SAN DIEGO — If anyone had any doubts about Vincent Jackson after a 10-game layoff due to a nasty contract dispute, they should have ended with the wide receiver's performance Thursday night.
A Pro Bowl selection last year, Jackson tied his career high with three touchdown catches in San Diego's 34-7 victory over the punchless San Francisco 49ers that kept alive the Chargers' AFC West title hopes.
Jackson's teammates raved about his performance, and the wide receiver said it was like he never left.
"I thought it was typical of V.J.," said his agent, Neil Schwartz. "That's what everyone expects Vincent Jackson to do on the football field. He's a Pro Bowler. That doesn't change."
Beyond his performance, Schwartz said it should dispel the notion that some people held that Jackson faked a calf injury early in his first game back with the Chargers. That injury, in a win at Indianapolis on Nov. 28, forced him to miss a 28-13 loss to Oakland the following week, which put the Chargers in a precarious situation in the playoff race.
"If anything, for any fan who had asked about the calf injury, it removes the doubts," Schwartz said.
Jackson could be playing in his final games with the Chargers (8-6), who need to win their final two games and have Kansas City lose once in order to clinch their fifth straight AFC West title.
Jackson's original five-year contract expired after last season. But because this is an uncapped year, he would have needed six seasons to become an unrestricted free agent.
Unhappy that he didn't get a long-term deal, Jackson refused to sign a $3,268,000, one-year tender as a restricted free agent, and stayed away until Oct. 29. He reported in time to serve a three-game suspension on the roster exempt list — he was placed there in a hardball move by general manager A.J. Smith — and then be on the active roster for the final six games to accrue a season toward unrestricted free agency.
When Jackson hadn't signed the tender by June 15, the Chargers slashed their offer to 110 percent of his 2009 salary, or $583,000. Due to the games he missed, he'll make less than $300,000 this year.
"We've always thought he was definitely worth more than the tender," Schwartz said.
With Jackson's off-field trouble — two DUIs and being cited for driving with a suspended license and expired tags on the morning of their playoff loss to the New York Jets in January — it's generally believed that the Chargers might feel it'd be risky giving him a long-term deal.
Smith didn't return a call seeking comment.
"He's always said that he wants to remain a Charger," Schwartz said.
Coach Norv Turner was asked Friday if he sees himself as a peacemaker between Jackson and Smith.
"Oh gosh, I figured we'd get some Vincent Jackson and contract questions," Turner said. "I think that those are things that'll take place after the season. I'm just excited to have Vincent here. Our players are excited to have him here. He's a good guy and he's coming back in here. I think it's good for our team and it's been good for him."
Turner could have some influence on the organization's decision whether to keep Jackson.
"There's a lot of things that go into it. If it was easy and it was just, obviously, black and white, you watch that game, you say, yeah, you want Vincent Jackson here," Turner said.
Even the defensive players were impressed with Jackson.
"The first day he came back, he looked like he had been with us the whole year," safety Eric Weddle said. "The situation he was in, nobody wants to go through that, but he handled it well and he's really given us a boost."
Jackson had five catches for 112 yards, including TD catches of 58, 11 and 21 yards.
"Since I've been here, it's like I had never left," Jackson said.
He almost had a fourth TD catch but stepped on the end line.
"Maybe if I wore a size 12 instead of a 14, I might be in," Jackson said.