We are about to find out if, as the old saying goes, you really can go home again.
DeSean Jackson will try to prove that, yes, you can, as the still-speedy receiver returns to an Eagles organization that drafted him all the way back in 2008 then released him – well Chip Kelly did, anyway – following the 2013 season.
A seemingly wiser, more mature Jackson stood at the podium inside the Eagles’ South Philly training facility on Thursday morning and said all the right things, just days after being acquired him and a seventh-round draft pick in 2020 from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a sixth-round pick in the 2019 draft. The Eagles gave Jackson a three-year deal that will pay him $27 million.
“Going on my 12th year (in the NFL), I’m 32, but I still feel like I’m running and playing like a 26 year old,” said Jackson. “As long as I’m able to stay healthy and not taking any serious hits or serious injuries, I want to end my career here. I’m happy I was able to come back here and finish off where I started.”
Jackson said there were no hard feelings against the organization after being unceremoniously cut by Kelly. He said he and executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson, who was on Andy Reid’s staff during most of Jackson’s last stint in Philly, remained friendly.
Still, Jackson called it “personal” when he played against his once former team while with the Redskins for three years and Bucs for two. He haunted the Eagles, too, for the past five years, going 5-1 against them, collecting 24 catches for 569 yards (23.7 yards per catch) and three touchdowns.
When Jackson joined the Eagles 12 years ago, he drew attention for some of his off-the-field situations and constant talk about getting a new contract. There were reports of him having ties to a gang back in his Los Angeles hometown, reports that proved to be unfounded. He had his home robbed and started and started his own rap label, Jaccpot Records.
That was then, this is now, he said.
“When I was younger obviously I had the world at my hands,” said Jackson. “Obviously, coming into the NFL as a rookie and starting and having all the success early in my career, it was kind of hard to get a hold of that at a young age. You have to go through things in life in order to mature.
“I feel like now I have a family, I have (two) kids, I do everything for them. I think about what’s the legacy I want to leave when I’m gone, what do I want people to say about me? The best thing I can say is I put it all on the line for my teammates, for my family and for my coaches. Just being accountable, coming to work every day and putting your best foot forward.”
Jackson is expected to give the Eagles exactly what they need – a deep threat to stretch the field.
He has produced the most 60-plus-yard receiving touchdowns (24) in NFL history and ranks second in 50-plus-yard receiving touchdowns (29), trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (36). Jackson also leads all NFL players in 40-plus-yard receptions (63) since 2008.
Yes, Jackson can still fly. Last year, he led the NFL in yards per catch at 18.9. But he knows that he must work harder to maintain his skillset.
“At a young age, you don’t have to look at how I’m taking care of my body or how I’m resting, how much am I partying, how much am I doing all the wrong things?” he said. “I think as you get older, you mature, you wake up, you say my body’s hurting a little more, maybe I gotta go sit in the hot tub a little longer, maybe I need to get to work earlier, get on the field and go stretch out.
“It’s just little things like that that, as a young kid, when I was 24, I didn’t have to do. I could just wake up out of my bed and just go run. I always used to say cheetahs don’t stretch and I looked at myself as a cheetah. Now I’m a little older and these joints, they hurt a little more so I might have to get out there a little early and take care of my body more.”
Jackson is coming in without any expectation of what his role will be in the offense, adding he has not yet talked to Pederson.
“There might be games I don’t get any catches, might be games I get a lot of catches, whatever that is the story is … I’m excited to be a part of it,” said Jackson. “They’ve been doing some great things here. Obviously seeing the Super Bowl, and I can only imagine what it would be like if I was to come back here and win a Super Bowl.”
Jackson already ranks ninth on the Eagles’ all-time list in both receptions (356) and receiving touchdowns (32, tied). He is tied with Darren Sproles for the most punt return touchdowns (four) ever by an Eagle, including one of the most memorable plays in franchise history – a game-winning, 65-yard punt return touchdown as time expired against the New York Giants on Dec. 19, 2010.
“Honestly, that was one of the best plays of my career,” said Jackson of the walk-off punt return TD. “I’ve had some awesome plays, but that punt return was very special. Still to this day I remember that like it was yesterday.”
Only seven players remain on the roster from the days when Jackson roamed the field wearing Midnight Green, a stretch that ended when Chip Kelly released him following the best season of his career in 2013. Those seven leftovers include left tackle Jason Peters, defensive end Brandon Graham, center Jason Kelce, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, right tackle Lane Johnson, tight end Zach Ertz, and safety Malcolm Jenkins.