Six picks for two players.
More has been sacrificed for just one individual, but when the Eagles traded up for Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, sacrificing four draft selections, and dealt to the Titans two more picks for wide receiver A.J. Brown, they forever altered their franchise.
The first round of the NFL draft on Thursday was bound to be a momentous one for the team, even after general manager Howie Roseman traded away one of three selections earlier this month. The Eagles entered with the No. 15 and 18 picks and the usual buzz about the trigger-happy Roseman on the prowl to move around.
That he executed two deals didn’t come as a surprise, especially moving up two spots to snag the freakishly large and athletic Davis at 13. But the swap for Brown from the Tennessee Titans sent shockwaves through the league, even though the 24-year-old had been openly displeased with his contract situation, and the offseason had already seen several elite receivers switch teams.
First, it was Davante Adams being traded from the Packers to the Raiders. Then, the Chiefs shipped Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. And even Deebo Samuel has reportedly been on the market. But the Eagles weren’t in play for the first two receivers, for various reasons. And their interest in Samuel, still a 49er, will remain unknown for the time being.
Brown, though, didn’t cost as much as Adams or Hill, in draft compensation and a new contract. The Eagles sent the No. 18 pick and the No. 101 overall pick in the third round to Tennessee and agreed to sign Brown to a four-year, $100 million extension with $57 million guaranteed.
That’s still a hefty price to pay, and coupled with the trade for Davis — the Texans got the No. 15 pick, the No. 124 overall pick in the fourth round and two fifth-rounders, 162nd and 166th overall — Roseman mortgaged a significant amount of the draft capital he had built.
“You have to think of where those draft picks are and the hit rates on those draft picks,” he said at the NovaCare Complex after the first round had ended. “All draft picks aren’t created equal. It’s not like we gave up six first-round picks.”
But the Eagles now have only four picks left — a second-rounder (51st overall), a third- (83d), a fifth- (154th) and a seventh-rounder (237th) — and roster holes to fill, especially in the defensive back seven.
Roseman has time to trade back and accumulate more ammunition, but that would dilute the Day 2 selections. He also has some assets on the roster he could deal for picks, but it’s not as if first-round underperformers Andre Dillard or Jalen Reagor are likely to fetch much in return.
And if Roseman doesn’t move again, the Eagles would have as few as five selections in a draft for the third time in the last five years. That’s a lot of man-hours by vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl and his staff, among many others in the organization, with little return.
“That’s like ‘Deep Thoughts,’ Saturday Night Live stuff, I don’t know,” Roseman said when asked if the Eagles’ narrative for 2022 had shifted following the two trades that were made 30 minutes apart. “We have two more days to go here. We have a lot of work to do. Obviously, we started with 10 picks. … I think Andy and his staff are a little mad at me right now for that.”
Roseman then turned to Weidl, seated to his right, and said, “I can get you back.”
Weidl, though, seemed plenty pleased about Davis, the 6-foot-6, 341-pound inside enforcer for the national champion Bulldogs. The 22-year-old played mostly on run downs and recorded only seven sacks in 41 collegiate games, but he was so dominant that he still won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defensive player.
“He did what they asked him to do in their defense,” Weidl said. “He fit the build. He made them strong in the middle of their defense. But you saw the lateral quickness, you saw the range, you saw the ability to get down the line of scrimmage and run down running backs and hawk down quarterbacks.
“So we think he has it in his body, the explosion in his body.”
Jordan’s performance at the NFL Scouting Combine was spellbinding. His spider chart was a net cast large. His 4.78-second 40-yard dash got most of the attention, but his 123-inch broad jump finished in the 99th percentile among his peers and his 1.68-second 10-yard split — a better speed measurement for a pass rusher — was in the 83rd percentile.
There will be a projection. There will be concerns about effort and weight. But with Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave — both of whose contracts expire next offseason — and second-year defensive tackle Milton Williams on the roster, the Eagles won’t have to accelerate Davis’ development.
Receivers used to take as long to have an impact at the NFL level, but not so much anymore. Many top athletes have naturally migrated to the position. And the explosion of the passing game over the last two decades has elevated the importance of the position and now receivers are getting upwards of $30 million a year.
That’s how much Hill got after Miami sent five picks to Kansas City. Adams, who cost Las Vegas first- and second-rounders, was right behind at $28 million. Brown’s $25 million average places him ahead of Stefon Diggs, who signed an extension with the Bills this offseason. But he gave back a little with the guarantee and is behind Hill ($72.2 million), Diggs ($70 million), and Adams ($65.71 million).
But that’s still a lot of dough, more than the Titans were willing to pay.
“I think, for them, because of the amount of resources we have and they’re trying to accumulate some of the resources, as well, I think they thought it made some sense for them at the time,” Roseman said of the Titans. “Obviously, with all these players, contracts are a big issue. When you have a young quarterback [Jalen Hurts] like we do, you can be a little more aggressive.”
Roseman had tried to sell the narrative earlier this offseason that the Eagles were fine with just DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins as his starting receivers, but his actions said otherwise. He tried to trade for Calvin Ridley. He made an effort to sign free agents Christian Kirk and Allen Robinson, but the receiver market was out of whack.
Brown is clearly better than all three. He’s also younger and doesn’t turn 25 until June. He’s yet to catch more than 70 passes in a season, and his per-game average of 69.7 receiving yards isn’t among the top 10.
But he also played in a run-heavy offense without an elite quarterback. (Sounds familiar.) He ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per route run (2.61) and fourth in yards after catch (6.16) among qualifying receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. At his best, he’s a deep threat, jump ball-winning game-changer.
“He plays with great play strength,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “This is a strong man. He’s quick for a big guy and he catches everything. Those are things that really stick out from his tape. There’s no projection there.”
That would be one of the arguments against drafting a receiver. The top four — Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jameson Williams — went within the five picks before No. 13. Roseman said that the way the draft unfolded had nothing to do with trading for Brown.
Perhaps. But he had previously endorsed the virtues of having a first-round receiver under a rookie contract for as long as five years. The Titans, who used the No. 18 pick on Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks, essentially made that case.
The contract may have been enough for Tennessee to move on, but the question still has to be asked: Why wouldn’t they pay what the Eagles did when they’ve had him in the building for three years?
Could it be his health? Brown has missed six games to various injuries over the last two seasons. He bruised a knee early in the 2020 season and the following January he had surgeries done on both knees the Titans labeled as minor “clean-ups.”
Brown received a medical red flag by the Eagles before the 2019 draft, NFL sources familiar with the team’s draft strategy said. It remains unclear why, but he did miss time with knee sprains in college, although he never suffered significant injuries.
The Ole Miss product was ranked second on the Eagles’ draft board, behind Marquise Brown, despite the health alert. He went 51st overall in the second round, two picks before the Eagles took running back Miles Sanders and six before they took receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
The draft, of course, offers its own losing gambles, as the Arcega-Whiteside pick showed. Roseman said the Eagles checked out Brown’s medicals before the trade, but conceded that there are never guarantees.
“There’s no insurance on any of this stuff,” he said. “But we know what kind of player he is. We know what kind of competitor he is. We know what he adds to our football team. Anything you do, there’s risk.
“But that’s who we’re going to be. We’re always going to be aggressive, we’re always going to take shots on guys we believe in, and we believe in A.J. Brown.”
The proof is in the picks and price he paid.