Nearly a month away from the NFL entry draft, April 23-25, we already know the Eagles are taking a wide receiver in the first round.
Theoretically, general manager Howie Roseman could shock the world and send Philly talk-radio into outrage orbit by drafting a cornerback or something else 21st overall, and waiting till later on a wideout, but that possibility has dwindled to almost nothing over the last two weeks.
The Eagles haven’t signed a receiver in free agency, they didn’t trade for DeAndre Hopkins or Stefon Diggs, and there is no one left on the free-agent board who seems likely to make a significant impact. If the 2020 wide-receiving corps is going to be better than the 2019 group, it’s going to happen through this wide receiver-rich draft, and some warmed-up leftovers. (Barring an out-of-the-blue trade, of course.)
When Roseman held a conference call Thursday with reporters, he was pushing the leftovers, especially Alshon Jeffery, long banished from the hearts and minds of many fans. Roseman also touted 33-year-old DeSean Jackson and his surgically repaired groin, and 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who was a huge disappointment as a rookie. Roseman said Greg Ward, the quarterback-turned-receiver who made a strong impact when he finally got a chance late in the season, proved he was a player.
The Jeffery pitch was the big news. Jeffery, who turned 30 last month, limped through much of 2019 seeming frustrated and disaffected. Much of the football world, including at least some Eagles teammates, decided he was the anonymous teammate who criticized quarterback Carson Wentz to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
Then Jeffery suffered a serious foot injury in a Dec. 9 victory over the Giants, ending his season at 10 games, 43 catches, 490 yards, and four touchdowns.
“Obviously, the elephant in the room is Alshon,” Roseman said. “Alshon’s got to get healthy. That’s the No. 1 priority, for us and for him. He understands, he knows what’s being said about him. He understands that he’s got a lot to prove and he’s anxious to do that. So he’s not living in a bubble, he understands that.”
Many observers thought Jeffery would be released as soon as the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified, and the Eagles could spread his prospective $26 million in dead cap money over two seasons. We don’t know whether Roseman really expects Jeffery to be an Eagle this season, or if he is trying to build a potential trade market.
In an interview posted on the Eagles’ website Thursday, Roseman went into more detail: “This guy wants to win world championships in Philly. He has told me recently how much he wants to win, for our fans and for our city. He has had those same conversations with other people in the building. It is important for him to be a Philadelphia Eagle.
“He understands [how] people feel about him right now, and he’s not sitting there feeling sorry for himself. … Alshon’s a good player. I think that we lose sight of that a little bit.”
But nurturing a spark of hope for Jeffery’s redemption didn’t preclude signing a decent vet in free agency, or trading for, say, Hopkins, widely considered the NFL’s best wideout.
On free agency, Roseman’s message seemed to come down to this: The Eagles went into the market knowing the draft was going to be wideout-heavy, and having other spending priorities, which translated into signing defensive tackle Javon Hargrave for three years and $39 million, and trading for and extending the contract of cornerback Darius Slay.
Those holes were going to be more difficult to fill in the draft. Also, “I don’t know if you can fix everything in one offseason,” Roseman said, indicating he went into free agency comfortable with the idea of waiting until the draft for a wide receiver, planning as much for 2021 and 2022 as for this season.
The Eagles thought the attractive wide receivers – whom Roseman didn’t name, but we’re going to go ahead and fill in the names of Robby Anderson and Breshad Perriman – would sign quickly, for big money. But it turned out most teams were looking at the draft and thinking they could get a good wideout cheaper there. So Anderson, a former Temple star, ended up getting just two years for $20 million from the Panthers, and Perriman got just one year at $8 million to replace Anderson with the Jets.
The Eagles had spent most of their free agent money by that point, Roseman indicated.
"We have all the information now, after the fact, but hindsight’s 20-20,” Roseman said. “The value prices of guys changes during this free agency period. Different than maybe what it was a week ago. We don’t have the benefit of [knowing] that before making our decisions on where prices are and where they’re going; we can only deal with them at the moment when you’re making these calls.
"We had conversations with all these guys that you've seen [signed]. At the same time, I think we do view the receiver position maybe different than it's publicly viewed. I understand where we were toward the end of the year and who was out there, and we've got to increase the talent level, but we're also excited to get some of those guys back, who were not healthy. And we're also excited for young guys to take another step.
"Now, that doesn't mean that we're done addressing it, that we're not going to look for opportunities to improve that position, but we don't have the luxury of just kind of being in a vacuum and just looking at the receiver position, we've got to kind of deal with the information as we get it, and I think that overall, we're happy with where we are right now, knowing that we still have other areas to improve."
Hopkins and a fourth-round pick this year went from the Texans to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson -- who hasn’t been a top-level star since 2016 -- a second-round pick this year, and a fourth next year.
Roseman indicated that what the Texans asked from the Eagles wasn’t what they ultimately took from the Cardinals. The Cards would’ve drafted higher in the second round than the Eagles, so maybe Houston wanted the Eagles’ first-round pick. Or maybe the Texans asked for second-year running back Miles Sanders.
This sort of thing happens in sports, but as a GM, it’s hard to come out looking good when
you desperately need a commodity, and the best possible version of that commodity gets traded somewhere else for a pittance.
“It’s not always apples to apples,” Roseman said. “I’m not saying that as an excuse, I’m just saying the reality of the situation is, there are a lot of trades that we look at, where I’ll call the GM and say, you know, ‘We talked about this. Why would you do it for this?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, I really like this player,’ or ‘I like where this pick is.’ So, I think there’s a lot that goes into it, and we’re not always in control of the results on that.”