Last offseason we did a series with a profile of each free agent signing the Colts made. This was in an attempt to give readers a better understanding about the new player and how he might help the Colts in the upcoming season. We are doing the same thing again this year, and the series kicks off today with a look at inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
Jackson was signed as a free agent even before the free agency period started, due to the fact that he was released instead of having his contract expire. Jackson was released by the Cleveland Browns after eight years with the team. The Browns drafted Jackson in the second round (34th overall) in the 2006 draft out of Maryland, where he finished with the fourth highest career tackles total in program history. He started 13 games in his rookie season and from there continued to be a great producer for the team. He started 13 games again the next season and by 2008 started all 16 games. In 2009, however, just six games into the season with Jackson already having racked up 57 tackles on the year, he injured his shoulder and would not return to the field until the 2011 season, missing a season and a half.
He has started all 16 games in each of the past three seasons and notched over 100 tackles in each of them. That said, however, his play dropped off in the past few seasons and that resulted in the Browns not being able to justify his nearly $9.5 million cap hit in 2014. As a result, they released their team captain and leader on February 26.
"Having been with the team for eight years, Jackson was well-liked and respected among his peers, but was scheduled to make a lot of money this year and seems like a better fit as a middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense than an inside linebacker in the 3-4."
The issue of Jackson playing in a 3-4 defense, which the Colts run, also came up in Jackson's introductory conference call with Indianapolis media, as he was asked about playing in a 3-4 defense:
"That was something that definitely weighed heavily on my mind, how I would fit into any team that was running any particular defense. My time in Cleveland was a special time. I was fortunate enough to play in a 4-3 and 3-4, and last year was a 3-4. At the end of the day, to me, it's football. It comes down to guys willing to prepare as well as they do, and willing to go out and win a ton of games, and have one common goal in mind, and that's winning a championship."
The Browns ran a 3-4 defense last year (after running it earlier in his career) and the Colts run a hybrid 3-4 under head coach Chuck Pagano. They are putting pieces together for that defense to really play well, but Jackson does seem to be a better player in a 4-3 system. In a 3-4 defense the inside linebackers are supposed to play both pass and run defense, and Jackson is actually pretty good against the pass. The real weakness he has had is in run defense, as he at times can be a liability there. The hope is that with Arthur Jones (very good in run defense) being signed along the defensive line that can help off-set Jackson's weaknesses against the run, but the defensive linemen are mainly there to take blocks and take linemen out of the play, which leaves the inside linebackers to make the plays. Jackson obviously makes a lot of them, as he racked up 141 tackles last year for his 5th career 100 tackle season (and third in a row), but tackle numbers can be very inflated and not telling of the whole story. He too often takes himself out of the play when playing against the run.
What Jackson will bring to the Colts defense in 2014 is a player who will get the numbers and make tackles. But he won't stand out as a star on the defense because of his declining speed (though it never was top-tier, it has dropped off a bit it seems) and his weaknesses against the run. There is absolutely no doubt that he was brought in to be the starting inside linebacker alongside Jerrell Freeman, and indeed he will help the defense. How much he will help the team, however, remains to be seen. Will it be enough to justify the 4-year, $22 million deal with $11 million guaranteed that the Colts gave him? I don't think so. I don't think the contract was terrible by the Colts and certainly not in the same category as Erik Walden or LaRon Landry from last year, but it will be hard for the 30-year old Jackson, with declining speed and playing in a system that probably isn't the best fit for him, to live up to what he was paid. At the same time, however, as long as he produces fans won't remember the contract - that only happens when someone plays poorly.
D'Qwell Jackson spent eight good seasons as a highly respected team leader and captain with the Cleveland Browns, but amazingly he only had one season in which his team won more than five games, much less a winning record (the Browns went 10-6 in 2007). He has yet to even appear in a playoff game, and so it seems pretty clear why he choose the Colts. Even if the Colts have a complete disaster and implode this year and go 6-10, it will still be the second best record Jackson has had in nine seasons (and just so you know, the Colts won't lose 10 games this year).
Ryan Grigson, announcing the move, said of Jackson:
"He is a team-first guy that has been a very consistent producer on the field. The tempo, energy and determination he plays with are right up there with the best in this league. He brings a welcomed element of experience and natural leadership to our team and we are excited to add him to the strong nucleus of linebackers we currently have on our roster."
Jackson is one of those players who you can say that, "you can do better, but you can do much worse too." Jackson should be a solid contributor to the Colts this season starting alongside Jerrell Freeman. It's fair to wonder how this move improves the run defense (it probably doesn't) but that said Jackson is an upgrade over Pat Angerer and Kelvin Sheppard, who played there last season. I don't mind the signing and I honestly don't mind the contract as much, either, though I don't think Jackson will live up to it. I do think, however, that Jackson will be a good player to have in the middle of the Colts defense.
By all means the Colts should be contending for the Super Bowl, not just a playoff berth, but if Jackson can help the Colts make the playoffs he will be playing in his first career playoff game. He choose the Colts because he wanted to win and he felt like the Colts were the best place to do that. There were other teams who would have offered him the contract the Colts did (and probably more), and it sounds like some did. He's a leader, a respected veteran, and a solid player, and he's in Indianapolis to win a title. All other arguments aside, he fits right in with what the Colts are trying to do.
Quick Summary: D'Qwell Jackson:
Weight: 240 pounds
Age: 30 years old
Years Pro: 8 seasons in the NFL, all with the Cleveland Browns
Drafted: Second round (34th overall) by the Browns in 2006 NFL Draft
Statistical Resume: 96 games started (97 games played), 824 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 28 passes defensed, 8 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, 1 touchdown
Contract: 4-years, $22 million ($11 million guaranteed); $4.75 million cap hit in 2014 (via spotrac)
Pros: Racks up tackles; solid in pass defense; team leader and highly respected; upgrade over ILBs last year
Cons: Weaknesses in run defense; declining speed; age