This is the cover story of the September 8 issue ofGameday Magazine,which can be found at the Lincoln Financial Field Pro Shop as well as Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets this weekend.
From the moment he walked into the NovaCare Complex this past March, DeSean Jackson has had a smile on his face. Everything is just as it was for Jackson when he was an Eagle the first time around, from 2008 to 2013, and at the same time, things are so very much different.
The Eagles have a Lombardi Trophy in the trophy case situated in the building's lobby. Doug Pederson is the head coach. More than half of the players in the locker room who were here before Jackson was unceremoniously released on March 28, 2014 by former head coach Chip Kelly are no longer in Philadelphia.
But when the Eagles made a trade with Tampa Bay five years after he left Philadelphia to bring Jackson back to his NFL roots, everything seemed OK again. He pushed open the door of the NovaCare Complex and all of the "good" came rushing back and tears welled in his eyes and he knew everything was going to be just fine once again.
"Coming back here and seeing so many familiar faces and knowing my way around, from that very first step, it's been just wonderful," Jackson says. "I'm so happy to be embraced by the team and by the fans. It's special to be wanted. This is where I belong. It's great to be back."
Jackson is back, and in a big, big way. The Eagles wanted him not for the sentimentality of the moment, but for the impact he is expected to make in an offense that had just about everything except for that very special something that Jackson brings to the field.
"He's got the kind of speed that causes a lot of problems for a defense," quarterback Carson Wentz says. "He's going to open things up down the field because you have to make sure you don't let him take the top off the coverage. Because of his speed and the attention he gets from the secondary, DeSean is going to maybe take some attention away from some of the underneath stuff, so that could open up for other guys in the passing game and in the running game.
"He's just such a dynamic player. He's special, he really is."
How special? Consider these numbers ...
• Jackson owns the record for the most 60-plus-yard touchdowns (24) in NFL history.
• His 29 touchdowns of 50-plus yards are second in league history behind Jerry Rice (36).
• He ranks sixth all time in yards per reception (17.4) (min. 500 receptions).
• The three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is fifth in career receiving yards (10,261) among active players.
• Jackson's 36 career games with 100-plus receiving yards are the third most among active NFL players, behind Julio Jones (49) and Antonio Brown (42).
"Everything he does forces a defense to account for him," center Jason Kelce says. "That kind of speed and dynamic ability is rare. There are some fast guys who just can't make plays on a consistent basis. DeSean does it all. He's a force on the field."
It's going to be interesting to see how the Eagles incorporate Jackson into an offense that has so many playmaking pieces.
Defenses can't concentrate their efforts on Jackson with receivers like Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor also on the field. The coaching staff can also elect to go with two tight ends like Pro Bowl player Zach Ertz and second-year man Dallas Goedert, both of whom are tough matchups. And in the running game, the mix of Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders is promising.
Jackson adds to an already potent mix.
"I'm here to win football games and do anything I can to help the Eagles win," Jackson says. "If that means I'm a featured receiver then I'll be that guy. If it's somebody else's turn, that's fine. I'll do my job. I've accomplished a lot in my career and I understand how it works here. I just want to love the game and win football games. That's my job here."
A second-round draft pick in 2008, Jackson quickly became a dominating player as a receiver and occasional return man. His speed has not diminished in a career that is now, remarkably, in its 12th season at 5-10, 175 pounds.
Sometimes, great things come in smaller packages.
"He's become a student of the game through the years," head coach Doug Pederson says. "When he first came into the league, he wasn't as refined from a route-running standpoint, but he had that great speed and he could naturally track the football in the air as well as anyone. He made a lot of big plays, of course, because he could run his way into open space.
"Now, he is a complete wide receiver. He runs good routes, he knows how to set up defenders, and he's become a veteran, crafty receiver who has all the tools. He's definitely a weapon for us. It's exciting to think of how he fits into this offense."
From the moment the Eagles swung the trade with the Buccaneers for Jackson, "exciting" is the word that's most come into mind. Reunited and feeling so good, the Eagles and Jackson are a match made for each other. The fans have been all-in with their expressions of love for Jackson. Having No. 10 back in Philadelphia means something for them, too.
"I feel it," Jackson says, "and I love it. There is no other place that has fans like Eagles fans. Everywhere I've gone since I've been back, even before when I played in Washington and in Tampa, I felt the love from the fans. I'm so happy to be back here in this position, with this team, and in front of these fans again.
"It's going to be an electric feeling being back at the Linc, in an Eagles uniform, hearing that crowd. I know I'm going to be hyped. It's something I've thought a lot about and, honestly, it gives me goose bumps. I just know good things are going to happen."
They already have. Jackson has been a seamless fit in the Eagles' locker room and his veteran presence, and his perspective gained from playing for three years in Washington and two with the Bucs, has provided a new appreciation for what he has here.
Jackson is home, he's happy, and D-Jax is ready to play his best football in a high-octane offense that embraces his big-play skill set.
"I can't wait to get it started," Jackson says. "It's like being a rookie all over again, except I've been in the league a long time and I know what to expect. This has been everything I thought it would be, coming back to the Eagles. The best part is still ahead of us. We've got something special going with this team."