Eagles need a healthy DeSean Jackson

His 2019 season was one of the colossal heartbreaks in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles: The much-celebrated trade to acquire wide receiver DeSean Jackson was greeted with standing ovations throughout the spring and summer and then his regular-season return to the Eagles was worth all the hype as Jackson caught nine passes for 159 yards, including touchdown grabs of 51 and 53 yards.

Oh, the fun the Eagles were going to have with Jackson back in town and terrorizing defenses with his speed. It wouldn’t be a fair fight, no way, not with Jackson taking the top off of defenses and the other dangerous weapons in the Eagles’ receiving corps – Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor – having all kinds of room to roam.

And then …

And then you know what happened. Jackson suffered a core muscle injury the next week in Atlanta and played exactly four snaps and caught one pass before his season ended. The Eagles’ passing game went from explosive to grit and grind with a bunch of practice squad players admirably filling the void, and Jackson spent his days rehabbing in the athletic training room and posting tantalizing videos on social media keeping us abreast of his progress.

We’re looking ahead here, which is the natural thing to do. One of the primary questions the Eagles have to answer for 2020 is this: How does Jackson, who turned 33 years old in December, fit into the equation? How much can the Eagles reasonably expect from a player who hasn’t played 16 games in a single season since 2013?

“We’re going to get him ready to go,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “That’s the plan.”

When Jackson is at his best, he changes games and he has the killer speed and Super Bowl LIV again told us how speed wins on the football field. Defenses have to pay extra attention to him and shade more coverage his way. He gives an offense “chunk” plays, big plays down the field to make for easier scoring drives. The Eagles in 2019 had to scratch and claw their way for every touchdown scored.

The Eagles have a lot to weigh here. They want to get younger and faster and stronger, yeah, but they also recognize that there aren’t many faster than Jackson, even after surgery to repair his sports hernia. Is he worth the $8.6 million hit to the salary cap, a pittance to pay in the NFL world for a player who is such a dynamic player?

Then again, the Eagles, even as they plan to continue to count on Jackson, have to make backup plans. It’s difficult to expect Jackson to suddenly suit up for 16 games and play every snap. The Eagles have to make sure they’ve got depth and talent and speed at wide receiver in addition to Jackson. No way the Eagles can afford to let a single injury change the course of a season so significantly, as Jackson’s did in 2019. ••