Eagles may have to rely more on the draft next season | Mike Sielski
With Carson Wentz due to make more money soon, it will be challenging for the Eagles to sign veteran players to lucrative deals.
Two games, two losses, 12 targets, seven catches for 67 yards, zero touchdowns – the raw numbers don't tell the full story of the Eagles' inability to integrate Golden Tate into their offense, but they come pretty close.
In sending a valuable commodity, a third-round draft pick, to the Detroit Lions for a player who might spend just eight games with them, the Eagles took a chance. It was not a small one.
They banked that Tate could help them right away by filling a role that was already a strength. Among Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, and even rookie Dallas Goedert, the offense had a surplus of receivers who could work the middle of the field, and Tate was one more.
He was arguably the best in the NFL at it, but his presence didn't address a need as much as it doubled down on what the Eagles had been doing well all season. It was a risk worth taking because of the overall mediocrity of the NFC East and because the Eagles, who were 4-4 at the time of the trade, had reason to believe that Carson Wentz, their talent at the offensive skill positions, and their fading sheen as defending Super Bowl champions could be enough to win them a division title.
After a surprising home loss to the Cowboys and an embarrassing road loss to the Saints, of course, that plan looks like a pipe dream. The Eagles are 4-6 ahead of Sunday's game against the Giants, and a loss would render the subsequent five weeks a tedious slog to the end of an unfulfilling season, and Tate's acquisition, based on the available evidence so far, promises to be one of the team's greatest failures.
"Anytime you bring a player in [who] adds value and adds talent to your roster, I don't care what position it is, there's going to be a learning curve," coach Doug Pederson told reporters Wednesday. "Now, in Golden's case, this guy has played a ton of football, and he's a sharp guy, and he understands the scheme of a route or the actual route design. But now, how we call the play or how we call that route is where, for his learning curve, he needs to learn that and obviously get caught up."
The question of who deserves the lion's share of blame for the Tate situation is likely to be answered only once the season ends. Was it Pederson? Was it offensive coordinator Mike Groh, who on Tuesday said it has been "challenging" to assimilate Tate into the offense, which in turn has been "disjointed" over the last two weeks? Was it Tate himself?
This much, though, is certain: The decision to get Tate was born of the same roster-building philosophy that executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas have followed since they joined forces in 2016. And the trade should mark the end of that way of doing business and the beginning of a new one for the Eagles.
Roseman has received praise, since his return from his Chip Kelly-forced exile, for his boldness, for his willingness to "go all-in" at a time when the other major franchises in Philadelphia had been cautious, patient, or both. That narrative was true in a sense: It certainly was bold and risky for the Eagles to make two significant trades just for the opportunity to draft Wentz with the No. 2 pick in 2016.
But the rest of the strategy wasn't as audacious as it was reasoned and logical: In Wentz, the Eagles believed they had a quarterback who could help them win games from the moment he took his first snap in the NFL, and he could be on a cost-effective rookie contract for his first four years with the team.
So instead of surrounding him with just-drafted players who might need a year or two (at a minimum) to develop, Roseman, Douglas, and their staff brought in veteran players who, if they meshed quickly enough, could turn the Eagles into a contending team right away. And, when necessary, the Eagles would be willing to sacrifice draft picks to acquire such players.
The plan succeeded smashingly in 2017: Alshon Jeffery, Patrick Robinson, Jay Ajayi, Timmy Jernigan, et al. It didn't work nearly as well in 2016; Leodis McKelvin and Dorial Green-Beckham didn't have quite the same positive impact. With the exception of Michael Bennett, it hasn't worked this year, either.
The difference now is that, once this regular season ends, Wentz can renegotiate his contract, or the Eagles could exercise an option on him for his fifth year. Either way, he's going to start making more money and chewing up more room under the team's salary cap. It will more challenging for Roseman and Douglas, then, to continue signing veteran players to lucrative deals, even if those deals are just a year or two in length. No, the Eagles will have to rely more on the draft to refill their talent pool, to acquire good players on rookie (i.e. less-expensive) contracts.
What that means is simple: Come this offseason, they can't afford to miss on too many draft picks – or to give them away for a receiver whom they can't fit into their offense. Their approach will have to change. Golden Tate hasn't done much for the Eagles, but he's proven that.