There has been a lot of talk since Joe Webb underwhelmed the football world when given his chance under the brightest media spotlight that the Vikings would unexpectedly be in the market for a veteran backup quarterback.
In the span of 60 minutes of game time at Lambeau Field, Webb went from a promising backup who should have been given a shot to replace Christian Ponder during his struggles earlier in the season to a backup that looked woefully ill-equipped to run a basic offensive scheme.
The computer hadn’t even auto-refreshed after the Vikings’ playoff loss to Green Bay when fans and media types alike (and perhaps some in the Vikings front office) were desperately searching for a list of backup veteran quarterbacks that would be available in free agency.
As the list was checked (and most of the names laughingly dismissed as not even being worthy of consideration – he’s still in the league?), one name elicited chuckles to some Vikings observers – Tarvaris Jackson.
Jackson is one of the sadder NFL stories – not the kind that NFL Films focuses on. Drafted at a time when the Vikings were convinced they were the smartest guys in the room with the last pick of the second round of the 2006 draft, Brad Childress anointed Jackson as the second coming of Donovan McNabb. Unfortunately, many of Jackson’s passes resembled those of McNabb of Viking vintage, not from his prime in Philly.
Jackson lost his starting job two games into the 2008 season. But brittle backup Gus Frerotte led the Vikings to a playoff run until his 106-year-old body (by NFL standards) failed him and he limped off into the sunset. Jackson was the only QB of note under contract heading into 2009 – until the Vikings swung a pre-draft trade with Houston to get Sage Rosenfels and some guy named Brett showed up and drew a little bit of media attention.
In 2009, as expected, that Brett Favre guy hogged the spotlight. Jackson threw just 21 passes. However, he did have a passer rating of 113.4, but, when it comes from a test sampling of just 21 passes, it doesn’t carry much cache. He replaced Favre in the disastrous 2010 season, but promptly got hurt in the same game – a recurring theme throughout his Vikings career. Even when he played well, injuries set him back.
When Chilly got bagged and tagged in 2010, so too did his protégé. In five years as a Viking, T-Jack played in 35 of a possible 80 games, starting 20 of them. At a time when the NFL was breaking passing records on an annual basis, Jackson never threw for 5,000 yards in a season. In fact, he never threw for 2,000 yards in a season and the Vikings’ five-year return on their investment (and Chilly’s QB development reputation) was shattered into splintered pieces. In five years, Jackson threw 24 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. He was, in a word, pedestrian.
The low point of Jackson’s career came in April 2011. With the NFL and its players union embroiled in a lockout, there was no free agency. Jackson, technically, was still a member of the Vikings. That was, until the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder. When a well-orchestrated window in the impasse opened on draft weekend, it allowed for a slew of grip-and-grin photos with owners, coaches and high draft picks. Ponder was introduced as the newest Vikings quarterback. The jersey he held up? No. 7 – the number that, until that day, had belonged to T-Jack. Handwriting, meet wall. T-Jack, meet wall.
Jackson eventually signed with the Seattle Seahawks and, for the first time in his NFL career, he played in 15 games (starting 14 of them). How did Pete Carroll respond? He made trivia answer Matt Flynn his de facto starter by signing him to a three-year, $26 million contract shortly after free agency began last March. Jackson immediately dropped to No. 2 on the depth chart. When rookie Russell Wilson emerged in the preseason, Jackson dropped to No. 3 and had to go. He was traded to Buffalo, where he never played a down in 2012.
It appeared then that Jackson’s NFL future was in doubt, like so many of the other also-rans on the list of free agent QBs. However, Buffalo re-signed Jackson to a one-year contract that calls for a $500,000 signing bonus that he has already cashed and a $1.2 million base salary. If he ends up taking 50 percent of the team’s snaps, he makes an extra $500,000. If he takes 60 percent of the snaps, he makes an extra $1.25 million. If takes 65 percent or more, he makes an additional $2.25 million.
The Buffalo Bills (or, as they are sometimes called, the Toronto L’additions) made news in October 2011 when they gave Ryan Fitzpatrick a six-year, $59 million deal. The Jackson signing may, in many ways, be a precursor that something bad is going to happen to Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick has already cashed in more than $21 million of that contract, but is due a $3 million roster bonus next month and has a base salary of $4.45 million. Since Nov. 1, 2011 – 16 months since the Bills signed the deal with Fitzpatrick – Buffalo has lost 18 of the 25 games Fitz has started.
In the first incarnation of the Viking Update mock draft, we have Buffalo going quarterback with the eighth pick of the draft. We still stand by it. The signing of Jackson is just as likely to be setting the stage for the release of Fitzpatrick if he doesn’t agree to restructure his deal – like bypass the roster bonus for incentive money. If he doesn’t, the seemingly random signing of Jackson will make a lot more sense.
If nothing else, the price of being a backup veteran quarterback just went up. Way up. If Jackson is the first benchmark for such a contract, 31 other teams just got put on notice that the price of those also-ran QBs on the free agent could be steeper than expected.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.