Tag should be a means to an end

It will not be easy, but here is how this should end: Somehow, Philadelphia needs to narrow the gulf that exists between their appraisal of DeSean Jackson and his appraisal of himself and sign him to a long-term deal. Maybe coach Andy Reid has to turn into Papa Bear and wrap his arms around the young man and make Jackson feel wanted, appreciated and loved. Maybe the front office can give just enough by way of up-front dollars or salary to get agent Drew Rosenhaus to give back.

The Eagles need Jackson. They are better with him than without him. He is a unique talent, a supremely fast receiver, a deep threat, a game-breaker, a difference-maker.

And Jackson needs them. The offense, the system, the quarterback and the coach are perfectly suited to his talents.

Jackson needs to be an Eagle in 2012, and not under the franchise tag Philadelphia slapped on him on Thursday. That can only be a bridge. The accompanying estimated $9.4 million salary for the season is attractive, and well above the $600,000 Jackson earned for his efforts in 2011. But the franchise tag cannot be the endgame.

Franchise to a long-term deal? Yes.

Franchise to a trade? Fine, if you must.

But play out next season under the franchise tag? Not an option. In fact, it would be certifiably nuts.

Jackson has been upset about his contract for the better part of two years, and for good reason. He outplayed his rookie deal long ago. Although the Eagles have been masterful for more than a decade at re-signing young talent before their contracts expire -- thus typically getting players at cheaper prices in exchange for a little job security -- they did not go that route with Jackson, for whatever reason.

Whether because of the lockout or concerns about his durability after sustaining two concussions, the Eagles let Jackson stew. Jackson held out of part of training camp last August. He shelved his displeasure for a while, but as Philadelphia's season deteriorated, so too did their receiver's production and attitude. Reid benched Jackson for the Arizona game in Week 10 -- a game the Eagles lost and should have won -- and then yanked him for dogging it a couple of weeks later at Seattle.

Jackson couldn't control his emotions about not getting a new deal. It was hard to blame him, when the Eagles spent the truncated preseason throwing money at Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and even Steve Smith. The Eagles gave Smith a one-year deal for a little more than $2 million, and he finished the season with 11 receptions for 124 yards and one touchdown in nine games.

Jackson had what most considered a down year, and he still finished with 58 catches for 961 yards and four touchdowns.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying that the team wants Jackson "for the long haul," but later in the afternoon ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that Philadelphia would listen to offers for Jackson.

The Eagles shouldn't do that. They should work with Rosenhaus to get a new deal, and Rosenhaus should be realistic with his demands, which could be tough now that Philadelphia has agreed to pay Jackson the average of the top five receivers in the league. Jackson isn't top five, but you can argue he is top 10 -- when his mind is right.

Jackson also is masterful with a punt in his hand (ask the New York Giants). He can turn a routine play into six points. QB Michael Vick likes Jackson. WR Jeremy Maclin is better because of him.

When Jackson's mind isn't right, he pouts, withdraws and is a detriment to the team. He is MeSean.

Therein lies the rub. There is risk involved.

What would Jackson do with more money? Would it placate him? Would the status and the love make him happy? Would he play hard? Would he be a team player? Would he lead, either by voice or example?

I think he would. A new contract would mean something. It would give him stability, for sure, but it would also give him an understanding of how he fits in. He is part of a young core of offensive skill-position players on a team that is poised for a run.

The Eagles have talent. They need leaders. Vick tried to take Jackson under his wing last season, to lead him through the haze, because Vick knew Jackson's worth. Vick once said that he never had a receiver he couldn't out-throw -- at least until Jackson.

When Vick had his monster game at Washington in 2010, the first play was an 88-yard tone-setter to Jackson for a touchdown. Boom. The Eagles knew that if Jackson could slip past the safety and Vick could deliver the ball accurately, Jackson would score. That play set the tone for what became one of the most dominant offensive performances you will ever see.

The Eagles need to give Jackson a new contract. Jackson needs to be fair about his demands. And after the two agree, Jackson needs to prove to Philadelphia that the risk was worth the reward.

Ashley Fox is an NFL columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyMFox.