Eagles on track to keep Alshon Jeffery in 2020; reports of internal issues likely overblown

If most of the Philadelphia media was convinced of one thing ahead of 2020 NFL free agency, it was that the Eagles were going to part ways with Alshon Jeffery, the same wide receiver they coveted — and landed — three years earlier. The veteran’s age (30), his decline in production and recent injury history helped drive the notion, as did Jeffery’s fully guaranteed $9.9 million 2020 salary. What really powered speculation, however, was the idea that Jeffery was the anonymous source behind multiple ESPN reports criticizing quarterback Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense.

At first, no one explicitly declared Jeffery the purveyor of such locker-room tension. But a gradual dog-pile of speculation eventually became a widespread consensus: The Eagles were eager to get Jeffery out of the building.

PhillyVoice’s Jimmy Kempski didn’t mince words when reporting on the anonymous-source concerns (“The players know it was him; he knows it was him,”), then predicted Jeffery’s release would be the team’s first move in free agency. ESPN’s Tim McManus said the odds favor Jeffery playing elsewhere in 2020. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane said “many inside the NovaCare Complex believe he was the source” and that, at one point in 2019, “a prominent player on offense confronted Jeffery to the point where they had to be separated.”

But then the start of the 2020 league year came and went. The Eagles said some goodbyes, declining an option on Malcolm Jenkins‘ deal, allowing Jason Peters to hit the open market, and watching Jeffery’s fellow wide receiver Nelson Agholor leave freely. They spent some money, locking up cornerback Darius Slay after a trade with the Detroit Lions, inking Pittsburgh Steelers standout Javon Hargrave to a big deal.

They did not, however, cut or trade Jeffery. And all indications, at least for now, are that they intend to keep him in 2020 — and that all of the supposed internal issues were overblown.

On the surface, Jeffery has never been a vocal player; he’s quite literally one of the quietest voices on the team. He’s generally liked in the community. (His 2019 surprise visit to a second-grader who wrote him a letter after the Eagles’ 2018 playoff loss legitimately earned him some extra fans in town, as if his big performance in the team’s Super Bowl win a year earlier wasn’t enough.) He’s also never shown even a hint of displeasure with Wentz on the field. (During his last full game with Wentz, a December matchup with the Miami Dolphins, Jeffery could be seen laughing with his QB on the sidelines. That game, by the way, saw the WR haul in nine passes from Wentz for 137 yards and a touchdown.)

Now, does any of that mean he didn’t criticize the Eagles behind closed doors? No. (Even if Chris Long, a former teammate of both Wentz and Jeffery, has gone on record suggesting the anonymous source was not Jeffery — and even if many of the same fans accusing Jeffery of criticizing the team through ESPN were just as quick to accuse ex-Eagle Orlando Scandrick of the same thing.)

Does any of that mean the Eagles wouldn’t still prefer to get out of Jeffery’s contract? No.

But are they desperate to get him out of the locker room? Are they certain he’s a “problem?” That notion now seems like a stretch, if not a major misread of the situation.

Speaking with Eagles insider Dave Spadaro on Thursday, general manager Howie Roseman not only embraced conversation about Jeffery but made it sound as if the team perceives Jeffery and the WRs far differently than the general public.

“Some things that people don’t get to see that we get to see on a daily basis is that this guy wants to win world championships in Philly,” Roseman said. “He has told me recently how much he wants to win for our fans, for our city. He has those same conversations with other people in the building. It is important for him to be a Philadelphia Eagle … He understands (what) people feel about him right now, and he’s not sitting there feeling sorry for himself. The priority for Alshon is to get healthy. And I think that, just talking to our PR staff and hearing the narrative of Alshon, Alshon’s a good player, and I think we lose sight of that a little bit, the things that he can do when he’s healthy, the toughness that he’s shown.”

Not exactly a “no comment,” is it? And sure, Roseman could be trying some serious wordplay to beef up what little value Jeffery has on the trade market, but Jeffery’s agent, Tory Dandy, has already echoed the notion Alshon wants to remain in Philadelphia. Dandy tweeted in February that Jeffery “loves being in the city of Philly and playing for the Eagles.” Jeffery, meanwhile, has hardly made a peep amid all the speculation about his “trouble-making,” only casting support for his team on Twitter. (Among the wideout’s recent likes: A fan’s wish for his Eagles return in 2020, and an announcement of the team’s trade for Darius Slay.)

Roseman, meanwhile, is as adept at manipulating the salary cap as anyone in the NFL. If he wanted to find a way around the penalty for cutting Jeffery before 2021, when a release would actually save the Eagles almost $8 million, he could’ve done so. According to one league source with a history of working with Roseman, the Eagles almost assuredly would’ve cut Jeffery by now if they were desperate to move on. A post-June 1 designation, part of the ratified new CBA, would’ve allowed the team to spread a $26 million dead cap hit over two years.

The Eagles could obviously change their minds, especially if they land a top WR prospect in this year’s draft and/or get positive reports on DeSean Jackson’s health for 2020. But even then, getting anything in return for Jeffery seems like a pipe dream. Teams have already shown they’re more interested in waiting for April’s deep crop of rookie pass-catchers than paying huge bucks to veterans. And that’s not even accounting for Jeffery’s own on-field struggles of late or the pandemic-induced restrictions currently in place regarding team physicals — or a lack thereof.

“The foot injury (from 2019) makes a trade unlikely,” says CBS Sports contributor Joel Corry, a former agent and cap expert. “Since it’s still a lot (of) dead money with post-June 1 treatment, he might be safe.”

The Eagles are certainly planning for life after Jeffery, and it’s true that Wentz improved down the stretch in 2019 working alongside a crop of younger, mostly unknown wideouts. Until circumstances change drastically, however, they appear set to let their former Super Bowl starter get one last crack at proving his spot in the lineup.