Who, exactly, is Arians talking to about receivers?

by Gary Shelton on January 24, 2019 · 2 comments

in general

Would Jackson prefer a new team?/STEVEN MUNCIE

Friday, 4 a.m.

What, you may wonder, is Bruce Arians carrying on about?

Why is the new coach of the Bucs so ready to rip malcontent wide receiver Antonio Brown of the Steelers? After all, it has been a long time since the two shared a football field.

Except ... what if Arians isn't really speaking in the direction of Brown.

Maybe, just maybe, he's speaking in the direction of DeSean Jackson.

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After all, Arians has a problem receiver of his own, a wideout who has been in a general pout since Jameis Winston took the quarterback position back from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Frankly, Jackson dogged it down the stretch for the Bucs, allowing minor injuries to become major ones, letting the talk of how he would look in a different ownership continue.

Other receivers played with Winston, too, including the vastly superior Mike Evans, and they didn't whine about chemistry. Jackson was supposed to be a leader? All it would have taken for him was one sound bite of support -- "Winston is my quarterback," he could have said -- and all the noise would have ended. Jackson didn't even have to be sincere.

Yet, Arians has said precious little about Jackson, except that he wants him back. And if Jackson will play his part, he certainly could add to the team's attack, especially since Arians loves the long ball so much.

But wide receivers, in general, are a two-aspirin morning. I suspect it is because of their natures. A running back knows when he's going to run, and a lineman knows when the ball is coming to his side of the line. A quarterback reads the defense in front of him.

A receiver's success, however, depends largely of the players around him. Even if he beats the defensive back covering him, the quarterback has to find him, and the line has to give him time, and the quarterback has to decide he's the best option. It leaves a great many damaged egos along the way. There is a reason we've had such noted head cases as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco and Keyshawn Johnson and Joe Horn.

So how does a coach subliminally deliver a message to his guy? One way is he can fuss at the other guy. Right?

A few days ago, if you remember, Arians suggested that Brown had "a lot of diva" to him. He said Brown wasn't the same player the Steelers had drafted. He talked about him being on time.

Then, over the weekend, Arians was being interviewed when the subject of a--holes came up. “It’s just a few," Arians said. "They usually run in the wide receiver room."

Well, ouch. No one much likes being called a diva, but no one likes being called an a--hole.

Now ask yourself: Why is this so important to Arians? The Bucs, with or without Jackson, certainly have bigger holes than Brown. He isn't going to sign him or trade for him (although it might do Brown good).

Jackson? That's another matter. There is a bit of diva to him, too, and maybe a bit of a--hole.

I know, I know. Members of the general public would volunteer to drive Jackson to the airport. He might have had some support earlier in the season, but the sound of a whine grows tiresome after a while.

The thing is, Jackson has another year left on his contract. He can't just decide to jump to another team, and the Bucs would be silly to let him walk away. If he doesn't report, there is a reserve list for that. The trouble comes if Jackson comes in and dogs it, which means the Bucs would then be responsible for his salary, and Jackson could probably force a trade or a release.

I suspect that, when it gets down to it, Jackson will find out that the market for a 32-year-old receiver isn't what he thinks it is. A lot of teams might want him on the roster as a speed threat, but they aren't likely to pay a premium price. They'll just wait for the headache he causes the Bucs to get too bad.

As for the Bucs, they've certainly swung and missed when it comes to hiring receivers. Alvin Harper was supposed to be a difference-maker. But after 19 starts -- and 65 catches for not much -- he was gone. Bert Emmanuel was the next big threat, but he once threw his helmet after a game ... that the Bucs won. Then there was Keyshawn Johnson, a good medium-range receiver but nowhere near as special as he believed.

Now there is Jackson. One thing he has in common with Brown: Crying towels.

Remember when Jimmy Johnson coached the Cowboys. He used to talk about how he was aware of what he was saying in the media and what response it would get.

Maybe, just maybe, Arians is delivering the same message. He's fussing about the actions of this guy while he's taking the temperature of that guy. No one is talking, but the message is being heard.

Run silent, DeSean.

But run deep.



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