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DeSean Jackson’s future with the Bucs in doubt

A thumb injury will keep Jackson out of Sunday's game against the Panthers, but will he play any more in a Tampa Bay uniform?
DeSean Jackson (11) signals a first down after a gain of 29 yards during the Bucs' victory over the Eagles earlier this season in Tampa. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Dec. 1, 2018

TAMPA — DeSean Jackson and Jameis Winston sat down to watch film of the eight plays in which the veteran receiver was targeted last Sunday.

On one of those misses, Jackson got several yards behind the 49ers defense and Winston overthrew him, missing a certain touchdown.

Nothing unusual about that.

Winston has struggled to connect with Jackson since the day he signed a 3-year, $33.5-million contract as a free agent last season.

"I met with both DeSean and Jameis,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "We watched those plays and went through them. You know, each one of them is a little bit different. But the bottom line is we had him open and didn't hit him."

Koetter said Jackson was open five other times, "and we didn't get the ball to him. So, we left a lot of yardage on the table."

Jackson, 31, won't play Sunday against Carolina Panthers. Although he did not re-injure a sprained left thumb against the Niners, he wore a soft cast in practice all week and did not catch any passes.

Asked about Jackson's status going forward, Koetter said "I'm not sure past this week."

As for next year, well, let's just say Jackson has made it pretty clear he doesn't want to be here and you have to wonder if the feeling is mutual. None of Jackson's $10 million salary for 2019 is guaranteed, which means releasing him would add nothing to the Bucs salary cap. In October, Jackson reportedly ask for a trade, something he never disputed.

Furthermore, Jackson seems to have little confidence in Winston and perhaps for good reason. Winston has struggled getting the football to him. Need proof?

Jackson playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick: 27 catches, 38 targets (71%), 552 yards, three TDs, four interceptions

Jackson playing with Winston: 13 catches, 33 targets (39%), 198 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs.

So what's the problem here?

Jackson probably has every right to be frustrated. The Bucs are 4-7 and likely will finish in the cellar of the NFC South again. The hot start, when Fitzmagic went 2-0 and Jackson was leading the NFL in receiving, was a mirage.

"The thing I try to remind people is that DeSean is 11 years in,'' receivers coach Skylar Fulton said. "I don't think that any player who is as good as DeSean, as productive as DeSean, wouldn't be frustrated almost every week if they're not exposed. That's what makes those guys those guys. …

"DeSean could go to Aruba for four days and come back and be ready to play on Sunday. The things that he does, he can do in his sleep."

Could Jackson push to go on injured reserve, preserving himself for what is likely free agency in 2019? Will the Bucs push him to play through an injury like so many other players this time of year?

Either way, it feels as if Jackson won't have many games left to play for the Bucs.

Duffing it out

There's no other way to say it. The Bucs defense is playing much better under Mark Duffner then fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith.

Tampa Bay has 20 sacks in the past six games, or 3.3 per game. In the stretch that Duffner took over, the Bucs rank second in sacks, fifth in third down defense and 12th in total yards. Compare that to the lack of production under Smith, when the Bucs were 29th in sacks, 23rd in third down defense and 31st in total yards.

"I just think it's a group effort, players and staff,'' Koetter said. "Players make everything go. And you know, we've played better on defense. We've said all along more pressure leads to better pass coverage and it should eventually lead to more turnovers. It did last week. But the 20 sacks in the last six games, we haven't been quite as good stopping the run but we've been much better on third down and pressuring the quarterback and this is a passing league.''

Smith actually had more to work with. Before his firing, he had Kwon Alexander, who wound up suffering a season-ending torn ACL. He also had Lavonte David, who missed the last two games with a sprained MCL. Safety Justin Evans also missed the last two games with an injury.

"I think that's the main thing and we've done a good job of switching it up,'' Koetter said. "They used multiple personnel groups and multiple rush patterns. And then it goes back to the players. (Jason Pierre-Paul) and Carl Nassib off the edge. Vita had his best game last week. Gerald has been as consistent as ever inside and everybody contributing. Getting Lavonte (David) back this week will also be a big plus I think.''

The Bucs are allowing only 16 points per game at Raymond James Stadium under Duffner compared with 38.6 points per game on the road.

From Cairo with love

Shhhhh. You don't want to jinx it. But PK Cairo Santos is perfect in two games. He has made all eight of his extra points and field goals of 41 and 39 yards since taking over for Chandler Catanzaro.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud

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