In a span of four hours, Marlin Jackson found a new home, a (semi-) new position, a welcomed challenge and an opportunity to resurrect a career derailed the last two seasons by separate knee injuries that required surgery and cast doubt about his NFL career. And the Eagles found a player who offers a high reward without a lot of risk, and an intriguing addition to a secondary that has a lot of pieces that must come together to help restore this defense to where it wants to be.
Not too long ago, Jackson was a rising young player in the league. A first-round draft pick of the Colts in 2005, he matured into a starter there and was made The Play in Indianapolis, picking off New England quarterback Tom Brady to preserve the Colts' win in the 2006 NFC Championship Game and sent them to the Super Bowl against Chicago. Indianapolis won that game, and Jackson learned early in his professional life what it was like to win it all.
In 2007, Jackson was a full-time starter for the league's second-pass pass defense, a cornerback with good size 6-feet, 196 pounds, and strength and quickness. He was on his way, and Jackson then started the first seven games of 2008 before suffering a torn left anterior cruciate ligament. He made it back, worked hard, and was on the field in 2009 before tearing his right ACL almost 12 months exactly after the first knee injury.
Suddenly, Jackson was in a very scary place. Two knee surgeries in 12 months don't make for an enticing portfolio in this league. When the Colts didn't tender Jackson, a restricted free agent, he was on the streets and unsure what kind of market there would be. Turned out, teams were fairly hot for Jackson. Before the first week of free agency ended, Jackson visited Baltimore, then Philadelphia, and planned a trip to see the Jets before the Eagles stepped up and made Jackson the offer he wanted.
It's a two-year deal, and that works for both sides. Jackson has a chance to get on the field if he wins the job at free safety, a position the Eagles certainly want to challenge in this off-season. Jackson expects to learn the entire scheme, and see what he can do at free safety and maybe even give the Eagles some options as a nickel cornerback. Who knows? The Eagles are going to take a look at a lot of options in a secondary that needs to play better than it did a year ago within a defense that needs to play better than it did a year ago.
The Eagles have a chance to get a fair, extended look at Jackson with the two-year contract. Everyone understands that he is coming off the major surgeries, and while Jackson says that he will be on the field at Lehigh University for training camp "beyond a doubt," you never know how quickly he will really get back on the field. Maybe it takes him longer to recover and prove he is back to being at his best. If that's the case, the Eagles will be very happy to have that second season.
In this limited free agency period, a player like Jackson attracts interest because he is young and because he has a promising upside. So you go out and make a move and see how it works. The Eagles didn't satisfy their needs last year at free safety, and while they still have hopes for Quintin Demps in his third season and Macho Harris in his second season, there is absolutely no reason to be satisfied.
He is the first player the Eagles signed in free agency, one that you would have never, ever predicted prior to March 5. After the headline-grabbing players went off the board in the first couple of days, the Eagles contacted Jackson and got their deal done. It won't be the last signing, and who knows how much bringing in Jackson will pay off in the long run. Free agency is as much of a roll of the dice as is the draft, and history says that rarely does free agency work for players or for teams.
Jackson was worth the look, no doubt. He has a place to call home and dig into his rehabilitation with head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, who has a lot of knees to work with in his off-season. Jackson thinks that his run of bad health luck is over and that he is ready to resume the fast track of his career. Jackson said on Wednesday that he says "without a doubt" that he will be on the field at Lehigh University for training camp, but this kind of recovery has to take its course and heal correctly. Four months into his rehab, Jackson says, he is far ahead of schedule and encouraged by the progress.
Does signing Jackson mean the Eagles won't use a draft pick on free safety in April? No. The Eagles have to be open to every opportunity to improve all phases of the team. Jackson played free safety in college for a spell, and he saw action there for half a season with the Colts. Now, it appears, he is going to get a crack at making it his job to keep in Sean McDermott's defense.
It has been an unusual start to the off-season, no question about it. The Eagles have shed some veterans -- Brian Westbrook, Will Witherspoon and Reggie Brown -- and they have moved slowly into a free-agency period where the star power has been minimal, at best. This is the time when teams add players for depth and for their upside and for hoping a bit of a risk morphs into a huge reward.
That's Jackson. He has a chance to get his career back on the right track at a reasonably new position after spending most of his last two years recovering from torn knee ligaments. It isn't exactly the way Jackson planned his career to unfold. Then again, nobody has much of a say when injuries get in the way and alter the course of a player's path, or when they give a team like the Eagles an opportunity to take a chance on a player who could pay off in a big way down the line.