The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't just diving into free agency, they're diving in deep.
That's deep as in the most coveted deep threat on the market, former San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Tampa Bay and Jackson agreed on a five-year deal on Tuesday, just hours after the beginning of the 2012 free agency period.
As happy as Buccaneer fans are to see the teams' stated intention to make the most of free agency come to immediate fruition, the happiest man in Tampa is likely Josh Freeman. Tampa Bay's 24-year-old franchise quarterback just saw his array of targets get dramatically more dangerous with the receiving jewel of this year's veteran class. Jackson, a 2011 Pro Bowler who has an uncommon mix of elite size (6-5, 230) and downfield speed, joins promising 2010 draft picks Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn to form an impressive corps of receivers for Freeman to utilize.
Jackson is coming off his third 1,000-yard season in the last four years, a streak interrupted only by a 2010 campaign in which he played in only five games. Two numbers give a clear indication the impact Jackson can have on the Buccaneers' passing attack: A career yards-per-catch average of 17.5 and a total of 25 touchdowns in his last three full seasons.
Despite missing 11 games in 2010, Jackson has hauled in an impressive 36 completions of 25 or more yards in the last four seasons. Only nine players in the NFL have more during that span, and they read as a who's who of the league's best wideouts: DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Mike Wallace, Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall. Over that same time period, the Buccaneers rank 27th among the NFL's 32 teams in completions of 25 or more yards.
The former Northern Colorado star was a second-round pick by the Chargers in 2005, the 61st pick overall. His rookie season was interrupted by injuries but he slowly developed into a key part of San Diego's passing attack over the next few seasons, with nine of his 68 catches in 2006-07 going for touchdowns. Jackson's breakout season came in 2008, when he caught 59 passes for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns. His 18.6 yards per catch that season ranked fourth in the NFL, and first among players with at least 50 receptions.
Jackson's career arc continued upward in 2009, when he hauled in 68 passes for 1,167 yards and nine scores. This time he ranked fifth in the league with an average of 17.2 yards per catch, second only to DeSean Jackson among players with 50 or more grabs. In a playoff game against the New York Jets following the 2009 season, Jackson became the first player that season to record a 100-yard game against Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, hauling in seven passes for 111 yards.
Jackson went to his first Pro Bowl after that season but appeared in only five games in 2010 due to a contract dispute. The Chargers used their franchise tag on Jackson to keep him off the free agent market in 2011 and he responded with another Pro Bowl campaign, catching 60 passes for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. Even in his seventh NFL season he remained one of the league's elite speed receivers, ranking sixth in the NFL with an average of 18.4 yards per catch.
Jackson finished his collegiate career as Northern Colorado's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. He also set new school standards for kickoff and punt return yards and was an All-American as a punt returner in his freshman campaign. Jackson hails from Colorado Springs, Colorado.