Forget the fact that Alshon Jeffery was already proving himself to be a declining player before the Lisfranc injury last year. Forget that fact that there were already questions about his fit in the Eagles’ locker room. And forget the fact that Jeffery is 30 and won’t be here next year.
There are two even better reasons why the Eagles can’t give Jeffery substantial playing time in the second half of the 2020 season.
Their names are Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham.
Doug Pederson and the entire Eagles organization have been loyal — at times to a fault — to aging players who have had high levels of success here. But this can’t be one of those times. Reagor and Fulgham are the Eagles’ future at receiver and Jeffery is their past.
We bring this up because Jeffery was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and appears on track to make his season debut.
But with eight games left in 2020, it would be coaching malpractice to take snaps from Reagor or Fulgham and give them to Jeffery.
So how do the Eagles integrate Jeffery without sacrificing reps for younger players?
“I think that's a great question and that's something we're going to keep exploring as we go,” Carson Wentz said. “For one, I don't make the decisions at the end of the day on those things, but I think as he continues to work back in and everything, we kind of see where he's at, see where he's at within our offense and how we can use him and mix him in with these other guys, and it is a fine line and there's really no right or wrong answer there. But at the end of the day, the guys that are gonna help us win are the guys that are gonna be on the field."
This should be such a no brainer because it looks like the guys who can help the most are younger players.
With Fulgham and — to a lesser extent — Reagor, we’ve already seen some great signs this season. Wentz and Fulgham have a legitimate connection that has led to Fulgham’s being one of the most productive players in the NFL since Week 4. And the Eagles used a first-round pick on Reagor, who might be in the midst of a really good rookie season had it not been for injury.
The Cowboys game before the bye week was the first time Reagor and Fulgham played together in a game. The Eagles need to get eight more games of that in the second half.
“I’m excited about it because, honestly, we're learning and growing together on the fly,” Wentz said. “Usually you have offseason, you have the spring, you get some summer workouts together and then you get training camp and training camp was even limited this year and Travis came late, so all of those things, we're kind of growing our chemistry and our communication on the fly, and it's been exciting and encouraging to see.
“Obviously, we can be better, I can be better and be more on the same page with these guys, but it is encouraging to see them step up and make big plays and I think the second half of the season, I think you'll keep seeing more of it.”
Yeah, we better see more of it.
But even when Pederson was asked about Reagor and Fulgham on Wednesday, he brought up Jeffery:
“In Travis's case obviously, he's had a lot of time with Carson now. Several weeks and so I think they're on a pretty good page. I think getting Jalen back, he came back against the Cowboy game kind of his first time back out there. This will be the next time, second time out. Then again throw Alshon in the mix and see where he's at this week as well. So kind of incorporating these guys back in the system.”
Jeffery this week appears on track to return from a calf injury that sprung up after the Lisfranc injury. The combination of those injuries has sidelined him for the first eight games of 2020. The Eagles said they expected Jeffery to be back before the sixth game of the season but that hasn’t happened so instead they’ve wasted a roster spot on him for over half the year.
The Eagles came into this season in a tough situation with Alshon. After Howie Roseman foolishly guaranteed Jeffery’s contract for the 2020 season to save some cap space last year, the Eagles were pretty much stuck with him unless they found an unlikely trade partner … they didn’t. So I get the idea of keeping Jeffery around and trying to get any production for him that you can — might as well — but that certainly can’t come at the cost of your younger receivers losing playing time.
If Jeffery comes back and rotates in with John Hightower outside as a backup or if the Eagles want to get Reagor the occasional look in the slot … fine. Then Jeffery can get a few snaps.
But it really looks like the Eagles have something here with Fulgham and Reagor. They can’t let Alshon’s return get in the way even a little bit.