DeSean Jackson has been Philadelphia’s top receiver and top punt returner for each of his four NFL seasons, but when they signed him to a new contract, the Eagles decided one of those roles would change. And they aren’t planning to pay him $47 million over the next five years to return punts.
So Jackson will give up punt return duties most of the time, although Eagles special teams coordinator Bobby April says he still thinks Jackson will have a role when the Eagles need a spark.
“DeSean will return some,” April said, via CSNPhilly.com. “But we’ll primarily focus him on offense and hopefully find a guy that can do what he can do. We want to use him offensively as a weapon. There’s some wear and tear to a guy his size. . . . Just the amount of running he does at practice. If you can eliminate some of it with the return game, if you can eliminate some of it in practice, he might be a little better replenished on game day. A little more explosive.”
Jackson’s productivity as a returner declined significantly last year, when he averaged a career-low 6.7 yards a return and failed to score a touchdown. So the Eagles might think it’s time to find a new punt returner anyway. But April said he is hoping to see Jackson fielding punts some of the time.
“He’s got the ability at any time to make a play and turn the game around. I don’t think we’re not going to use him,” April said. “I just don’t know if he’ll be the primary guy. That’ll be more [Andy Reid’s] call than mine. He’s going to continue to work at the position. He just won’t get as much work as he normally does. And consequently, he may be used sporadically during the game.”
If the Eagles are losing late in a game and need a spark, Jackson may get a shot at providing that spark by returning a punt. But most of the time, Jackson will be standing on the sideline while the other team is punting, getting ready to take the field with the offense.