Eddie Jackson has had one of the most baffling regressions over the past few years of any Chicago Bears player in recent memory. Here is a guy that had established himself as one of the best ball-hawking safeties in the NFL in 2018. Six interceptions and three defensive touchdowns. Over the following three years, he has two interceptions total. That includes zero in both 2020 and 2021. The fact this came on the heels of him getting his giant contract extension turned a lot of fans against him. He just becomes another average safety if he can’t take the ball away. Matt Eberflus understands that but remains optimistic.
There is nothing the Bears can do about that contract this year. They’re stuck with Jackson even if they wanted to move on. In truth, that is fine with their new head coach. During his presser with the Chicago media down at the NFL owners meetings, he made it clear that he still sees value in the 29-year old safety. He explained that everybody on the roster gets a clean slate moving forward.
It even sounds almost like Eberflus has big plans for Jackson.
“As I told him — we had a good conversation, just about this is a fresh slate for him and to just go out there and work and show us what you can do,” Eberflus said. “And this is really for everybody. Show us your skill set, show us what you can do, and then we’ll fit you into the pieces we need to fit you into…
…I think he’s got really good instincts,” he said. “You look at the positive, what he can do, and he’s taking the ball away. He’s really proficient at blitzing. I think he times it up well, does a good job there, does a nice job in coverage, so we’ll see where it is.”
That is an interesting assessment. One thing about the previous coaching staff is they never utilized Jackson as a blitzer. In 2021, he rushed the quarterback a total of nine times. Five of them came in the final two games of the season. He generated two pressures, including one that helped set up Robert Quinn’s record-breaking 18th sack against New York. So maybe Eberflus is onto something.
One thing clear is the new defensive staff will start using the safeties more aggressively. Last season, that position group rushed the quarterback 50 times for the Colts. Jackson and fellow starter Tashaun Gipson rushed just 15 times. DeAndre Houston-Carson and Deon Bush combined for 24. It was clear defensive coordinator Sean Desai wasn’t willing to exploit Jackson’s blitzing prowess too often.
Matt Eberflus might be the one coach who can save Jackson
The safety made his name in the NFL forcing turnovers during his first three seasons. It is something he continues to champion in practice every day, even calling it more important than tackling. While that didn’t make fans too happy, the basic statement is true. It is also something his new head coach believes in philosophically. He thinks the central focus of a defense shouldn’t be getting stops. It should be forcing takeaways.
Jackson couldn’t have asked for a better stroke of good fortune. If anybody were going to recognize his value as a safety, he would be Matt Eberflus. Anyone else might see him as an overpaid player pushing 30 who hasn’t been all that good for two years now. The arrival of this new Tampa-2 style defense might help revive Jackson’s career as a genuine playmaker.
If nothing else, it indeed represents his last chance.
Failing to deliver any signs of progress this season means a far greater likelihood the Bears will look to move on in 2023. Chicago would gain over $7 million in cap space by cutting him next offseason. Over $13 million if they thing to do with a post-June 1st designation. So yeah, Jackson has plenty to prove this year. He better embraces the clean slate Eberflus is offering.
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