Eagles

Trading Matthews 'hard trigger to pull,' but Eagles desperate to stockpile corners

Trading Matthews 'hard trigger to pull,' but Eagles desperate to stockpile corners

Howie Roseman has spent a good portion of his two tenures as Eagles GM trying to find cornerbacks.

He’s drafted guys. He’s signed guys. And now he’s traded for a guy.

The morning after the Eagles’ preseason opener, Roseman executed a blockbuster trade, acquiring third-year pro Ronald Darby — a 23-year-old former second-round pick — from the Bills in exchange for free-agent-to-be Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick.

"This was a hard trigger to pull, when you’re talking about Jordan and a premium pick," Roseman said.

"But we’re just trying to figure out the best way to build this team and be competitive — not only during the regular season but hopefully one day to win playoff games and get even further than that. 

"And when we look at this, the corner position is a huge priority for us and having the opportunity to get a young corner who can grow with our group, it was appealing."

Roseman, the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations, said the trade was the most difficult he’s ever had to make.

“You have a knot in your stomach,” he said.

But in the end, his desire to stock the cornerback spot with young talent convinced him to ship Matthews, whose 225 receptions are ninth-most in NFL history by a receiver in his first three seasons.

Darby started 29 games for the Bills the last two years. He had two interceptions with Buffalo — both in 2015 — but 33 pass knockdowns in 29 games.

"You know you're going to need a bunch of corners to play," Roseman said. "And so the more you can have at that position, the better set up you are. 

"It is a pass-driven league and throwing a bunch of three- and four-wide receiver packages is a part of (teams') game plan. And so when we looked at it and we looked at the teams that have tremendous success, they continue to throw resources at that position." 

The Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since their cornerbacks were Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, a pair of high 2002 draft picks.

Since that duo left Philly — Sheppard after 2008, Brown after 2009 — the Eagles have stumbled with an ever-changing cast of overpaid free agents, failed draft picks, disinterested reclamation projects and fading veterans on their last legs.

The Eagles this offseason drafted Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas in the second and third rounds, signed veteran Patrick Robinson and brought back guys like Jalen Mills, Aaron Grymes, Ron Brooks and C.J. Smith.

"When you look at depth charts around the league, it’s hard to find corners," Roseman said. "It’s hard to find teams that have a lot of corners, and having all these guys who are 21, 22, 23 years old. I think that’s the most exciting thing about this."

Because of the cost — a capable receiver and a third-round pick — Darby automatically becomes the centerpiece of this group.

"He's got rare speed," Roseman said. "His production on the ball, he doesn't have a high interception number but his (passes defensed) number is incredibly high. 

"He's played a variety of coverages. He won a national championship at (Florida State). You see him go against the players that we go against in our division. The Bills in 2015 played the NFC East. So you have that look. 

"When you go into the draft, a lot of those things are unknown. So you have a lot of known qualities in him. We have people in the building who have been around him and that's an important part as well. 

"There's no insurance on these things. We do what we think is in the best interest of the team. And then when you pull the trigger on anything like this, you think about the player you're giving up and the draft pick. But we felt like this was the right decision for us."

The Eagles now have a nucleus of corners who are 23 or younger: Mills, Jones, Douglas and Darby. C.J. Smith, who has had a promising camp, is 24. 

"We spent a lot of time going over this because this is obviously a big trade for our football team," he said. "You look around the league, and it is a corner-deficient league. It's hard to find those guys. It's hard to find guys who have been solid starters in this league and can play at a high level. And teams that have them aren't really ready to move them. 

"So it's something that we felt — as well as the quarterback position, the offensive line, defensive line — you can never have enough of those guys."

Before the trade, Mills and Robinson were the projected starters, with Brooks the top slot guy. Douglas and Jones — out indefinitely while rehabbing an Achilles injury — presumably are the long-term future starters. 

Where does Darby fit in? 

"All those are good problems to have," Roseman said. "They'll all be sorted out through competition, through this process. 

"Our coaches will put the best guys out on the field and in the best positions. Jalen certainly has done a great job. Big jump from Year 1 to Year 2, he's really taken it and run with it."

How bad have the Eagles' cornerbacks been?

The Eagles have allowed 25 or more touchdown passes in eight straight seasons, the longest streak in NFL history.

The last time they didn't? That was 2008, the last time they won a playoff game.

"There are a lot of priorities that go into building a team that consistently competes for championships," Roseman said. "And having a defensive back, corner position that was young and could grow together, this fits with that description. 

"Ronald's got two years left on his contract. He's played in the National Football League for two years. You have the tape of watching him go against the guys we go against. Doesn't make it any easier. We wish Jordan all the best, but we did what we thought was best for our team going forward."

Roob's 10 observations: Wendell Smallwood's chances, Tom Brady-Nick Foles handshake, Bryce Brown's elite company

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Roob's 10 observations: Wendell Smallwood's chances, Tom Brady-Nick Foles handshake, Bryce Brown's elite company

Wendell Smallwood working his way back into the running back picture, the bizarre NFL career of Bryce Brown, Michael Bennett and Shakespeare, the handshake that never was and Brian Westbrook’s 2006 postseason.

Only one place you’re getting all this!

It’s all this week’s Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations, and it starts here:

1. It’s been interesting watching Wendell Smallwood this preseason. He’s a guy who when training camp began I didn’t give much of a chance to, only because he’s never been able to stay healthy and the Eagles went into camp with a deep, talented stable of backs. But while Matt Jones, Josh Adams and Donnel Pumphrey have been banged up and on and off the field, Smallwood has not only stayed healthy, he’s made the most of his reps. He looks terrific. I’ve always felt Smallwood is a talented kid. I wrote about him last week and how he spent the offseason learning how to take better care of himself, and so far it’s paying off. Much of making an NFL roster is simply handling the workload during camp and proving to your coaches that they can rely on you. And Smallwood hasn’t missed a rep. This preseason. Not one. So far he’s outlasted the other guys in that battle for the fourth running back spot behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles. Has he done enough? With a couple weeks before final cuts, it’s too early to say. But he’s definitely worked himself from the brink back into the mix.

2. I’ve been disappointed by Mack Hollins’ training camp. He’s one guy I expected to make a big leap in Year 2, and while he still might, he hasn’t flashed yet. Shelton Gibson and Bryce Treggs have both outplayed Hollins in practice. Hollins has that great size and is a valued special teamer and as a second-year fourth-round pick he’s probably got the team made. But I expected to see more. Treggs is another guy who was off the radar when camp began but has that great speed and keeps showing up at practice. And Gibson simply looks like a different guy from last year. The depth the Eagles have at wideout is insane. Guys like Rashard Davis, Greg Ward Jr. and DeAndre Carter probably have no shot to make the team, but once upon a time, they would have been starters around here.

3. Michael Bennett is an interesting dude. Someone in the locker room used the phrase, “All’s well that ends well,” and he said, “Where’s that phrase from?” I said it’s the name of a Shakespeare play, and he said, “A lot of people think Shakespeare wasn’t a real person.” I said, “Yeah, there’s a theory that he was three different people.” His response: “I’m three different people.” 

4. I know a lot of people think the whole “Tom Brady hasn’t shaken Nick Foles’ hand” thing is overblown, but it really bothers me. There are certain customs in sports that are there for a reason. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever, and he should have sought out Nick either on the field immediately after the game or somewhere after the game — the lockers weren’t too far apart. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but sportsmanship means a lot to me. I know one thing: If the Patriots won that game, Nick Foles would have found Tom Brady, told him “Great job,” and shook his hand. 

5. Brian Westbrook’s 2006 postseason was insane. He rushed 20 times for 141 yards against the Giants and 13 times for 116 yards against the Saints. His average of 7.8 yards per carry is second-highest in NFL history in a single postseason (minimum 30 carries) behind Hall of Famer Marcus Allen’s 8.03 in 1983. He’s the only back in NFL history with back-to-back playoff games with 100 rushing yards, a 7.0 average and a touchdown. His 257 rushing yards are third-most in NFL history by a back in a two-game postseason (behind Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson in 1985 and Arian Foster in 2011). 

6. I love listening to Doug Pederson talk about why he’s so aggressive as a play caller. Because generally, he admits he really has no idea. I think it almost evolved by accident. He started going for it on fourth down in 2016 with nothing at stake and it started working, and he just felt comfortable doing it, and he just got in that habit, and the team got used to it and enjoyed it, and by the time the Super Bowl came along it had developed into his personality and the team was completely in step with him, and the success of the Philly Special was the product of that. You can’t run that play if you’re the least bit tight or indecisive, but the team had gotten so used to Pederson doing anything at any time in any situation it was just another play. The man is a genius.

7. Chip Kelly and Pederson have the same number of regular-season wins after two years. 

8. You figured that had to be wrong so you looked it up, didn’t you!

9. I’ve never seen an assistant coach grow as much as Frank Reich did in his two years with the Eagles. When he first started out as Doug’s offensive coordinator, he seemed to be painfully shy around the media, gave one-word or brief answers during press conferences and appeared generally uninterested in providing anything remotely revealing about football or the players he coached. By the time he left, he was one of the most interesting, insightful and quotable assistant coaches I’ve ever been around, and his commentary after the Super Bowl about Nick Foles’ performance was brilliant. I’m convinced this transformation had a lot to do with him getting the Colts head coaching job. Teams don’t want a head coach who can’t handle the media, and Frank in a very short time went from a guy who wasn’t comfortable in those situations to one who embraced them.

10. Bryce Brown had one of the strangest career arcs in Eagles history. He averaged 15 yards in his first 10 NFL games and 19 yards in his last 30 NFL games. In between, with LeSean McCoy injured, he ran for 178 yards on just 19 carries against the Panthers and 169 yards on 24 carries against the Cowboys, with two TDs in each game. Only three players in NFL history have had consecutive games with 165 rushing yards, a 7.0 average and 2 TDs — LaDainian Tomlinson, Barry Sanders and … Bryce Brown. Other than those two historic games in a seven-day span, he averaged 3.5 yards per carry and 18 yards per game. But for a brief bit of an otherwise forgettable 2012 season, he made NFL history. 

More on the Eagles

Eagle Eye podcast: Previewing second preseason game

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Eagle Eye podcast: Previewing second preseason game

On this edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss the likelihood of Carson Wentz not being healthy for the regular season opener. Is this the best team Doug Pederson has had in Philadelphia? Also, how do players approach the second preseason game?

1:00 - Updating Carson Wentz's status.
4:00 - Guys still confident Wentz will start against the Falcons?
7:00 - Doug Pederson says this is the deepest team he's had.
10:30 - Doug Pederson and Nick Foles speak about preseason snaps.
15:00 - How do players approach the second preseason game?

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