Dallas and New England, New England and Dallas.

The two NFL teams the Eagles have measured themselves against - the Patriots over the last seven years, the Cowboys over the last 30 or so - are the best teams in their respective conferences.

That would sting more than enough as the free-falling Eagles face the Cowboys at Texas Stadium today. It stings even more, though, because of what happened during a one-hour span in late April.

At the time, the Eagles' approach to the draft seemed peculiar and a little troubling. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear that draft weekend set the tone for this whole puzzling, discouraging season. Especially, that is, when you factor in what the Cowboys and Patriots did during that same hour.

Quick refresher: The Eagles had the No. 26 pick in the first round; the Patriots were sitting two slots back at No. 28. There was speculation that the Eagles might use that pick on a safety or a tight end, maybe a linebacker if they liked someone on the board.

Instead, the Eagles shocked everyone - especially their franchise quarterback and other veterans in their own locker room - by trading their first-round pick to their primary division rivals, the Cowboys. Dallas selected Anthony Spencer, a defensive end who projected as a linebacker in the 'Boys' 3-4 defense. The Eagles dropped back in the draft, selecting quarterback Kevin Kolb in the second round. They picked up a couple of later picks, which they used on linebacker Shawn Bradley and defensive back C.J. Gaddis.

Eagles fans probably were still screaming at their televisions and may have missed what happened shortly after the deal with Dallas was announced. The Patriots traded their first-round pick, too.

In return, they received San Francisco's first-round pick in 2008 and the Niners' fourth-round pick in 2007. The next day, the Patriots sent that fourth-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for ...

Wait for it ...

Randy Moss.

Let's recap:

In exchange for the 26th pick in the draft, the Eagles got Kolb, Bradley and Gaddis. They also helped the Cowboys improve.

In exchange for the 28th pick, the Patriots got Moss and what could be the No. 2 pick in the next draft. The Niners didn't exactly improve, but the Patriots don't care about them anyway.

As you scratch your head and try to figure out what happened to the Eagles this year, perhaps this little reminder will be of assistance. Not only did they fail to make a significant improvement in their 2007 team, but they also were embarrassingly outmaneuvered for the long term by the Patriots.

In fairness, there is a chance this will look different in, say, 2012. If Kolb is the quarterback who wins this team a Super Bowl and if Bradley is a Pro Bowl linebacker at some point, the Eagles will look a lot better than they will in Irving, Texas, this afternoon.

But the Eagles' actions on that last weekend in April look awfully unimpressive right now, especially when you compare the Eagles to their measuring-stick foes, Dallas and New England.

Spencer started ahead of Greg Ellis at strongside linebacker for the first six games of the season. Ellis replaced him in the starting lineup after that, but Spencer still plays a significant number of downs. He has two sacks, which is as many as the Eagles' three starting linebackers combined. Ellis has 12.

But this isn't about Spencer. The Eagles could have selected tight ends Greg Olsen (34 catches, 346 yards for the Bears) or Zach Miller (32 for 566 yards and four touchdowns for the Raiders). They could have gone for a wideout, such as Anthony Gonzalez (28 for 468 for the Colts) or Sidney Rice (30 for 386 and four touchdowns for Minnesota). There were a number of other defensive players on the board who might have been contributing by now.

The bottom line is that the Eagles did nothing to help the 2007 team, nothing to help their franchise quarterback succeed in a season of judgment.

Peyton Manning got Gonzalez. Tom Brady got Moss (plus Wes Welker and Donté Stallworth). Tony Romo didn't get a whole lot of immediate help on offense, but then, he seems to be doing OK with Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Marion Barber III and Julius Jones.

McNabb got tight end Brent Celek (eight catches, 75 yards), Tony Hunt for the weekly inactive list, and Kolb, who figures to be his eventual replacement.

The Cowboys and especially the Patriots outsmarted the rest of the league. They are a combined 25-1, with the Cowboys' only loss coming at the hands of the Patriots.

The Eagles? They outsmarted only themselves, and it got them to 5-8.

Post a comment or question

for columnist Phil Sheridan

at http://forums.philly.com/

phil_sheridan or by e-mail

at psheridan@phillynews.com.