Andre Dillard and Derek Barnett don’t appear to have much in common aside from the team they play for and the round in which they were drafted.
But the two former first-round picks do know firsthand what it’s like to watch teammates who play the same position sign contract extensions ahead of them, even though they were drafted in rounds behind them.
In a span of a week last month, tackle Jordan Mailata and defensive end Josh Sweat inked multi-year contracts. The former was drafted a year ahead of Dillard in the seventh round, while the latter was selected a year after Barnett in the fourth.
While the deals don’t preclude the Eagles from also signing Dillard and Barnett to extensions, they do suggest that each is nearing the end of his tenure in Philadelphia. But such has been the fate for many of the team’s recent No. 1 picks.
Since the 2013 draft, there has been only one first-rounder who has reached a second contract with the Eagles, and quarterback Carson Wentz (the 2016 draft) was traded less than two years after agreeing to the extension.
He joined Marcus Smith (2014) and Nelson Agholor (2015) as recent top selections to leave Philly, and while all three had varying degrees of production, it would be hard to label any as a success here. Dillard (2019) and Barnett (2017) are headed in the same direction, and the same could be said for wide receiver Jalen Reagor (2020).
Even receiver DeVonta Smith (2021) has gotten off to a slow start, although his early bumps are hardly worth considering as predictors for his future.
There are a host of potential factors for why most have struggled. But expectations and a lack of patience for high draft picks from locals have certainly contributed to what is already a pressure-cooker.
“I don’t think there’s no pressure. It’s football,” Barnett said on Friday. “It’s what we’ve been doing since we were little kids. You just got to continue to look at it that way and go out there and let it loose.”
The press-shy Barnett may be an anomaly among Philly professional athletes. But consider the opinion of one who endured it and can now look back without a filter. Just a few hours before Barnett spoke, LeSean McCoy reflected on playing here upon his retirement.
“It’s tough to be in Philadelphia and play as an Eagle,” McCoy said after re-signing with the team for one day to retire in midnight green. “The fans and the media are tough. And to see things written about you that you might not like -- how do you respond?”
If McCoy, who wasn’t a first-rounder and mostly did well, felt that way, how must recent top picks feel, especially considering the toxicity of social media?
Dillard said during the offseason that he deleted all his apps. Reagor got into a few social media dust-ups last season, although he said recently that he ignores the trolls.
“I don’t look at it,” he said last month. “Last year, it was easy to see negative comments and it was easy to see good comments, but now it’s a happy medium. I don’t worry about either. I know both are going to come regardless.”
Dillard seems to have benefitted from his new mental approach -- one he discussed in detail during the offseason -- even if his summer didn’t go as planned. He lost the left tackle competition to Mailata and then watched him sign a four-year, $64 million extension.
“I don’t think too much about that,” he said Thursday when asked about his long-term future, “but I am just over-the-top happy for Jordan.”
He said he took offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland’s advice of embracing his new role, which was to be the backup swing tackle. That job lasted all of two games before he was called upon after Mailata suffered a knee sprain during practice last week.
Dillard made his first start in almost two years and may have been the Eagles’ most consistent player against the Cowboys, in what was otherwise a miserable road trip.
“There’s a reason for everything,” said Dillard, who will start again Sunday vs. the Chiefs. “I always tell myself, ‘I’m on this team for a reason. I was drafted for a reason.’”
The 25-year-old Dillard is only in his third season. The Eagles have him under contract for another year and possibly two more if they pick up his fifth-year option. They picked up Barnett’s $10.05 million option in the offseason, even though his first four seasons, overall, could comparatively be labeled disappointments.
He said he was excited to see Sweat get his three-year, $40 million extension, and said he wasn’t thinking about his prospects beyond this season.
“I think when that situation comes … it’ll take care of itself,” Barnett said.
Barnett hasn’t exactly ingratiated himself to new coach Nick Sirianni and his staff. He’s yet to tally a sack, although he does have nine tackles, two for loss; and two quarterback hits. But the more glaring number has been the two ill-timed penalties he’s drawn.
“That’s something I need to correct and I’m continuing to work on,” Barnett conceded. “I can’t put my team in a tough position even if it’s 5 yards, 10, whatever it is.”
The first was a 15-yard unnecessary roughness personal foul that saved the 49ers from a third-and-long. The second was a 5-yard neutral zone infraction on third-and-8 that allowed the Cowboys to eventually convert.
Sirianni appeared to say, “It’s always him,” when the TV broadcast cut to him shaking his head on the sidelines after the penalty in Dallas. The coach said that Barnett has been held accountable and that he believes the message has been heard.
“Derek wasn’t the only one that had an encroachment or offsides,” Sirianni said Wednesday. “We’ve all got to get better at that. But yeah, I see improvement.”
Barnett confirmed that Sirianni had spoken to him individually. Of course, assistants on previous staffs also addressed his penalty problem -- he now has eight personal fouls and 22 total in 51 career games.
The 25-year old plays with an edge and a high motor. No one has doubted his work ethic. But his 19½ sacks and 35 tackles for loss pale in comparison to many recent edge rushers taken in the first round over the same period.
Injuries have been one issue. He missed 16 games in his first four seasons.
“I think, in the past, I’ve been dinged up a little bit,” Barnett said. “But that’s part of the game. I think, moving forward, I feel good.”
Even though Sweat out-played him in training camp, Barnett has remained the starting right end. There is a rotation, of course, and with Brandon Graham done for the season, there will be little delineation between the two.
It’s possible both return for next season or beyond, especially if Barnett starts to produce. While Eagles general manager Howie Roseman would have preferred for his first-rounders to warrant extensions, the fact that he was able to get Mailata and Sweat on the relative cheap played a role in locking them up early.
Reagor’s future could be impacted, as well, by a receiver drafted behind him. Reagor has suffered from comparisons to Justin Jefferson, the Vikings receiver who was drafted immediately after him. But teammate and 2020 sixth-rounder Quez Watkins has performed better thus far, even if he hasn’t been on the field as much.
Watkins has pulled in 7 of 7 targets for 186 yards, while Reagor has caught 13 of 19 targets for 107 yards and a touchdown. Both are far from fully developed, and the same applies to Smith, who has caught only 11 of 21 attempts for 115 yards and a score.
They’re all 23 or younger and wouldn’t be first NFL players to need more than one or two years to figure it out. Dillard and Barnett may not be there yet -- or ever meet the expectations of certain outsiders -- but with age often comes confidence, increased strength and wisdom.
“As a rookie, it can sometimes be a deer in headlights situation,” said Dillard, who cited the three above traits for his improvement. He added: “I kind of understand the way that things flow. It just comes with age a little bit.”