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Eagles - Sheppard expected to be traded, but what will Eagles get for him?

THE LAST TIME the Eagles tried to trade a relatively young defensive star with two Pro Bowls to his credit, it didn't turn out so well.

THE LAST TIME the Eagles tried to trade a relatively young defensive star with two Pro Bowls to his credit, it didn't turn out so well.

Six years ago, the Birds ended up releasing Jeremiah Trotter after Trotter made plain his displeasure over getting the franchise tag instead of the long-term deal at top linebacker money he felt he deserved.

The Eagles tried to deal Trotter. They found the market tepid, and rather than risk his situation becoming a distraction, they decided to move on without getting anything for him. They ended up much weaker at middle linebacker, until they re-signed Trotter 2 years later.

The Eagles are heading into the week of the NFL draft, this coming Saturday and Sunday, which almost certainly will see them trade standout cornerback Lito Sheppard. Some circumstances are different, but some seem eerily familiar.

Regardless of what they get for Sheppard, the Birds won't be as bereft at corner as they were at middle linebacker in 2002, when Barry Gardner and an end-of-career, massively overweight Levon Kirkland tried to take Trotter's place. The Eagles made sure of that when they signed the top free agent available this offseason, corner Asante Samuel. You can debate whether they'll truly be any better with Samuel than they would have been with a healthy Sheppard, but it seems they'll be OK there.

But again, as in 2002, a young star thinks he is worth more than he's getting - Sheppard signed a deal in 2004 that locks him up until 2011 at considerably less than the 6 years at $57 million Samuel got in free agency. And again, the trade market so far has not matched the team's expectations - we can infer that from the fact that Sheppard hasn't yet been traded in the 7 weeks or so since Samuel came aboard.

Again, the potential for distraction looms, if a trade isn't completed this weekend. The Eagles have tried to avoid acknowledging that they have to trade Sheppard - just last week, team president Joe Banner spoke as if a trade were some sort of reluctant, less-than-appealing option - but the fact is they have to trade Sheppard. He clearly isn't going to play here any longer under his current contract. The Eagles, at this late date, aren't going to tear it up, convince themselves that Sheppard's repeated injury woes are history, and give him a top-of-the-market deal.

Sure, it's tempting to envision the Eagles keeping Sheppard and fielding a corner rotation of Samuel, Sheldon Brown, Sheppard and Joselio Hanson. That would be the best grouping in the league. And if the Eagles end up getting second- and fifth-round picks for Sheppard, as Atlanta did for corner DeAngelo Hall, or if they burn the Sheppard chip just to move up from 19th overall in the draft to, say, 10th or so - you have to wonder in the long run if that will turn out to have been for the best.

In a way, Banner acknowledged the risks of trading Sheppard in his comments last week about other teams' interest.

"There's a lot," he said. "You don't see many [27]-year-old Pro Bowl players who there is even a possibility of acquiring. If you look at the history of player trades, you'll see a very short list of players that age, that caliber of player, that kind of character. There is significant interest, but the reason there is interest is because he's a good player, which is a compelling reason, also, to keep him. We'll just have to weigh the options of keeping him or whatever else is available, and in the end, Andy [Reid] will make a decision as to which he thinks is better."

But again, there really is no decision to make. Sheppard, who isn't taking part in the team's offseason conditioning program, repeatedly has declined to respond to requests for comment, as has his agent group, headed by Peter Schaffer. Sheppard is said to be convinced he will be traded during the draft, at the latest. If Sheppard really thought the Birds might just decide to keep him and force him to play under his current deal, he would almost certainly be commenting - loudly and at length.

Looking back, the trade of the most successful defensive draft pick of Reid's tenure probably was set in motion at least as far back as the Dec. 2 loss to Seattle on a sloppy, resodded Lincoln Financial Field. Sheppard, still feeling the effects of an MCL injury suffered in the season opener, seemed to be having even more trouble than most players planting and cutting. Eventually he was removed from the game, and ended up in an animated sideline exchange with defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

Johnson wasn't available to discuss that confrontation until the following Thursday, when he told reporters: "He felt that he was a little banged up, so we went with Will [James]. It was more of a slight injury."

More than 4 months later, it has become plain that the team and Sheppard differed in their assessments of his injury; there are people in the organization who say Sheppard's displeasure over his contract was bothering him at least as much as his knee.

When the idea of trading Sheppard was broached, much of its appeal had to do with the possibility the team would get a top wideout for him, possibly in a deal that would package him with a high Eagles draft pick. But the Larry Fitzgerald contract drama in Arizona ended. The Lions seem to have no immediate designs on dealing Roy Williams. The Bengals still insist they will not trade Chad Johnson.

Now it seems very unlikely the Birds will acquire a difference-making wideout in a Sheppard trade, unless, of course, they trade Sheppard for a pick or picks they use at that position. Their history there isn't terribly promising. Wideouts drafted in the Reid Era include Na Brown (fourth round, 1999), Troy Smith (sixth round, same year), Todd Pinkston (second round, 2000), Gari Scott (fourth round that year), Freddie Mitchell (first round, 2001), Freddie Milons (fifth round, 2002), Billy McMullen (third round, 2003), Reggie Brown (second round, 2005), Jason Avant (fourth round, 2006) and Jeremy Bloom (fifth round that year).

Brown would be the only true success story in that group, and he is coming off a season in which he didn't live up to some observers' expectations. In fact, the main reason many fans feel the Eagles need a No. 1 wideout for Sheppard is that Brown hasn't become one.

The Eagles already have 11 selections in the seven-round draft. If you added, say, a second and a fifth for Sheppard, you might then try to package your two second-round picks to acquire another first-round pick. Or you could trade one of the seconds to move up from 19th in the first, the way the Eagles did in 2003 (30 to 15, at the cost of the 62nd overall pick in the second) and 2004 (28 to 16, in exchange for 58, in the second).

"We're open to being aggressive. Certainly we've had some conspicuous trades up, and even used some significant ammunition to trade up. We've also traded down," Banner said. "It's really all going to depend on how the draft falls."

Banner also mentioned one complicating factor. Since the '90s, teams have relied on a draft-pick value chart for trades of draft picks, which assigns points to each slot. But in an era of burgeoning guaranteed-money rookie deals, high picks have become at least slightly less attractive.

Banner and the Eagles favor a new chart, in which, for example, the fourth overall pick is worth 1,750 points, instead of 1,800, and the 33rd pick, opening the second round, is worth 570 points instead of 580. It has been suggested that the teams in favor of the new chart are mostly teams looking to move up in the 2008 draft.

"You could have teams during the draft kind of working off of different charts, so there is a transition," Banner acknowledged. "I don't think you'll get many trades done if you're on a different [chart]. The chart has never been precise; it's really a guideline. Rarely do the points come out exactly. It gives you a reasonable parameter . . . There is no question, in my mind at least, that the old system is no longer applicable for trades in the first round. The question is, do we have a viable replacement about which is a consensus that it makes sense?"

And beyond that, what can the Eagles recoup as they try to do something they haven't done lately, deal a high-profile, skill-position player in his prime? The answer could have a lot to do with their fate this season, and in years to come. *