Yes, You Can Go Home Again

DeSean Jackson's return to the Philadelphia Eagles, announced in a trade on Monday, is not the first time a player has had a second go-round with the same team, nor will it be the last. But to do it after leaving under such, how shall we say, unceremonious circumstances, does make Jackson's tale exceptional — and compelling.

After six seasons with the Eagles, during which he averaged more than 1,000 yards receiving per year and scored 39 touchdowns (32 receiving, 3 rushing, and 4 on punt returns), Jackson was cut — you heard that right, cut — by Chip Kelly on March 28, 2014. The reason? Kelly simply couldn't "get along" with him! (Funny how Bill Cowher never cut Jerome Bettis, even though the two of them couldn't stand each other ‐ a fact repeated time and again in the sports press).

Kelly was also quoted as saying that "bigger people beat up little people," the latter seemingly including the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Jackson — but the only problem with that is that you can't beat up what you can't catch (Jackson was clearly having a bad day at the 2008 combine when he ran "only" a 4.35).

The division rival Redskins happily scooped Jackson up — and Jackson's payback (especially after someone spread rumors about him having ties to the Crips — maybe the same "someone" who was himself accused of recruiting gang-bangers when he was the head coach at Oregon?) must have been sweet indeed when his four-catch, 129-yard effort in Week 16 of 2014 helped a 4-12 Washington team shock the Eagles 27-24 and eliminate them from playoff contention. Jackson also averaged 20.9 yards per catch that year, tops in the league — one of four times in which he has done that, including in two of the last three seasons, after turning 30 (he had 18.9 in 2018, nearly a yard ahead of second-place Josh Gordon).

When Jackson became a free agent in 2017, the Eagles were rumored to be interested in him. But the Buccaneers took a page from Don Corleone's playbook and gave DeSean an offer he couldn't refuse, so that's where he went. In his two seasons in Tampa Bay, he did pick up his fourth yards-per-catch title — and also caught a 75-yard TD pass on the very first play of Tampa Bay's Week 2 upset of the Eagles in 2018. But the Bucs went 14-18 in those two years under the supremely overmatched head coach Dirk Koetter, who was fired virtually in the locker room following Tampa Bay's season-ending loss to Atlanta on December 30.

It was assumed that Jackson, with one year remaining on his contract, would stay on with the team after Bruce Arians, who simply loves speed receivers, was named to be Koetter's successor. But we all know what Felix Unger said on an episode of "The Odd Couple" about people who assume.

In addition to his own gaudy numbers, Jackson elevates everyone else's numbers with his ability to stretch the field: in 2013, the Eagles led the NFL in yards per completion, their 14.21-yard average having been more than a full yard higher than the second-best team (San Francisco was second with 13.16). By 2016, the only season of Carson Wentz's career in which has started all 16 regular-season games, that average had plummeted to less than 10 yards per completion — 380 completions, 3,798 yards — which was Philadelphia's lowest such average since 1998.

Of course, it was Nick Foles who was throwing to Jackson in 2013, and Foles has been allowed to depart for Jacksonville, where he could transform the 2019 AFC South into the toughest division that the NFL has seen since the 2002 realignment, in that no division has ever had all four of its teams finish with winning records, a possibility that is now very real (although all four teams in a division have finished with a losing record twice — the NFC West in 2010 and the NFC South in 2014).

Shouldn't this be a concern? Not according to stat maven Warren Sharp, who has published a graph on twitter showing how Wentz's passing efficiency in various types of routes closely echoes Jackson's receiving efficiency in those same routes.

And just think: Zach Ertz is coming off far and away the best season of his six-year career, and Alshon Jeffery can always be counted on to catch those "50-50 balls," the latest cliche in NFL nomenclature. So both figure to be even more productive going forward — Ertz underneath and Jeffery over the top.

The "No Repeat Jinx" in the NFC East — no division champion has repeated since the Eagles won it three times in a row from 2002 through 2004 (four if you count pre-realignment 2001, when the Arizona Cardinals also resided in the division) — figures to hold up once again in 2019.

Sorry, Jerry.

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