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What's next for Vincent Jackson, Chargers?

In 92 games with the Chargers, Vincent Jackson has scored 37 touchdowns and made 272 receptions. (Getty Images)

Two years ago, Vincent Jackson reportedly told the Chargers that he wanted a five-year, $50 millon deal, and then he refused to show up for the first half of the season after San Diego gave him a $3.2 million tender instead. Jackson might finally receive that bulky, long-term contract he's wanted, as he looks more and more likely to hit the free-agent market in March.

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Chargers "will almost certainly allow" Jackson to explore his options as an unrestricted free agent.

What would that mean for Jackson and the Chargers? Let's take that question one topic at a time.

San Diego slapped the franchise tag on Jackson last year, which came with an $11.4 million bill. Jackson turned in 60 catches for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns as the return on that investment -- good, but not spectacular, numbers.

Of course, the Chargers didn't have a ton of viable options behind V-Jax on the roster. Malcom Floyd had 43 receptions, but aside from him, Vincent Brown might be the most promising talent after a 19-catch rookie season.

While the Chargers have plans to talk to Jackson before the start of free agency and may stay involved in the Jackson sweepstakes after, the better option might be to shop the market themselves in search of a replacement or two. Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem and Mario Manningham could be viable targets for San Diego -- all would be cheaper than Jackson, thus providing some more roster flexibility.

As for Jackson himself, there wouldn't be a shortage of teams calling him. Here are just a few of the possibilities for where he could end up:

San Francisco:  The 49ers' lack of a playmaking receiver eventually caught up to them, even with Vernon Davis enjoying a monster postseason run. Alex Smith simply did not have any reliable receivers to throw to on the outside, which significantly hampered San Francisco's ability to stretch the field. A Jackson-Davis pairing could work much the way a Jackson-Antonio Gates one did at its best in San Diego.

New England: Consider the Pats a bit of a dark-horse entry here, but the fit makes sense. The defending AFC champions grabbed Chad Ochocinco last offseason in hopes that he could give them a deep threat in the passing game. That flopped, of course, but Jackson would be a major upgrade over the washed-up Ochocinco. Just imagine Jackson seeing single coverage in that offense.

Minnesota: The Vikings might not wind up with a ton of money to spend -- recent projections have them somewhere around $5 million and $6 million under the anticipated 2012 cap. But as Minnesota figures out its wide receiver situation, it could badly, badly use a receiver to pair with Percy Harvin.

St. Louis: Jackson's two DUIs and his citation prior to a playoff game for driving with a suspended license have red-flagged him for some teams around the league. But new Rams coach Jeff Fisher might be willing to look past that -- columnist Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch recently wrote that "Fisher isn't much interested in holding all 53 roster spots for angels." The Rams have a decision of their own to make on pending free agent WR Brandon Lloyd, but Jackson should be on their radar.

Chicago: Another team that should have some money to spend and is in desperate need of a wide receiver. Would Chicago open its checkbook to give Jay Cutler a long searched-for No. 1 threat? The Bears have not really come up on the Jackson radar yet, but he'd be a dynamic piece to drop in that puzzle.

Tampa Bay: The Bucs also look like they'll be well under the salary cap and definitely could use a big splash in free agency after their coaching search fizzled. What's currently in place at wide receiver for new head man Greg Schiano isn't overly exciting, either. Jackson might infuse some excitement back into the fan base.

All of these situations are fluid at this point -- what happens between now and the start of free agency will give everyone a much better idea of which teams can afford Jackson and where he'll be needed. It does look very unlikely, however, that he will wind up back in San Diego, meaning both he and the Chargers have some work to do this offseason.

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