Tarvaris Jackson is one of the players caught up in a new rule that would take what would have been his first opportunity at unrestricted free agency and make him restricted.
Jackson would have been able to gain unrestricted free-agent status if the Collective Bargaining Agreement had been extended, but one of the rules of the new method of operating in an uncapped year is that players with four and five years of experience whose contracts expire will be restricted. They won't gain unrestricted status until they have six years of experience in the league and their contracts expire.
It's uncertain how the Vikings plan to tender their restricted free agents this year – a list that includes starters Ray Edwards and Naufahu Tahi – but former Vikings quarterback and one-time league MVP Rich Gannon sees a quarterback that needs some work when he looks at Jackson.
Gannon has worked with Jackson and other Vikings quarterbacks at head coach Brad Childress' request and is passionate about helping younger quarterbacks because he doesn't feel he got enough instruction about the position early in his professional career.
"I think he's got to play the game faster. His reaction time has got to be quicker. He's got to be able to process information quickly and more efficiently at the line of scrimmage – presnap, post-snap," Gannon said of Jackson. "You've got to see it in his footwork. He's got to continue to improve on his accuracy, his anticipation of throws, seeing out in front of throws. … You've got to eliminate the two or three poor decisions that continue to creep up each week – a late throw down the middle, not seeing out in front of a throw, not throwing it away and taking a costly sack at a critical juncture in a game. Those things that come with experience, that come with playing the position, come with reps in the system, are going to be critical for both of them."
Jackson may have ended up getting more experience as a starter this year if the Vikings wouldn't have ultimately been successful in bringing Brett Favre onto the team in mid-August. Up until Favre's signing on Aug. 18, Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, whom the Vikings traded for last February, were in a battle for the starting position. Jackson ended up being active for every game and playing in eight of them in mop-up duty while Rosenfels was the only member of the Vikings roster to be inactive for all 16 regular-season games.
If the Vikings end up retaining Jackson – which seems likely if they tender him with any of the top three options, requiring a team to give up at least one high-round draft pick to sign him – Gannon believes Jackson needs to continue to grow as a quarterback and needs to handle more of the offense.
"Are they able to give him more? With a guy like Brett, you are able to give him a lot more volume. He's able to handle the complexities of the running game, get you in and out of bad plays at the line of scrimmage, change protections, get you into an audible or a hand signal," Gannon said. "I always explain to people it's like being a 16-year old with a driver's license. They're driving down the road. Boy, things are coming at them so quick and they're not processing as much information. They don't see the pedestrian crossing in the right there, the oncoming traffic or the traffic light two lights up, the guy coming up behind you – all those things that an experienced travel would. I think what you have to get him in a position – whichever quarterback it is – get him up to speed so that the game starts to slow down and he starts to make better decisions on a more consistent basis."
Gannon believes all the players, the quarterbacks especially, have benefitted by Favre working in front of them for an entire season. They see the way Favre prepares, how he practices, how he makes adjustments and how he handles adversity.
If Favre doesn't return, the Vikings could look to trade for another veteran quarterback. Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb is an obvious choice since he worked with Vikings coach Brad Childress when he was a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator during McNabb's first six years in the NFL. But if a trade doesn't work out and Favre actually does retire, the Vikings could return to a competition between Jackson and Rosenfels for the starting position.
"It looks like Tarvaris is going to have a little bit of the upper hand. It looks like he won the backup job this year and he's probably got a little bit more experience, a little more familiarity in the system. I think that will be kind of an interesting deal," Gannon said.
In his eight opportunities last year, Jackson completed 14 of 21 passes for 201 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 113.4 passer rating. For his career, he has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 3,643 yards, 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions for a 77.9 rating.
The key is consistency. Childress has often said he wants to know what he is going to get from his quarterback week in and week out, and Gannon seems to echo that sentiment.
"You've got to have a guy that's going to line up under center each week that's going to be healthy and is going to play at a high level and is going to take care of the football and give you a chance to win games," Gannon says. "That's really the task and that's really the challenge that the Vikings will have if, in fact, Brett decides not to play anymore."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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