Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace doesn’t have a fantastic resume when it comes to his early-round picks in the NFL draft. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is the most infamous name on the list of Pace’s first-round misses, but the embattled GM has made up for his first-round blunders with quality starters in the middle rounds.
One of those mid-round hits appeared to be safety Eddie Jackson, a fourth-round pick in 2017, who’s since become a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro selection in 2018. Jackson slid in the draft because of a broken leg suffered that October. He quickly emerged as a starter during his rookie season and has been viewed as one of the Bears’ most talented defenders ever since.
Jackson’s meteoric rise up the ranks of NFL safeties (he was ranked 30th on the NFL’s top 100 list in 2019) resulted in a massive contract extension in January 2020. Pace inked Jackson to a four-year, $58 million deal that included $30 million in guarantees.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Jackson’s play has regressed at a rapid rate since the ink dried on his new deal. He finished the 2020 season with his worst grade from Pro Football Focus (59.5) and he’s on his way to a new low this year. Through six games, Jackson’s earned a 53.4 mark.
Jackson’s down year was magnified during Chicago’s rivalry game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6 when he—once again—missed a tackle as the Bears’ last line of defense. This time, it was against wide receiver Davante Adams, who would’ve scored had his foot not barely gone out of bounds.
Let’s be honest: Jackson’s effort on the play was laughable and likely would’ve resulted in him being benched at every level of football, including JV youth leagues. His attempt to bring one of the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapons to the ground with a thump of his shoulder is just… inexcusable.
This isn’t a one-off problem for Jackson, either. His tackling grade from Pro Football Focus is an abysmal 50.9. He was almost equally as bad in 2020 when he scored a 55.8, and he was even worse in 2019, the season before his massive contract extension when he earned a horrendous 40.5. Remember: Pace gave Jackson his massive new deal despite the warning signs. Jackson’s tackling problems were already apparent but masked by his turnover production, which is never a stable statistic. Tackling, however, is.
The Bears have little choice but to continue rolling with Jackson. He’s become a hold-your-breath player for all the wrong reasons, but there’s just too much money remaining on his contract for Chicago to go in any other direction anytime soon. Jackson has an $18.5M dead cap figure in 2022 that drops to just under $9.6M in 2023. It certainly looks like he’ll get at least one more season after this year to prove he’s still one of the NFL’s top defensive playmakers.
But for Jackson to earn Chicago’s trust on the field, he has to make better decisions off of it, too. Former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs openly criticized Jackson’s whiff on Adams during his appearance on NBC Sports Chicago’s postgame show Sunday, to which Jackson replied with a tweet highlighting Briggs’ struggles with missed tackles during his career.
That’s a bad look for Jackson, who’s already alienated Bears fans with his poor play. Taking a shot at one of the best linebackers in recent team history won’t help him revive his fan appeal.
Jackson’s talent is undeniable. Players don’t enjoy the kind of early-career success he had without being one of the most gifted athletes in the league. But something is missing from his game in recent seasons; maybe, it’s never been there. And maybe, Pace was duped by six interceptions in 2018 and a handful of defensive touchdowns that year as well.
It could prove to be a costly lesson for the Bears’ front office. If a player shows signs of lacking a fundamental skill set (like tackling), patience may be required before signing them to a massive extension. Jackson is a perfect—and expensive—case study proving this in real-time in Chicago.
- May 25, 2022
- May 21, 2022