Alshon Jeffery has yet to play in a game for the Eagles this season, and, at this point, it’s fair to speculate whether he ever will.
Most Eagles fans would be quite all right with that. It’s a wonder Howie Roseman continues to welcome the daily reminder of one of his worst contracts, and, perhaps more embarrassing, the inexplicable wasting of a roster spot for seven weeks.
While the Eagles have lost young prospects, such as tight end Noah Togiai and defensive end Casey Toohill, to the waiver wire, and established reserves, such as cornerback Rasul Douglas, all while becoming the most injured team in the NFL, Jeffery has languished on the 53-man roster.
When Roseman made the curious decision to activate the 30-year-old wide receiver off the physically unable to perform list — Jeffery had Lisfranc foot surgery in December — he noted that keeping him on PUP in-season would make him ineligible to return until Week 7.
“We think he’s going to be ready before that,” Roseman said Sept. 5. “He thinks he’s going to be ready before that, and we think he’s a good player. So we want to get him back as quick as possible to help this football team.”
The flexibility the NFL afforded teams in light of the coronavirus with short-term injured reserve and practice squad call-ups hasn’t made roster spots as precious as in previous seasons.
But the 1-4-1 Eagles can ill afford to lose opportunities toward the future, and as they’ve had to scramble each week to find replacements for injured players, Jeffery has seemingly gotten no closer to a return.
“You’re exactly right,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday when questioned about activating Jeffery at the expense of tough cuts. "We hopefully anticipated him coming back within the six weeks, and it has taken a little bit longer.
“But again, you guys know that I want to make sure that he’s 100%. He’s just now getting back into practice, right?”
Wrong. Jeffery officially started practicing Sept. 24 in a limited capacity as the Eagles headed into a Week 3 matchup against the Bengals. He remained limited the next two weeks until a non-COVID-19-related illness kept him out of practice and was cited by Pederson as a reason for keeping him out for the Oct. 11 game at Pittsburgh.
Last week, Jeffery took repetitions with the scout team but apparently wasn’t healthy enough to do so with the first team and was inactive for Sunday’s game against the Ravens. Pederson’s latest explanation, before the receiver was officially ruled out for Thursday night’s game against the New York Giants, was the “short week.”
“It’s just hard to get him the reps that he needs,” Pederson said.
It was a laughable response considering Jeffery has had seven weeks to get the reps he needs. But if Pederson is referring only to his foot injury, it only emphasizes how mistaken the Eagles were about his recovery.
The coach also failed to mention that the receiver apparently suffered a calf injury sometime this week. The Eagles didn’t practice Monday, only had a walk-through Tuesday, and Jeffery was listed as a non-participant Wednesday.
DeSean Jackson, who missed the previous three games with a hamstring strain, is slated to return. How much he plays could depend on how Pederson plans to balance playing for the NFC East title vs. developing for the future.
Travis Fulgham has clearly earned his starting spot. And while John Hightower hasn’t, and Jalen Reagor has yet to come back from a thumb injury, wouldn’t it behoove the Eagles to see what they have in receivers who will be on their team beyond this season?
“It is hard to say, ‘Hey Travis, we’re going to push you to the side because here comes a couple of guys,’ ” Pederson said after Fulgham’s impressive performance against the Steelers.
And it’s not as if those guys have played much or played well the last two years. Jackson had a spectacular debut last season but has missed 16 of the last 20 games. Jeffery, aside from one game, was pedestrian in 2019, and has missed 12 of the last 20 games.
Together they count more than $24 million against the Eagles' 2020 salary cap. It’s unlikely Jeffery would still be on the team if a release meant the team wouldn’t have to stomach over $25 million in dead money against the cap.
The Eagles have made him available to various teams in a potential trade dating back to early last season, NFL sources said, shortly after Roseman guaranteed his base salary for 2020. Jeffery somehow became aware of such discussions and was troubled by them, a source close to him said in April.
Meanwhile, he became embroiled in controversy when a report identified him as the source behind anonymous quotes critical of quarterback Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense. Jeffery denied the report. He hasn’t spoken to reporters since.
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If the Eagles had any desire to move him in the offseason, his season-ending foot injury made that all but impossible. Roseman offered up Jeffery to at least two other teams before final cuts, sources said. The general manager said the Eagles weren’t “actively shopping” him.
“Alshon has come back with incredible energy,” Roseman said then. “He’s in great shape. He’s motivated to win and be part of it.”
But his chances to contribute are waning. It has been suggested that Roseman only kept him active to possibly move him, but few teams would be willing to take on the remainder of the four-year, $52.25 million extension he signed in Dec. 2017.
Perhaps the Eagles could get something minor in return if they were to eat some of his salary before the Nov. 3 deadline. Of course, as long as he’s unhealthy, a deal is unlikely.
And so, too, is playing, although the peculiar way the team has handled Jeffery suggests more could be behind his belated return. He will always be a part of Eagles lore for his contributions during the Super Bowl-winning 2017 season.
Jeffery played through a torn labrum and made impactful catches in a star-kissed postseason. He was productive in 2018, right up until he dropped a pass in the playoffs that ended the Eagles' comeback hopes.
But injuries, subpar play, and ambiguity about his off-the-field behavior have marred his last two years in Philadelphia. But it isn’t his fault the Eagles wasted a roster spot on him for seven weeks.
Maybe he returns and recaptures his old form. The only explanation for keeping him around other than trying to trade him or saving face after a bad contract is because the Eagles believe he can still have an impact.
But time is running out — for both parties.