Every great young athlete’s dream is to play a professional sport. The ability to play such a fun game and make millions of dollars doing so is a privilege few get to experience. While most sports fans remember the stars and legends that live on for decades to come, a lot of them forget some of the other players lost in the mix. Some athletes make it to the professional level, but don’t enjoy the same kind of success that the legends do. Some experience a short lived career, while some show flashes of excellence and cannot sustain consistency doing so. Others are simply good, but not necessarily great. One of those athletes lost in the mix of time for his 10 seasons in the NFL (and is either underappreciated or hated by most depending upon whom you ask) is a quarterback named Tarvaris Jackson.
Jackson, nicknamed either “Action Jackson” or “T-Jack,” grew up in Montgomery, Alabama and entered the collegiate football scene in the fall of 2001. The dual-threat quarterback spent his freshman and sophomore years at the University of Arkansas before suffering a season-ending injury and coming back to find out he had been demoted on the depth chart for Matt Jones, whom became a future 1st round pick in the NFL Draft. Jackson then transferred to Alabama State, a Division I-AA school, and led them to an 8-5 record, which garnered them a berth in the SWAC championship game. The following year he would become the MVP of the SWAC championship game after finishing the season throwing for 20 TDs, only 9 INTs, and rushing for 3 TDs. His senior year saw slightly improved passing statistics (25 TDs and 5 INTs) while being named 2nd-team all-SWAC.
Before the 2006 NFL Draft, Tarvaris Jackson was not on most people’s radar. Some talent evaluators did not even have him in their top 10 quarterbacks of that draft class. Jackson did also admit he didn’t envision himself going any higher than the back half of the 3rd round. As fate would have it, he was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the final pick of the 2nd round (64th overall) – a shocker to most. That made him the 5th quarterback taken in the draft as he gained higher expectations than he probably expected (or deserved). The Vikings’ then new head coach coach, Brad Childress, expressed his desire to draft someone to mold into a solid starter in his west coast offense and claimed Jackson to be a “diamond in the rough” with immense physical talent. Childress had recent success at the time grooming quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb and A.J. Feeley in Philadelphia under the Andy Reid regime and wanted to bring that coaching ability to Minnesota.
Jackson did not play much his rookie season in the NFL for the Vikings, but that was by design. The goal was for him to spend time working on his mechanics and footwork while learning and developing under the Vikings’ veteran starter, Brad Johnson. In the preseason, Jackson had the 15th highest quarterback rating in the NFL and 2nd in his rookie class only to the Broncos’ Jay Cutler, completing 22 of 34 passes for 249 yards and 2 TDs (while also rushing for 45 yards on 4 attempts). His impressive performance led to him easily beating out J.T. O’Sullivan and Mike McMahon to claim the 3rd string role on the depth chart behind backup Brooks Bollinger.
It was a rough season for the team – especially for starting quarterback Brad Johnson. Due to having arthroscopic knee surgery early in the regular season, Jackson failed to get into game action until week 13 vs. the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. After Johnson’s horrible performance (including 4 INTs on a day when the Bears’ Rex Grossman threw for only 34 yards and 3 INTs) and an injury to Bollinger, Jackson was inserted into the game late in the 4th quarter. He completed 3 of 4 passes on one drive to close out the 23-13 loss. His next appearance came two weeks later after Johnson was booed out of a home game vs. the New York Jets. Losing 28-7, Tarvaris Jackson entered the game at the start of the 4th quarter and put together a very solid performance that energized the Vikings’ crowd. He finished throwing for 177 yards, his first career TD to halfback Mewelde Moore (while being taken to the ground for a potential sack), an interception, and 20 yards rushing. He was named the starting quarterback for the following week’s night game at Lambeau Field vs. the Green Bay Packers. In miserable field conditions that consisted of endless rain and temperatures hovering around freezing (32-degrees Fahrenheit), Jackson had a night to forget. The Vikings only gained 3 first downs on offense and he finished the game completing 10 of 20 passes for 50 yards. To his credit, the offense around him provided zero help for the young, inexperienced quarterback. Jackson also started the final regular season game for a lowly Vikings team at home vs. the St. Louis Rams, which saw him run for his first career TD on the ground and complete 20 of 34 passes for 213 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs.
Labeled as the “quarterback-of-the-future” within the Vikings’ organization (nowadays called the “franchise quarterback”) after the season, he had to try and live up to the hype and pressure that came along with that title. Sometimes a young player in his position (2nd-round pick and future of the franchise) gets the short end of the stick because they have almost the same amount of pressure as a 1st-round pick, but can get benched, traded, or released much quicker than a 1st round pick if they don’t perform well on the field. Although not a fan favorite by any stretch of the imagination, he was the named the incumbent starter in the offseason. With a now re-tooled and revamped roster filled with much more talent than the year before, Jackson had some better pieces around him to work with – such as electric halfback Adrian Peterson, deep-threat wideout Sidney Rice, slot receiver Bobby Wade, and reliable tight end Visanthe Shiancoe while retaining solid starters in shifty halfback Chester Taylor and a dominant interior offensive lineman in Steve Hutchinson.
Overall, the 2007 campaign for Tarvaris Jackson was a rocky one at best. On opening day, he gave a solid performance in a 24-3 win at home vs. the Atlanta Falcons – throwing for 163 yards and both a touchdown and interception. However, the following week at the Detroit Lions, Jackson threw zero TDs and 4 INTs in a 20-17 loss in OT while managing to injure his groin late in the game. He wouldn’t appear again until week 9 at the Chicago Bears in a game best remembered as the day Adrian Peterson rushed for over 200 yards in a 34-31 victory. Jackson’s inconsistency – particularly with his accuracy – led to some mighty poor performances over a stretch of games while battling injuries, most notably a 72-yard passing game at the Dallas Cowboys in which he was getting into arguments with players and coaches on the sidelines (plus an awesome spin-move on DeMarcus Ware) and getting knocked unconscious early in a game at home vs. the San Diego Chargers in which Adrian Peterson broke the record for most rushing yards in a game with 296.
Jackson did eventually get back on track with a string of good games, featuring a 29-22 win at home vs. the Oakland Raiders (and former Vikings’ quarterback, Daunte Culpepper) in which he threw for 171 yards and completed 77% of his passes, a big-time win (41-17) over the eventual Super Bowl champs, New York Giants, which saw him complete 10 of 12 passes, 1 TD, and rush for 38 yards, and another big win at home vs. the Detroit Lions in which he threw for 204 yards and 2 TDs (while having another solid outing vs. the San Francisco 49ers). He did struggle in the Monday Night Football game at home vs. the Chicago Bears, but did help the team win five straight games. They needed to win their final game of the season at the Denver Broncos to make the playoffs. Although Jackson did play a tremendous game leading a late comeback – throwing two late TDs, converting both 2-point conversions, and overcoming two benched starters in wideout Troy Williamson and halfback Adrian Peterson to tie the game – he fumbled in overtime as the Broncos kicked a game-winning field goal. Jackson would finish the season completing 58% of his passes for 9 TDs, 12 INTs, and 3 rushing TDs.
The 2008 season, his third in the league, was another challenging season for Tarvaris Jackson. He had to compete against veteran journeyman Gus Frerotte to become the starter – a challenge he won during a great preseason and training camp. Having said that, he sprained his MCL halfway through the preseason and did not return until opening day at the Packers on Monday Night Football – the first career start for Aaron Rodgers. Jackson gave a mediocre performance and was upstaged by Rodgers in a 24-19 loss. Feeling the pressure of a tight leash from the Vikings’ organization and fans, he couldn’t overcome the adversity in a losing effort, 18-15, at home vs. Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The confidence he gained and exuded in the preseason was nowhere to be found in those first two games – although he was not afforded much help from his receivers around him at the time. He was benched following the Colts game and demoted to backup under Gus Frerotte, whom had the opposite skill-set to Jackson – immobile, less arm strength, more consistently accurate as a pocket-passer, and made better decisions with the football.
Jackson made a brief cameo at the Tennessee Titans a few weeks later (completing his only pass for 8 yards), but didn’t appear again until week 14 at the Lions. He entered the game for an injured Frerotte and completed 8 of 10 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. With Frerotte still unable to play the following week, Jackson got the start at the Arizona Cardinals. He sure made the most of his opportunity. Jackson finished the game with only 163 yards, but threw 4 TDs (three coming in the first half) in a 35-14 blowout – earning him NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Despite Frerotte fully recovering from his injury and able to play the next game vs. the Atlanta Falcons, Jackson got the nod from Childress. Although the Vikings lost 24-17, Jackson threw for 233 yards, 2 TDs, and rushed for 82 yards. His confidence level was soaring through the roof at this point. The final game of the season saw him complete 16 of 26 passes for 239 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and capping off a tight 20-19 victory over the Giants to win the NFC North title. Jackson would finish the season throwing 9 TDs and only 2 INTs. Unfortunately, the fairytale comeback story ended there as he struggled in a 26-14 loss facing the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFC Wildcard Round of the playoffs – completing only 42% of his passes and forever remembered for getting body slammed by the Eagles’ Chris Clemons while unsuccessfully trying to prevent an interception from getting returned for a touchdown.
At the start of the 2009 season, the Vikings, feeling the need to address their starting quarterback position with the best player possible in order to give their talented roster a real chance for a Super Bowl run, body slammed Jackson down the depth chart to make room for one of the most legendary quarterbacks of all-time: Brett Favre. It was rumored that Jackson would not have been the starter even if Favre had not signed with the Vikings; they also signed veteran journeyman Sage Rosenfels during the offseason, whom had a similar skill-set to then former Vikings’ quarterback Gus Frerotte. Jackson responded by putting together a tremendous preseason performance after the Favre signing at home vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, throwing for 202 yards, 2 TDs, and completing 12 of his 15 passes – cementing his status as the backup over Rosenfels.
As you might imagine, 2009 was a magical season for Brett Favre and the Vikings. With miracle victories and blowouts in abundance, it was Favre’s year to shine – not Jackson’s. Favre had one of his best seasons as a pro at age 39, throwing for over 4,200 yards, 33 TDs, and only 7 INTs. Meanwhile, Jackson only got to come in during mop-up duty late in games that were already decided. He finished the season completing 14 of 21 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings finished the season with a 13-3 record and the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
After the Vikings dominated the Cowboys in the divisional round 34-3, they advanced to the NFC Championship game at the New Orleans Saints, the #1 seed in the NFC. In a crazy game that saw the Vikings gain almost twice as many yards as the Saints, nearly 10 more minutes in time-of-possession, and four less penalties for 50 less yards, they also committed five turnovers (while narrowly avoiding more) – including the infamous Favre interception late in regulation – that led to the overtime loss that ended their magical season. However, as I was watching the game and seeing the beating that Favre took (which clearly had an impact not only during that particular game, but the following season), part of me was hoping Jackson would get to enter the game and help them pull off the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. Look back to the second half in that game; Favre took a nasty cheap shot from two Saints’ defenders (McCrary and Ayodele) that left Favre on the ground in pain and limping over to the trainer’s table on the sideline. On that infamous interception to the Saints’ Tracy Porter, Favre could have limped forward for potentially five yards or so to set up a better field goal opportunity for reliable kicker Ryan Longwell. Instead, he threw across his body into double coverage. Would Tarvaris Jackson have made that passing attempt? My gut tells me no. He would have followed direct orders by likely utilizing his mobility on that play out of the pocket and run for maybe 10 yards just knowing his athletic ability. It clearly does not matter now, since nothing can change the outcome, but it is still fascinating to think about.
After the will he / won’t he come back coverage of Brett Favre, he was convinced to return for the 2010 season at age 40. However, things never happen the same way twice. The Vikings were without a few key players that season, such as Favre’s favorite deep-threat receiver Sidney Rice and the often injured speed demon named Percy Harvin. Things fell apart quickly. Favre was simply not the same player he was the year prior and the team chemistry was obliterated – likely from the previous year’s playoff loss (not to mention the Randy Moss fiasco). Childress was fired after suffering an embarrassing 31-3 loss at home vs. the Packers in week 11 and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was promoted to the interim head coaching position. A few weeks earlier, Jackson came in during the 4th quarter for an injured Favre and completed 4 of 6 passes for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion in a loss to the New England Patriots. As fate would have it, Favre sustained a concussion a few weeks later at home vs. the Bills on his first pass attempt and Jackson entered the game. This was his opportunity to steal the spotlight like he had done a few years earlier for an injured Gus Frerotte. For a while, it seemed that way. Jackson lit up the Bills secondary in the first half by throwing for 2 TDs. He fell back down to Earth in the 2nd half as he threw 3 INTs, but did manage to finish the game completing 68% of his passes and throwing for 187 yards in a 38-14 win. The following week he got to start for the still-concussed Favre in a strange home game played in Ford Field (the home stadium of the Detroit Lions) due to the Metrodome roof collapsing late in the week. It was another game to forget for Jackson and the Vikings. They lost 21-3 to the Giants and Jackson did not put together a good game whatsoever. He completed 15 of 30 passes for a measly 118 yards and an interception. To add injury to insult, in this scenario, Jackson also managed to run into halfback Adrian Peterson on a hand-off and sustained a turf toe injury, which effectively ended his season. The Vikings would end their season 3-13, which was last in the division and the opposite of their record the previous year.
After a tumultuous five seasons in Minnesota, Jackson became a free agent and both parties decided a change was for the best. Both Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice decided to follow offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to the Seattle Seahawks under head coach Pete Carroll for the 2011 season. People in Seattle and Minnesota were shocked to learn that Jackson was immediately named the starter. Carroll explained the decision was due to Jackson’s background in the offense while others on the roster, presumably Charlie Whitehurst, needed time to catch up.
Jackson never relinquished his starting duties that season. He played solid enough to win the job outright during the preseason, including facing his former team, the Vikings. Although the Seahawks only went 7-9 that season and missed out on the playoffs, Jackson performed better than most expected. He began the season with a few good performances, but the team could not find a way to win, dropping three of their first four games as well as Jackson getting sacked 14 times in the first three games. Jackson’s season statistically was up and down, but not nearly as dramatic as his tenure with the Vikings. His only bad game was in a 23-13 loss at the Cowboys as he completed 56% of his passes and threw 3 INTs. A few of his best performances consisted of a close loss to the Falcons in which he threw for 319 yards and 3 TDs as well as a string of four consecutive games in which he threw for at least one touchdown, zero interceptions, averaged a completion percentage of 65% and just over 200 yards per game. He won three of those four games. Jackson finished the season throwing for 3,091 yards, 14 TDs, 13 INTs, and completing 60% of his passes while playing through a pectoral injury for a good portion of the season and becoming a locker room favorite during the process.
The 2012 season was one of misfortune for Jackson. After the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a big contract and drafted Russell Wilson in the offseason, Jackson became the odd man out in Seattle. He was traded before the start of the regular season to the Buffalo Bills for a 7th-round pick as they were releasing an inconsistent Vince Young. The plan was for Jackson to learn the playbook as quickly as possible to see if he could compete for the backup job to Ryan Fitzpatrick with former Vikings’ draftee, Tyler Thigpen. It turned out that Jackson never truly had the opportunity. He spent the duration of the 2012 season unable to crack the active roster and then venturing into free agency once again after the season.
Jackson opted to go back to the Seahawks for the 2013 season since they had an opening for their backup quarterback spot behind a surprise breakout rookie sensation in Russell Wilson since Matt Flynn was no longer a member of the club. He was also reunited with former Viking teammates Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield (although Winfield never lasted with the team). Jackson put together a remarkable preseason. In fact, it was his best as a pro. He finished the preseason completing 72% of his passes for 357 yards and 3 TDs. In limited regular season action, he completed 10 of 13 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. The Seahawks rode their young star quarterback, Wilson, and “legion of boom” defense all the way to the Super Bowl against the historically great Denver Broncos. In the midst of destroying the Broncos 43-8, Jackson got his opportunity to play on the final offensive drive for the Seahawks. After a couple run plays, Jackson was awarded the opportunity to throw a rollout pass to his right. No receiver was open on the play, so he made the correct read and simply threw the ball away. He also earned a nice compliment from FOX color commentator Troy Aikman after the play, stating how happy the Seahawks had been with Jackson for his effort and improvement.
Jackson’s final two seasons in the NFL, 2014 and 2015, were spent in a similar role as Russell Wilson’s backup for the Seahawks. Much like 2013, he only made brief cameo appearances in one or two regular season games. He attempted free agency in 2014 to see if a team was willing to offer him a chance to compete for a starting job, but found no luck. The only team that expressed interest in a workout was the Miami Dolphins, but no deal was ever discussed.
Before the 2016 season, the Seahawks opted to draft Trevone Boykin from TCU and move on from Jackson. He failed to find a suitor and spent the entire season without a team. A big reason why teams likely avoided him was due to the his June 2016 arrest in Florida in which he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. It was reported that he allegedly pulled a gun on his wife, but was then taunted by his wife, stating: “You better be accurate, because you ain’t accurate on the field.” He refuted the majority of the information in the police report and a few months later the Florida Assistant State Attorney decided against prosecuting him in the case (and he remains married with three kids). At that point, however, his NFL career was still in serious jeopardy. Although no team would ever sign him again, the Seahawks did contemplate bringing him back when at one point they felt unsure of Boykin as the backup since Wilson had recently sustained an ankle injury. However, they decided not to bring back Jackson and keep Boykin holding the clipboard on the sideline while Wilson played through the injury.
So what is Tarvaris Jackson doing now that his playing career is over? In a recent Twin Cities Pioneer Press article, it was revealed that he has moved on from playing the game and instead throwing his hat into the coaching ring. Jackson, 34, has spent the past two seasons working as an assistant at his high school alma mater, Sidney Lanier High School, and has recently accepted a job as a graduate assistant at his collegiate alma mater, Alabama State, with an emphasis on quarterbacks. His aspirations for coaching, however, go much further than a graduate assistant. Jackson stated: “I do want to coach on a professional level . . . In the back of my head, I do want to be a head coach one day, but right now I want to be the best quarterback, grad assistant coach that I can be . . . I want to just focus as much as I can on learning the coaching side.” Jackson has 10 years of NFL experience to bring to coaching and continues by adding: “From my playing experience and my knowledge added over the years, just everything, I think I’ve got so much to give on the coaching end.’’ He did also admit that he was cheering for Case Keenum and the Vikings last season during their magical run that fell just short of the Super Bowl and still praises and advocates for Darrell Bevell, his former offensive coordinator in Minnesota and Seattle.
So what can we make of Tarvaris Jackson’s career? He endured a massive storm of hate as a starting quarterback in Minnesota and stumbled at times when his team needed him the most. He might not have had a glamorous career with records and championships, but he was the backup quarterback for a team that made two Super Bowl appearances in three years and even got to throw a pass in one. He managed to play 10 seasons in the league and threw more career touchdowns than interceptions (39:35). It is fair to say that he did not live up to the hype and excitement that was bestowed upon him early in his professional playing career, but it is also fair to say that he hung in there and made the most out of a wild ride of a career. He got to play with some incredible players that he has likely learned an abundance of information from, such as Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, Russell Wilson, and Marshawn Lynch. Not only that, but he and his family have endured the situation from the summer of 2016 and are still together today. The sun may have set on Tarvaris Jackson’s playing career, but his coaching career may just be on the brink of rising up above the horizon.