This isn’t about Jordan Matthews, who probably was the best option out there for the Eagles now that the trade deadline has passed.
It’s about how the Eagles wound up with such an insanely ineffective group of wide receivers that they had to bring Matthews back here for his third stint as an Eagle.
How did it get this bad?
Like most things, there’s no one simple answer. But let’s take a look at five contributing factors:
1. The draft
The Eagles have drafted eight wide receivers since 2010, the year after they took Jeremy Maclin. Who has the best career numbers of those eight? Jordan Matthews, of course. Next on the list is Nelson Agholor, who has had his moments but has put up some of the worst numbers in NFL history by a first-round wide receiver. Riley Cooper had a decent year in 2013, but that’s about it. Josh Huff was a disaster as a third-round pick, Mack Hollins has done nothing to warrant being a fourth-round pick and JJ Arcega-Whiteside can’t even get on the field. It’s not just Howie Roseman. Agholor was a Chip Kelly pick and Huff was probably more of a Kelly pick, although Roseman was still the GM. The bottom line is none of them are elite. For the record, Cooper was drafted before Antonio Brown, Huff before John Brown and Agholor before Stefon Diggs. It’s too early to fairly compare JJAW with D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin or Diontae Johnson, but the early returns aren’t encouraging.
2. Free agency
Look at some of the outside receivers the Eagles have brought in. Last year, they added Kamar Aiken, Bryce Treggs, Mike Wallace, Markus Wheaton. They signed guys like Braxton Miller, Reggie Davis and Dorren Miller to the practice squad. This past summer, it was guys like Marken Michel, Charles Johnson, Johnny Holton, Devon Ross and Marcus Green. Greg Ward has been around for a few years but can’t get on the field. Now, some of these guys were just training camp legs, but none of them are even in the league at this point. You want your developmental guys to develop, and theirs aren’t.
3. Trade deadline
The Eagles didn’t make a move at the trade deadline, yet six days later Doug Pederson stood there at a press conference and talked about how important it was for the Eagles to add a receiver. It’s hard to imagine guys like Robby Anderson of the Jets, A.J. Green of the Bengals or DeVante Parker of the Dolphins couldn’t be had. The 49ers and Patriots are the NFL’s two best teams right now, and they went out and got receivers. The 49ers traded 2nd- and 3rd-round picks to the Broncos for Emmanuel Sanders and a 5. The Patriots got Mohamed Sanu from the Falcons for a 2nd-round pick. It’s a lot to give up, but the Eagles have plenty of picks, and even Roseman would have to admit the Eagles have a better chance of landing a productive receiver in a trade than through the draft.
The Eagles’ wide receivers coach is Carson Walch. He’s their fifth wide receivers coach in five years following Bob Bicknell in 2015, Greg Lewis in 2016, Mike Groh in 2017 and Gunter Brewer in 2018. When multiple players regress at the same time — and you can say that about Jeffery, Agholor and Hollins — and young players don’t progress the way they should, like JJAW, the first person you look at is the position coach. The lack of continuity at the position isn’t ideal, and so far the results under Walch are dreadful.
5. Compensatory picks
When last year ended, Matthews and Golden Tate were both on the roster. In fact, they were the only wide receivers to catch postseason TD passes last year — Tate the 4th-down game-winner in Chicago and Matthews a 37-yarder against the Saints. The Eagles elected to let both of them go, presumably to help them with the compensatory pick formula. Tate is averaging 64 yards per game for the Giants, and Matthews is now back after spending the offseason and bits of this year with the 49ers. If the Eagles like Matthews enough to keep bringing him back, why not just keep him in the first place? Sometimes it seems like Roseman’s decision making is geared too heavily to maximizing the team’s compensatory pick stash instead of simply putting the best 53-man roster on the field.
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