MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins yesterday won the brief but high-priced sweepstakes for three-time Pro Bowl tight end Keith Jackson, gaining a major offensive weapon in one of the biggest acquisitions in club history.
The NFL stature of Jackson, 27, was reflected in the fact he chose halftime of "ABC's Monday Night Football" telecast as the regal stage for his announcement.
The Dolphins were to introduce Jackson today at a Joe Robbie Stadium news conference. He agreed to terms but did not actually sign yesterday, contrary to ABC reports.
A natural-grass playing surface and the presence of quarterback Dan Marino were big reasons Jackson chose Miami over finalists that included Washington, Dallas, Detroit, Denver, San Francisco and his former team, Philadelphia, according to his agent, Gary Wichard.
Money, too, of course.
Miami Herald sources said Jackson agreed to a four-year contract worth approximately $5.9 million, a per-year average ($1.475 million) about midway between the $1.7 million Jackson once sought and the $1.33 million the Eagles offered. Jackson said the Miami offer "blew Philadelphia out of the water."
Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham said he was "very upset" to lose Jackson.
Contrary to some reports that Miami guaranteed the first two years of Jackson's contract -- a rare perk enjoyed by no Dolphin player other than Marino -- "there are no guarantees," Dolphins general manager Eddie Jones said last night. "It was an issue, but we made it clear from the beginning we weren't interested in guarantees."
Jones said the club held true to its plan to make a fair initial offer and not raise it. There were strong indications Miami might have been Jackson's first choice from the outset. A day before the deal was consummated by phone, Wichard had called the Dolphins "obviously one of the best situations available to us."
Coach Don Shula will decide later in the week, after gauging Jackson's fitness and adaptation to the playbook, whether he is ready to help 3-0 Miami in Sunday's AFC East battle at 4-0 Buffalo. Jackson said he will be ready.
"It had a lot to do with the offense," Jackson said. "It's funny. Three years ago I was at a dinner with Don Shula and I told him I wanted to play for him in Miami. I never thought it would happen, though."
Wichard recited a litany to the question, why Miami?
"Don Shula. Dan Marino," Wichard began. "An offense that's geared to someone of Keith's talents. A 3-0 record. And a nice contract worthy of his talents."
Jackson was an unsigned holdout until last week's landmark federal court ruling in Minneapolis made free agents of him and three lesser players, giving each until tomorrow to sign or face another court hearing. Another of the four, defensive end Garin Veris, signed yesterday with San Francisco. Receiver Webster Slaughter and running back D.J. Dozier remain unsigned.
Jackson elicited interest from most every team and commanded a contract that instantly makes him the Dolphins' second-highest-paid player (based on average base salary) behind Marino.
The contract quickly created the likelihood of unrest among Dolphins who feel underpaid by comparison. Veteran receiver Mark Clayton, who has criticized the club for not trying hard enough to extend his contract, fired the first volley last night. Clayton predicted "there's going to be some animosity" over Jackson's contract, and called it a sign that management has "no loyalty" to equally deserving longtime Dolphins.
Jackson caught 242 passes for 2,756 yards and 20 touchdowns in four seasons with Philadelphia. Incumbent Dolphins tight end Ferrell Edmunds, a Maryland alum, over the same four seasons, caught 107 passes for 1,521 yards and nine TDs. Edmunds has 10 catches, and one TD, this season.
Clearly, Jackson is being signed to be an integral part of the offense, and his acquisition instantly puts Edmunds on the trading block. The only scenario that might see Miami keep Edmunds is an offer for Jackson that would bring the Dolphins an impact defensive lineman.
Jackson has proven himself capable of dominating the middle of a field, being a sure-handed short-yardage first-down getter, and also occasionally breaking a long gainer. At 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, he also is a rugged blocker. His presence is expected to benefit the Dolphins' running game and also help free the wideouts. ABC sportscaster Frank Gifford said he thinks Jackson "will do wonders for Miami."