps while looking up to former Cowboy (and current Cowboy) great Dez Bryant. After Bryant departed, Blackmon came out of his shell as a redshirt sophomore to win the 2010 Biletnikoff Award, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, became an unanimous All-American, and even finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy race. Blackmon has improved immensely in his route running, and his versatility as a wide receiver is fantastic. He can stretch the field with above average speed, and he can make plays underneath to turn them into big gains. Blackmon has soft hands, and is very tough. He will fight for the ball and does a nice job of making a play on it whether he can catch it or not. His athleticism is also exceptional, and he will make even the toughest catches, while also having the awareness to keep his feet in bounds. Blackmon is generally fearless, not being afraid to take a hit after making a catch. He doesn’t get jammed easily at the line and his physical presence helps him make plays in the red zone, despite not being very tall. Weaknesses?— Blackmon needs to learn how to get better separation in man coverage. He has improved on his route running as mentioned before, but he still needs a bit of work. He doesn’t possess elite speed, and won’t be a burner in the NFL. He seems to have occasional mental lapses, not always concentrating when catching the football. He doesn’t always look the football in, and at times will run before the ball is in his hands. He has soft but not strong hands, which could be worrisome in the red zone in the NFL against defenses that can lay the wood on the opposition. Intangibles could be a concern. He seems to be a bit of a show boat player, and also has been arrested with a DUI, in which he was suspended for one game for in 2010. 

Blackmon can gain separation on deep routes, is outstanding on crossing routes and has also excelled in the screen pass game while at Oklahoma State. He is also a great jump ball receiver which could really get Eagles fans excited. 

Blackmon should go around the fifth or sixth pick in the draft, which means the Eagles only need to spend enough to move up 10 picks. He could be worth the Eagles trading away three or four picks to get the next superstar at wide receiver for a very pass-oriented team. 

Or the Eagles will decide to do the smart thing— either sign DeSean Jackson to a long-term contract or put the franchise tag on him for 2012… and back out of the Justin Blackmon sweepstakes.  As good as Blackmon is and could be, he’s just not worth mortgaging first-round draft picks that could be better spent on defensive personnel needs.

The point of all this: the signing or franchising of DeSean Jackson for 2012 by the Eagles will be an event that changes the direction of a lot of NFL careers, including those of currently undrafted rookies like Justin Blackmon.  But whether DJax is signed or not by the Eagles, there is a very real free-agent opportunity for guys like Plaxico Burress to get a shot with Philly. The red-zone job market is currently hiring…

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.