Wednesday March 14th, 2012

Vincent Jackson

Vincent Jackson has three 1,000-yard seasons in the last four years. (Damian Strohmeyer/SI)

The Buccaneers needed something, anything to infuse some life back into a team that has been floundering of late. They're betting -- big -- that Vincent Jackson will be the catalyst for just such a revival.

Tampa Bay agreed with the coveted free-agent wide receiver on a five-year deal worth more than $55 million and a whopping $26 million guaranteed, huge numbers for a player who will now be expected to carry the Bucs' offense, with the help of QB Josh Freeman, for years to come.

The groundwork for Jackson's massive deal was laid earlier Tuesday, when New Orleans re-signed Marques Colston for $40 million and the Redskins surprised everyone with a $42.5 million move for Pierre Garcon.

Those signings left Jackson alone atop the class of free-agent WRs, ahead of Reggie Wayne, Mario Manningham and others. Tampa Bay got the first crack at Jackson and made sure that it locked him up.

The money involved is staggering, but this was the type of player the Bucs needed -- especially given the arrival of new coach Greg Schiano. Tampa Bay is committed to Freeman as its franchise quarterback, but he had little to no help from the team's receivers last year.

Much like Chicago (which traded for Brandon Marshall) and Washington (which picked up Garcon, Josh Morgan and Eddie Royal), Tampa Bay was desperate to find a playmaker out wide. Jackson, for all his red flags off the field, is a sensational talent on it. He put up 1,106 yards and nine TDs last season, and at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, brings a mix of speed and physicality to the table that few receivers can.

Jackson also ought to help the Buccaneers market themselves a bit to a fan base that has seemingly lost interest in recent seasons. Don't think that potential went unnoticed by the Tampa Bay front office.

The challenge for the Bucs will be keeping Jackson motivated, now that he has gotten the big payday he's coveted for a while. Jackson already has two DUI charges to his name and missed the first 11 games of the 2010 season because of a holdout.

If he stays on the straight and narrow, though, his presence might rapidly accelerate Tampa Bay's offensive improvement under Schiano. With LeGarrette Blount in the backfield behind the athletic Freeman, the Bucs now have multiple ways in which they can beat defenses. Add in the No. 5 pick in this draft, and everything suddenly looks a lot brighter in Tampa Bay.

Of course, Jackson's enormous new contract means that there is a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Teams don't pay out that type of money looking for a guy who can just contribute -- that's a superstar, Pro Bowl-type deal.

Anything less than 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns and a shot at the playoffs will make the numbers on Jackson's signing hard to swallow.

The glass-half-full approach tells us that he's more than capable of providing those benchmarks, while giving Tampa Bay one of the game's best weapons. The pessimists among us, on the other hand, won't be satisfied unless Jackson helps Tampa Bay win the division and get deep into the playoffs. You have to appreciate the Bucs laying it all on the line for the guy they wanted. Hopefully, for their sake, he returns the investment.

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