Godwin's rise leaves DeSean Jackson's role in question

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DeSean Jackson is on notice in Tampa.

When the Buccaneers arrived for camp last summer, the speedy deep threat was billed as the missing piece that would complete the offensive puzzle. This time around, Jackson is in legitimate danger of losing his starting job to promising second-year wideout Chris Godwin.

The former Penn State star has built on a strong finish to his rookie season, leading to a chorus of statements conceding that he deserves to be a starter in 2018.

"He sure does [deserve to be considered a starter]," coach Dirk Koetter confirmed over the weekend, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. "Chris is playing really well right now. We look at it as if we have four starting receivers. All four of those guys, the only guy that really hasn't been a starter is Chris. The other three have been, and we believe Chris is every bit in that same category."

Koetter is merely the latest member of the Bucs' brass to prescribe more playing time for Godwin in his second season.

General manager Jason Licht opened the offseason with the public acknowledgment that Godwin had "earned the right for a bigger role" this year. When the team took the field for practices a few months later, offensive coordinator Todd Monken went a step further, noting that Godwin had "earned the right to be a starter."

"Whatever we've asked him to do, he's done it well, and he's only going to continue to get better," Monken explained at the time. "Why? Because he's big, he's fast, he's physical, he's smart. He's going to continue to develop and it's important to him."

The primary difference between Godwin and Jackson is physicality. Godwin is a much better blocker, giving Koetter more options in the running game. He's also more effective on contested catches in high-traffic areas, a skill he has demonstrated over and over again in recent practices.

"That's why I said he's earned the right to be a starter," Monken reiterated on Saturday.

The nature of the praise is telling. With hard work off the field and incessant improvement on the field, Godwin has proven to the coaching staff that he's ready for a promotion.

Where does that leave Jackson, who signed a three-year, $33.5 million contract in 2017?

A veteran of the Bucs beat, Stroud has seen and heard enough to declare, "Make no mistake, Tampa Bay plans to start Godwin opposite Evans at receiver this season."

To that end, Godwin has been lining up opposite Evans on the outside, with Jackson seeing increased reps from the slot. Koetter remains high on incumbent slot receiver Adam Humphries as well, leading to the notion that Tampa Bay will utilize four-receiver sets with greater frequency.

What sounds like a sensible plan in the preseason, though, often runs awry once the games count.

Evans is entrenched as the No. 1 receiver. Koetter will be challenged to find enough targets and snaps to keep the other three content in September.

While the Buccaneers are on the hook for $11 million this year, Jackson has no guarantees on the $10 million salary he is scheduled to collect in 2019. Don't be surprised if his name is dangled in trade talks over the next few months leading up to the Oct. 30 deadline.

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