CLEVELAND — A first-round Eagles trade with the Dallas Cowboys? Hey, why not, it’s been a crazy offseason.
Yes, that happened, just as it looked as if the Eagles weren’t getting any of their targeted players, sitting at 12th overall. General manager Howie Roseman addressed that possibility by trading the 84th overall pick to his bitterest rival, to move up two spots and nab slightly-built Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, billed as the explosive playmaker the team has long sought.
As the draft plodded along toward the Eagles’ range, an opposing GM texted his prediction that they would end up with Smith, whose 166-pound Pro Day weight, at 6-feet, caused a lot of discussion in draft circles. Roseman said last week that he wouldn’t be deterred by size, and indeed, he wasn’t. Smith’s weight is just about exactly what DeSean Jackson was carrying when the Eagles drafted him in 2008′s second round, 49th overall.
The opposing GM approved of the move, calling Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy last season, “the best route-runner in the draft. Great kid. Great player. Obviously, frame will be a concern.”
“I saw a guy with length. I saw a guy with toughness,” Eagles player personnel vice president Andy Weidl said when asked about Smith’s size.
“I didn’t particularly care what people said about my weight,” Smith said, via Zoom.
Smith played the 2017 and 2018 seasons with Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, before Hurts transferred to Oklahoma, though Smith barely got on the field as a freshman. Thursday, Smith said he had communicated with Hurts, and that at Alabama, “Jalen kind of taught everybody the game. ... The connection is there, the communication is there.”
Smith said he didn’t think the Eagles were going to take him when they traded up. He said he was “shocked” to get the call from Roseman. “I was really excited. It’s a blessing. Jalen, that’s my guy.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, freed from the 2020 pandemic restraints of his basement, took the stage here Thursday evening at about 8:10 p.m. to the customary exaggerated booing, shortly after Kings of Leon wrapped up their set.
Goodell addressed an amphitheater filled with the usual throng of face-painted, team-gear-bedecked delirious fans from every franchise, who this year had to go through a rigorous screening process and provide proof of COVID vaccination to access the seating area.
“I didn’t come out of my basement for nothing,” Goodell said as he encouraged the mock-hostile reception, and introduced his leather chair from last year’s virtually-held draft, into which one fan from each team would be invited to sit as that team made its selection.
Goodell officially opened the draft at 8:17, putting the Jacksonville Jaguars on the clock. You might wonder why they didn’t turn in their card right away, since everyone knew they were taking Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the first player from that school ever drafted first overall. Certainly, reporters working on East Coast deadlines wondered.
But in 2021, the draft extravaganza is as much about the hoopla as the actual drafting of players; the NFL Network’s Colleen Wolfe and Michael Irvin hyped the amphitheater crowd while commercials aired. At 8:23, the Jags pick was in. At 8:27, Goodell confirmed it was indeed Lawrence, who was watching the draft with family in Seneca, S.C. Zillow.com has a very nice home there -- the most expensive listed -- on Lake Keowee, for $3.5 million, which Lawrence might want to look into.
Coming into the draft, there wasn’t any intrigue over the identity of the Jags’ pick, but nature abhors a rumor mill vacuum. Miraculously, late Thursday afternoon, reports surfaced that quarterback Aaron Rodgers had told the Green Bay Packers he wanted out. Rodgers, fresh off his Jeopardy! guest-hosting gig, is one of the sport’s biggest names, and speculation over a possible trade destination quickly ascended to the prime spot in predraft media bloviating.
Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst put out a statement saying the team was “committed to Aaron in 2021 and beyond. Aaron has been a vital part of our success and we look forward to competing for another championship with him leading our team.” Also, there is the matter of the $31.556 million dead cap charge the Packers would incur from trading Rodgers before June 2, which would be second in NFL history only to the $33.8 million the Eagles are paying to watch Carson Wentz play for Indianapolis.
Otherwise, the hot speculation concerned the 49ers and the third overall pick. For weeks the consensus was that San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan wanted Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, rated the draft’s fifth-best QB by many observers. That consensus began to soften as the draft approached.
» READ MORE: What you need to know about DeVonta Smith
The second pick belonged to the Jets and general manager Joe Douglas, formerly the Eagles’ player personnel vice president. As expected, Douglas took Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson.
Sure enough, the San Francisco pick then was not Jones, it was North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
The proceedings seemed to crawl very slowly toward the Eagles’ pick. Coming off a 4-11-1 season and the firing of head coach Doug Pederson, they were under the gun to draft a difference-maker. And it would seem they ultimately did, after some intrigue.
In the fourth slot, Atlanta, as expected, made Florida and Archbishop Wood tight end Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted player at his position in the modern draft era. Then the Bengals, also as expected, took LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
Sixth overall, the Eagles’ original position before they traded back, proved to be the spot for Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, a player Eagles fans would have loved to welcome to Philadelphia. But Smith was almost as popular a pick on social media.
Time will tell if Roseman’s haul of a 2022 first-rounder, plus the 123rd pick in this year’s fourth round, for that sixth slot and pick 156 in the fifth this year, will be enough to offset not getting to draft Waddle. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who once worked in the Eagles’ personnel department, ranked Waddle the fifth-best prospect in the draft. Jeremiah praised Waddle’s “extraordinary speed and playmaking ability.”
The Eagles’ selection of Smith, Waddle’s Crimson Tide running mate, potentially sets up a long-running fan debate over who got the best ‘Bama receiver. Jeremiah rated Smith sixth overall, calling him “a silky-smooth route runner who accelerates into and out of the breakpoint, which creates an unusual amount of separation against quality competition.
“He has complete faith in his hands, allowing him to run through the ball [without gathering his feet] on underneath and intermediate crossers. His leaping ability and length create some special high-point grabs. He has a second gear after the catch and surprising toughness to break tackles. He competes as a blocker, too. People inside the Alabama program rave about his character, work ethic and professionalism. Smith should emerge as a high-volume weapon as soon as his cleats hit an NFL field.”
Smith said he was happy for Waddle and didn’t care that Waddle went before him Thursday.
The Detroit Lions took Oregon tackle Penei Sewell seventh overall, leaving two members of 2021′s vaunted quarterback class, Jones and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, on the board.
That dropping-quarterback narrative continued with the Carolina Panthers taking South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn eighth overall. Horn was a popular mock draft selection for the Eagles. Then, the draft’s other top corner, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain, went to Denver.
With only the Cowboys and Giants left before the Eagles, it seemed possible the Birds would totally miss out on the draft’s best wideouts and corners. Would they totally change course and be tempted by Fields, considered the best QB behind Lawrence by some evaluators? (He ulitimately went 11th, to the Bears, when the Giants traded back.)
As fans began to contemplate dire scenarios, the trade news broke. A minor Eagles move-up had been rumored, but not with Dallas. The last Eagles-Dallas first-round trade came in 2007, when the Birds traded out of the first (taking QB Kevin Kolb in the second round, and adding third-round linebacker Stewart Bradley and fifth-round safety C.J. Gaddis). The Cowboys drafted edge rusher Anthony Spencer with the Eagles’ 26th overall pick that year.
Thursday, after the Giants traded back (ultimately nabbing Florida wideout Kadarius Toney 20th overall) Dallas took Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons with the Eagles’ pick. The Cowboys correctly figured they could still get Parsons at 12 and pick up a third-rounder from the Eagles, so they did. The Giants almost certainly had hoped to get Smith.
The Eagles have nine more picks to make, barring further trades. They draft 37th in the second round Friday, then 70th in the third. The draft concludes with rounds 4-7 on Saturday.
The NFL’s return to an in-person, outdoor draft was at least slightly marred by a rainy, windy afternoon and evening on the Lake Erie shoreline. Though the rain abated as the 8 p.m. start of the event neared, the stiff breeze made the 50-degree evening feel closer to 40, according to the AccuWeather app.