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Time for Eagles receivers to step it up

The trade for Dorial Green-Beckham has possible upside for the Eagles, who gave up little in return, and for the receiver, who was likely to be released after falling out of favor with the Titans.

The trade for Dorial Green-Beckham has possible upside for the Eagles, who gave up little in return, and for the receiver, who was likely to be released after falling out of favor with the Titans.

But there is the potential for greater downside because of what the deal suggests about the state of the Eagles receivers, in particular one former first-round pick.

Howie Roseman said the team had been in the market for receivers for weeks, but it was no coincidence that Tuesday's swap came on the heels of Thursday's preseason opener. The receivers, without the injured Jordan Matthews, were ineffective, to put it kindly. There were at least four drops, and 11 receivers caught only 10 of 21 targets for 52 yards.

Expectations were already low, but could the group be worse than projected? Or could the knee injury that Matthews suffered almost two weeks ago be more severe than the Eagles have said?

Either way, the addition of Green-Beckham places additional pressure on all four of the receivers who were expected to make the roster after Matthews. Free agents Rueben Randle and Chris Givens signed one-year contracts with few guarantees. They have failed to impress and are expendable.

Josh Huff is entering his third year with the Eagles, and the clock is ticking on his usefulness as a receiver. His competency at returning kicks may be the only reason he lasts past cut-down day. And then there is Nelson Agholor.

The greatest indictment in the gamble on Green-Beckham was made against Agholor. While the Eagles' 2015 first-round selection is virtually guaranteed a spot, he is no longer the outside receiver with the highest ceiling. Green-Beckham has his flaws, but based on talent and size alone he has greater potential.

And it should also be noted that Chip Kelly, not Roseman, drafted Agholor. The Eagles executive vice president of football operations certainly wants the second-year receiver to thrive, but his loyalty will extend only so far. Aside from retaining quarterback Sam Bradford, Roseman has exorcised many of Kelly's moves this offseason.

Agholor said he didn't think there was a message behind the trade.

"The game of football doesn't change," Agholor said. "I'm going to make myself useful on the team regardless."

Whether he says so publicly or not, Agholor should have extra motivation. How could he not? But the answers he gives and the way he carries himself suggest that he lacks a certain alpha dog gene that almost every elite receiver must possess.

DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin weren't the best receivers in the NFL when they played for the Eagles, but you can bet they thought they were or at least carried themselves in that manner. Mike Quick, a long time ago, felt the same way. Matthews has that moxie.

All of them, at some point during their careers, said they took the field believing they were preeminent receivers. Does Agholor think he's the best?

"I think I'm going to bust my ass every day like the best," he said, "and let the chips fall where they may."

Is it likely that he already knows his limitations? It's not been for lack of effort. Agholor, at least on the surface, works as hard as anyone on the team. But he hasn't progressed much during his second offseason, typically when the light starts to go on for receivers.

He has struggled to catch balls, create separation, and run consistent routes. All three problems were on display against the Buccaneers last week. But when asked to assess his performance in the game, Agholor didn't focus on his responsibilities as a ball catcher.

"I had minor details that I could have polished . . . especially in the run game," Agholor said. "My assignments, I could have done a better job on. I thought my route running could have been better."

The run game?

Kelly would be proud. The former Eagles coach would also be pleased with Agholor's team-first attitude. It is commendable and a prerequisite for any championship-caliber team. But there has to be a balance. Agholor wants to be a good teammate, but what his teammates would appreciate most is someone who could catch the ball and score touchdowns.

"It's never about you, you, you," Agholor said.

Agholor isn't tall or stout, and he hasn't flashed the kind of quickness that is often needed to offset what a receiver may lack in size (i.e. Jackson). He hasn't consistently made grabs in tight corners or gotten the ball in space and made defenders miss.

"You see flashes of his ability," Roseman said. "He's an explosive guy that can create separation. And, again, I think it goes back to . . . a day-to-day basis wanting to see consistency."

The same could be said of all the receivers, even Matthews. Roseman and Eagles coach Doug Pederson cited youth when asked for an evaluation of the unit, but that excuse is running out. Sometimes you are what you are from Day 1.

Matthews had it immediately. Will the Eagles have him by the season opener?

On Aug. 5, Pederson said that Matthews was fine and would be sore for a couple of days. Three days later, he said that he strained his knee and would be out for a couple of weeks, and that if Matthews was not healthy by the third preseason game, on Aug. 27, he would be ready for the season opener on Sept. 11.

The next day, Pederson reiterated that Matthews hadn't suffered any structural damage, but he confirmed that the injury was "more of a bone bruise." He added that he was day to day.

The same could be said about the rest of the Eagles' receivers.