The Eagles have started their 2012 offseason program with a minicamp at their practice facility in South Philadelphia, and for the first time in eight years Jamaal Jackson isn’t with them.
Jackson, a center from Delaware State University, was released in the offseason and even though he hasn’t officially retired, he isn’t on anybody else’s NFL roster, either. And that’s by his choice, not theirs. He was offered a chance to try out with the New York Giants and if you’re going to start a new career with a new team, going to the defending Super Bowl champions isn’t a bad way to go.
But the Giants gave Jackson no guarantees and his pride was ruffled when he was asked to participate in try-out sessions with a bunch of undrafted rookies, even though he was a starter for the Eagles for five seasons and at one time started 71 straight games. But he wasn’t surprised, considering his history.
“I’ve always had to earn whatever I got and that’s good, because it makes you appreciate it more,’’ Jackson said. “Nobody knows what the future will bring, but no matter what happens down the road, I’ve had a hell of a ride and I have no regrets.”
That lack of respect started when he came out of college and wasn’t drafted. He signed with the Eagles as a rookie free agent and it was assumed he’d be like 99 percent of rookie free agents who get invited to an NFL training camp – his stay would be short and not too sweet.
But Jackson made a quick impression on the Eagles’ coaching staff when he joined them in 2003 and after spending a year on injured reserve and then another one on the practice squad, Jackson officially became an NFL player in 2005. That’s also when he got his big break – starting center Hank Fraley got injured and suddenly, the kid from Delaware State that nobody wanted to draft was a starter in the NFL.
And Jackson would remain the starter for the next five seasons. Then, in 2010, in the season-opener against the Green Bay Packers, he tore a triceps and was sidelined for the entire season. And when he reported to training camp in 2011, he had a new offensive line coach, Howard Mudd, who had his own way of doing things. And that didn’t include Jamaal Jackson – his starting job was taken away from him and handed to rookie Jason Kelce.
Jackson never complained, even though he didn’t lose his job as much as it was given to somebody else. But he also knew that his career with the Eagles was coming to a close, something the team made official this winter when it released him.
And now Jamaal Jackson is at another crossroads. He’d sign with another NFL team if he was assured a chance to compete for a starting job, if he was treated like a respected NFL vet and not like the undrafted rookie that he was at the beginning of his career.
But even if Jackson’s career is over, he had, as he stated previously, a hell of a ride. And success is professional sports is a debatable thing. Jackson was never a star, he never did commercials, he was never asked to appear on local sports talk shows and you won’t get much for his autograph on the open market.
But he did have an eight-year career, which is a long time in the NFL. He was a five-year starter who won the respect of everyone, friend and foe alike. And he eventually made a lot of money, more than $6 million, and how many members of the Delaware State Class of 2003 can say that?
And even though Jackson is gone, he’s not forgotten. On Tuesday, the first day of OTAs for the Eagles, one of Jackson’s former linemates, King Dunlap, has this written on his taped ankles: “JJ – 67.’’
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.