ASHBURN, Va. - It would be some story if the Eagles replaced DeSean Jackson with DeSean Jackson. As it is, the polarizing wide receiver with blinding speed has been out of Philadelphia for nearly three years and still his name and his impact linger.
Shortly before kickoff Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, a story surfaced on ESPN.com that the Eagles would likely make an effort to bring Jackson back to Philadelphia after the season. If someone from the Eagles told ESPN that, the team is guilty of tampering, a serious offense that cost Kansas City Chiefs some hefty fines and two draft picks for their premature dealings with former Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who signed with them as a free agent in 2015.
Tampering charges would likely be levied against the Eagles only if they did, in fact, bring Jackson back to Philadelphia. In the meantime, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding Jackson, who will definitely be back in Philadelphia this Sunday when his Washington Redskins attempt to bolster their playoff hopes with a win at Lincoln Financial Field.
If the Eagles are, in fact, considering the return of Jackson to help fill their sinkhole at wide receiver, there are three important questions they must ask themselves:
How much is he worth?
Can he help the Eagles become a playoff team?
Is he more mature and trustworthy than when Chip Kelly shipped him out of town after the 2013 season?
The third of those questions is the easiest to answer. Time has made Jackson a more mature human being, a better teammate, and even more coachable.
"Well, I'm not his teammate, I'm his coach, but, yeah, we haven't had any issues with him," Washington coach Jay Gruden said Thursday after his team's practice. "He's been fine. I think people like him and that's all I can say, really. I haven't had any issues with him. He's been fine."
Gruden was even comfortable enough to joke about his relationship with Jackson.
"Well maybe a few issues," he said as he stepped away from the podium at Redskins Park. "Sometimes I lie."
Jackson, who turned 30 on Dec. 1, has not had a serious problem with Gruden or any of his teammates since his first season in 2014, when he posted an ill-advised Instagram message that "You can't do epic [stuff] with basic people," following a lopsided loss to a bad Tampa Bay team. Gruden suggested all players back off on their social media postings and Jackson is now in a place where he agrees. In fact, he even wonders if he'd still be in Philadelphia if not for his infamous Instagram photos with some of his Southern California friends.
"The biggest regret I have is posting my personal life on Instagram, where I was hanging out with my friends, throwing up signs," Jackson said. "It was just being young. You come from a certain area so you kind of shout out to your boys back home sometimes. I think the outside world can't understand that. They're thinking it's gang violence and he's doing something absurd."
Jackson said he was trying to be cool and his mother warned him he was being foolish.
"My mom used to always tell me, 'DeSean, you don't need to post all that stuff on Instagram because you've got people looking at it who don't understand it,' " Jackson said. "I would be like, 'Yeah, Mom, you're right,' but being young you don't care. Now I don't show anybody my personal space. I kind of [cut] that out and my family time and my personal time are mine. Everybody doesn't need to know what I'm doing. I came here and proved I wasn't a problem and I didn't do anything that everybody thought I was. I was never a problem."
Thoughts of Philadelphia still linger for Jackson, too.
"I feel like our team was just broken up," he said when asked about being deprived of growing with LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin. "We felt like we were going to be a problem for a long time. A lot of teams would have had to game-plan for us and we felt it was a very special team. We still talk to this day, saying things like, 'Damn, if we were still playing together' - we wish we were still playing together."
They are not, but the Eagles might have a chance to bring back one member of the old band after this season and that member is aware of how weak the Eagles' receiving department has become.
"I've been keeping an eye on that, man," Jackson said. "It's definitely a position where it's like, well, if they had kept what they had in place they would have been fine. Those guys will hopefully figure it out. Philly can be a hard place to play for some guys, but hopefully they'll be all right."
Adding DeSean Jackson would help.