Sunday, May 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs pursue and catch their target, free agent DeSean Jackson

TAMPA

As Bucs general manager Jason Licht was getting ready to leave his home and head to the office Thursday morning, the free agent signing period just hours away, his 8-year-old son, Charlie, asked the question on the mind of every NFL insider. "What do you plan on doing today?"

Licht didn't ask to go off the record. "Well, I hope to sign DeSean Jackson, but I don't know yet. I hope," he said.

Licht said Charlie then gave him that wide-eyed look of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. "What?!' he said. "He's like a 95 speed ranking in Madden!"

"I think Madden is a little low," Licht replied.

Jackson, who still runs and plays as if he was the concoction of some video game-maker, indeed agreed Thursday to a three-year, $33.5 million contract with the Bucs, with $20 million guaranteed. On Friday, the guy known by teammates as "Jackpot" boarded a plane from his home near Los Angeles and arrived at One Buc on Friday evening to sign the deal. On Saturday morning, Jackson was introduced at a news conference by Licht and coach Dirk Koetter, who had openly campaigned for a speedy playmaker on the day after the Bucs completed a 9-7 season, narrowly missing the playoffs.

"I was on record as saying we needed a guy, and the guy that I was describing is sitting right next to me right now," Koetter said. "I didn't know it at the time that he was going to be the guy, but I'm glad he is."

The Bucs had targeted Jackson as soon as they learned he might become a free agent after three productive seasons with Washington. Licht also had plenty of inside information on the player that using Next Gen Stats, nfl.com said was the second-fastest in the league last season, reaching a max speed of 22.6 miles per hour on a 59-yard reception against the Cardinals in Week 13. Only the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill was clocked at a higher speed last season. At 30, Jackson is seven years older than Hill.

Licht was Philadelphia's vice president for player personnel when the Eagles drafted Jackson in the second round in 2008. John Spytek, the Bucs' director of player personnel, was a scout for the Eagles during two of Jackson's six seasons there. And Tampa Bay scout Alex Smith was a teammate of Jackson's with Washington.

Meanwhile, Jackson had been following the Bucs closely since Washington and Tampa Bay were battling down the stretch for the final NFC wild-card spot that ultimately went the Lions. His brother William said Jackson also had been looking at tape of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and was excited about the way he rifled the ball downfield and gave receivers a chance to make a play.

"He's not afraid," William said. "He's a gunslinger."

Money is always the deciding factor in any decision in professional sports, and Washington owner Daniel Snyder personally made a late push to keep Jackson. But Jackson said he placed a high priority on who would be throwing him passes, and he liked what he saw of Winston.

Koetter said Jackson is more than just a deep threat. "DeSean can run every route, he can play every position," he said.

The first time Koetter saw Jackson up close was in 2006 when he was the coach at Arizona State and the then-Cal sophomore whizzed past him while returning a punt 80 yards for a touchdown in the Bears' 49-21 victory.

It's important for Jackson and Winston to quickly develop a chemistry. Winston struggled connecting on the deep ball last season. NFL rules prohibit players from field work at the team's facility until May, but Jackson and Winston likely will begin throwing sessions on their own soon.

"I feel like I have that dog in me to rub off on my teammates, to be a winner," Jackson said. "I don't like to slip off, I don't like to lose. I have that anger in me that whatever it takes, we've got to do it to win. As long as you collectively have a group of guys that go out and understand what it's going to take to do that, I think the sky's the limit."

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