January 2, 2017: One day after the 2016 season ends, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter says, "We need more speed and when we say playmakers, playmakers and explosive plays are one in the same."
March 9, 2017: On the first day of the 2017 free agency period, the Buccaneers sign DeSean Jackson, the NFL's leader in yards per reception since 2008.
Mission accomplished. In a big way.
Pictures of newly-added Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson from his career with the Redskins and Eagles.
In one of the most significant and perfectly-targeted free agency moves in team history, the Buccaneers agreed to terms with Jackson, the former Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles play-maker, to a multi-year contract during the opening hours of the new league year. Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowler was one of the most coveted offensive players on the market for the exact reason he was a perfect fit for the Buccaneers: He makes explosive plays on a regular basis.
"DeSean is exactly the type of dynamic playmaker we have been targeting for our offense," said Koetter. "Desean brings a veteran presence and a big-play mentality that fits in perfectly with our offensive philosophy. He is a tough-minded competitor who has the game-breaking speed and pass-catching ability that stretches the defense and creates matchup problems."
Jackson will team with 23-year-old Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans to give Tampa Bay one of the most dangerous pass-catching combinations in the NFL. That's exactly what the Buccaneers needed to further unlock the potential of 23-year-old quarterback Jameis Winston, the first player in league history to open his career with consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons. The Buccaneers ranked right in the middle of the NFL pack in 2016 in terms of points scored, yards gained and passing yards per contest, but they were tied for 27th in completions of 20+ yards and 29th in yards gained after the catch. Improving those latter statistics could vault Tampa Bay's offense into the realm of the league's elite attacks.
Those big-play deficiencies are Jackson's specialty, and have been since he entered the league as a second-round draft pick out of Cal in 2008. In the nine seasons he has been in the NFL, Jackson has led the NFL with an average of 17.7 yards per reception and a total of 112 receptions of 25 or more yards. The 30-year-old speedster is most definitely not slowing down – he led the NFL last year with 17.9 yards per reception while posting his fifth 1,000-yard campaign, and over the past three years he has averaged 73 yards per game and 17.3 yards per grab.
"It is rare to find a player in free agency with the combination of speed and natural playmaking ability of a DeSean Jackson," said General Manager Jason Licht. "DeSean is a smart, gifted athlete who has averaged more than 17 yards per reception throughout his nine-year career and he brings the type of veteran experience and deep threat receiving ability that will have an immediate impact on our offense."
Jackson has been durable and consistently explosive during his first nine years in the league. He has played in at least 10 games every season and has averaged just over 14 outings per year. After averaging 14.7 yards per reception as a rookie he has never finished with a lower average than 15.6 since. Jackson has racked up 46 touchdowns in that span, many of the long-range variety. He has scored on 22 receptions of 60 or more yards in his career, just one behind the all-time NFL leader in that category, Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
Jackson went to the Pro Bowl following the 2009, 2010 and 2013 seasons and in '09 was also a second-team Associated Press All-Pro selection as a kicker returner. He has also played in seven playoff games, recording 21 receptions for 338 yards and two touchdowns.
In all, Jackson has played in 127 games and made 123 starts, amassing 498 catches for 8,819 and those 46 TDs. His yardage total ranks fifth in the NFL since 2008, behind only Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. As noted, Jackson also has some experience in the return game, with a 9.6-yard punt return average and four touchdowns, but most of that came during the first three years of his career with the Eagles. Jackson arrived as the 49th overall pick in the 2008 draft, coincidentally nine spots before the Buccaneers took Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson.
Jackson also arrives in Tampa almost five years to the day after the team signed former San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson as an unrestricted free agent. That proved to be one of the most successful unrestricted free agent acquisitions in franchise history. The 2012 Buccaneers were in need of a number-one receiver and Jackson fit that bill perfectly, making the Pro Bowl in his first year in Tampa and averaging more than 1,200 yards per year from 2012-14. Though injuries curtailed his production in 2015-16, Jackson played through his entire five-year deal and ranks as one of the best receivers in franchise history.
The Buccaneers are confident DeSean Jackson can have the same sort of instant impact, particularly in helping to unlock the potential of a Winston-lead offense. Winston broke team records in 2016 with 4,090 passing yards and 28 touchdown tosses but could take his game to a whole new level with more explosive playmakers at his disposal.
Evans has 3,578 yards and 27 touchdowns through his first three seasons and is likely to add to his Pro Bowl tally in the years to come. Tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Adam Humphries, a pair of former undrafted free agents, emerged as legitimate targets in 2016, each topping 50 catches. Brate tied for the NFL in touchdowns among tight ends with eight while Humphries developed into a weapon out of the slot. Tampa Bay's rushing attack, a team strength in 2015, suffered last fall due largely to a rash of injuries but would stand to benefit from the extra attention opponents will have to pay to the Evans-Jackson combination.
Simply put, the Buccaneers went in search of an explosive weapon for their offense and found the very definition of that term in DeSean Jackson, one of the NFL's top big-play producers. Tampa Bay's 2017 offseason could hardly have started on a more encouraging note.