I’m gonna start this post by stating clearly that I love that the Eagles obtained Ronald Darby, a third-year cornerback who had a fantastic rookie season but came back down to Earth, along with most of the rest of the Bills’ D, last season. If you could’ve hopped into your Madden create-a-player machine and came up with someone to fill a need for the Eagles, it would’ve been a starting caliber cornerback with speed and upside and two years remaining on his rookie deal.
What they gave up for him, Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third round pick, isn’t a massive haul.
The trade, itself, is reasonable, and potentially a good one for both teams. The Bills are hitting the reset button a bit, and they got themselves a good wide receiver to replace Sammy Watkins, whom they traded yesterday, and a pretty good draft pick. The Eagles filled a need and traded a player at a position where they have some ostensible depth.
But there are a few specific circumstances that make evaluating this trade a bit less black and white.
The groupthink on Eagles Twitter this offseason seems particularly strong. Sixers Sam Hinkie strong (I like Sam Hinkie!). The mob mentality, which squashes any dissenting voice, has stood out as Howie Roseman’s moves have been almost universally lauded by the Eagles faithful. Indeed, on paper, he’s done a pretty good job. He improved a receiving corps that badly needed improving, bolstered the defensive line substantially, had a good draft strategy, obtained a successful running back, and traded for a starting corner. But some are turning a blind eye to Howie’s history as a GM and talent evaluator and failing to recognize that his good-on-paper moves have rarely, if ever, worked out in the past. And so for that reason alone I think it’s fair to question every move he makes, up to and including the decision to go balls-out to trade up for Carson Wentz (which I was, and am, in favor of!).
I also loved his moves this offseason to obtain Alshon Jeffery (super talented, if healthy) and Torrey Smith (some upside), and his draft strategy of going for the sure-thing early (Derek Barnett), the risky-upside guy in the second round (Sidney Jones), and then stockpiling offensive talent later (Donnell Pumphrey, Mack Hollins). I am, and remain, less excited about the LeGarrette Blount signing, mostly because he’s struggled to have success anywhere but New England, comes with a non-insignificant list of character concerns, and is exactly the sort of player who could prove to be a huge letdown to a fan base placing undo expectations on him. Like Jeffery, there’s a reason why the market for Blount was less than what many might have expected from a player who put up his numbers last year.
And now there’s this trade.
I said it two weeks ago, I said it last week, and I’ll say it today: the notion of trading Jordan Matthews because you were impressed by the early training camp performances of Nelson Agholor, a hugely unproven and nearly cut-bale entity, and Mack Hollins, a fourth round rookie, seemed foolish. Though Matthews is in the last year of his contract and many figured that he wouldn’t have re-signed here (an admittedly likely scenario), there was a non-zero chance of it happening, especially if Matthews proved himself to be a top-5 slot receiver in the league, something I think was (or is) more than possible once he was no longer the top receiving option for a bad or rookie quarterback. With Jeffery taking up defenses’ attention, Matthews, who is better than he gets credit for, could’ve excelled and been a big part of a feared passing attack. They would’ve turned a huge negative into a positive, partly due to the addition of Jeffery and Smith, but also because Matthews becomes that much better as the second option. A top-5 slot position would’ve paid him next year somewhere around $10 million per year– a hefty sum, but one that teams like the Patriots, Seahawks and Packers have no trouble paying their slot receivers. Never mind the fact that Matthews was a beloved locker room presence, hard worker, and close friends with and a favorite target of Carson Wentz, to whom the Eagles brass have hitched their wagons.
“I spoke with Howie shortly before it was news. He told me is was already done,” Wentz said. “He obviously knew how I felt with Jordan being one of my best friends. On the personal side its tough. He knew that, he was prepared for that and I told him that.”
Doesn’t sound happy. And though I think it would’ve been unconventional to consult a second-year QB on a personnel decision, everything about the way the Eagles have treated Wentz has been unconventional since the moment they went to dinner with him in North Dakota. Trading his friend and favorite target, coming into a year where the top offseason priority was giving him weapons, seems like an oddly tone-deaf and hostile move, especially for a team that preaches “emotional intelligence.” This feels like a sort of I’m-smarter-than-you trade Chip Kelly would’ve made. If you disagree with that line, I think you’re looking at this through Green and Silver colored glasses.
Could this turn out to be a great trade? Absolutely. If Darby returns to his rookie form and becomes a legitimate #1 CB in the league – a designation that is being thrown around a bit too loosely on Twitter today – and Matthews continues being… whatever it is Matthews is… then this is a win for the Eagles. But what if Darby turns out to be at best a middling cornerback – like almost every other secondary player Howie Roseman has ever obtained – Matthews flourishes once he finds himself in a situation where he’s not the top (or only) option, Alshon Jeffery struggles with nagging injuries, Nelson Agholor continues to be exactly the player we think he is, and Mack Hollins struggles with consistency during his first few seasons? The whole reason that the Eagles needed depth at wide receiver is because they have so many unknowns. Both Jeffery and Smith are far from sure-things, though they do carry high upside. Agholor will need to prove, over the course of a season, that he’s not a talented head case who can’t translate his abilities into games. Hollins is already being written in as a starting receiver because of literally one preseason stiff-arm. And then there was Matthews, who had proved himself to be a capable, above average wide receiver when playing out of his role with bad and rookie quarterbacks. Remember 2015 when Sam Bradford nearly got him decapitated once per game? Matthews has had success as the focal point of bad offenses. I actually think he will be quite good with some consistency and complementary receivers, which is why the notion of trading him felt foolish from the first whisper of Agholor looks good at camp.
Again, this is a logical trade, and perhaps a good one. But the notion that it can’t be questioned is downright ridiculous. God forbid one judge a trade on the merits of anything but analytics or the cap. Somehow calling attention to the human element has become taboo. Keep in mind, this is an organization that lambasted Chip Kelly for lacking the emotional intelligence to do just that. The trade looks good on paper. The collected works of Howie Roseman moves could win a Pulitzer. But yet the movie versions always seems to suck. So excuse me for not doing backflips over yet another offseason Super Bowl. It turns out none of those rings last very long.