With each passing game that the Philadelphia Eagles win and Alshon Jeffery isn’t an enormous factor, it becomes increasingly feasible that Jeffery will return to Philadelphia next season.
Jeffery, the former Chicago Bears receiver and one-time Pro Bowl selection, signed a one-year, $9.5 million deal this offseason with incentives that could push the money up to $14 million.
It’s presumable that the 26-year-old accepted the short-term offer because the long-term commitment and bigger bucks on the open market weren’t there.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Jeffery has rare and unique talents for a receiver his size, but he had also played just 63 of a possible 80 games from injuries and a PED suspension, so it’s understandable why his market didn’t pop.
Once he realized the blockbuster money wasn’t there, Jeffery’s vision altered, and the receiver-starved Eagles capitalized by overpaying for one year to upgrade the NFL’s sorriest group of perimeter receivers.
Pairing the acrobatic Jeffery with young phenom quarterback Carson Wentz seemed like a win-win for both; Jeffery put Chicago’s quarterback carousel in the rear-view mirror, and the Eagles provided Wentz with the playmaker he sorely lacked last season.
Through five games, Jeffery’s production has surely helped the Eagles, who enter Thursday night’s road game against the Carolina Panthers at 4-1 and riding a three-game win streak, emerge out of the NFC East cellar. The Eagles lead their division and share the conference’s best record with the Packers and Panthers.
While he’s been steady, Jeffery hasn’t yet provided the same game-breaking plays that he produced for the Bears. He has 20 receptions for 246 yards and two touchdowns, a 16-yarder against the Kansas City Chiefs and an eight-yarder against the Los Angeles Chargers.
For perspective, Jeffery once had 249 yards in one game, against the Vikings on Dec. 1, 2013. That same season, he had piled up 429 yards – nearly twice his current total – in his first five games.
Jeffery has fewer receiving yards than tight end Zach Ertz and slot receiver Nelson Agholor, and just 42 yards more than Torrey Smith, who last week was worried about his job security before snatching Wentz’s 59-yard touchdown heave on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals in a 70-yard effort.
Aside from his seven-catch, 93-yard effort against the Chiefs, Jeffery hasn’t caught more than four passes or seen more than eight targets in any other game. This is a receiver who’s been targeted eight or more times in more than half of his 68 career games.
In fairness, it’s also an entirely new offense, new coach, new trigger man and just five games into this season. Eleven games remain for Wentz and Jeffery to improve their chemistry, and it’s possible – probable, even — that the duo’s best connections are ahead.
“I just know how we see him, and we see Alshon as a guy who we can utilize in a lot of ways,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Alshon is a good matchup on almost any corner, and who can play inside and outside.
“Alshon is pretty fast. I mean, there have been sometimes we watched a film and I’m watching receivers how fast they’re at 10 yards, how fast they’re at 15, and Alshon can go. So we still continue to look to build on his success and the plays that he’s made and keep working.”
Still, the more the Eagles can win without leaning heavily on Jeffery, the more ammunition they’ll have at the table for negotiations on an extension that wouldn’t cripple their cap.
If Jeffery’s asking price is too high, the Eagles can feel confident about the production they’re getting from Ertz, who’s currently leading all tight ends in catches and yards, and from Agholor, a former first-round pick who’s resurrecting his career in the slot but could easily move back outside. The Eagles are also developing rookie Mack Hollins and reserve Marcus Johnson.
Wentz also becomes a major part of the internal discussion. His ability to spread the ball and work the whole field has helped the offense become multi-dimensional.
The Eagles confront several contract decisions in the coming offseason outside of Jeffery. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks and cornerback Ronald Darby will be eligible for extensions on rookie deals, and defensive tackles Tim Jernigan and Beau Allen are each headed for free agency if the team doesn’t reward them in-season.
The Eagles would benefit from Jeffery and Wentz having another season together to keep building their rapport, but only if the price is right.
— Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.