The acquisition of cornerback Ronald Darby in a trade that sent wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round draft pick to Buffalo was, in theory, in the works since the 2016 season as the Eagles watched an offense that lacked weapons around franchise quarterback Carson Wentz and a Jim Schwartz defense bogged down without reliable cornerbacks.
In theory, that is. The actual trade that went down on Friday was in the works for a matter of days, or however many conversations it took for Howie Roseman to get a deal done.
Know this, though: From the day the Eagles drafted Wentz, they knew they needed to be a whole lot better around him. And on the other side of the ball, all of the pressure in the world from an aggressive front four couldn’t cover up the fact that, pun intended, the Eagles needed more from the cornerback group.
“There’s one football, right. I think we look at the skill-position groups as a whole. So we’re looking at the wide receiver position, we’re looking at the tight end position, we’re looking at the running back position,” Roseman said. “And certainly, when we’re making a trade like this, we’re looking at those groups as well when we’re letting go of a tremendously productive guy who played a ton of snaps and who has a ton of targets.
“When we went into it, we wanted to come out of the offseason with an improved offensive line, an improved defensive line, improved weapons around Carson, and certainly to address the corner position in a draft that we thought was unique at that spot.
“We weren’t necessarily confident that we would be able to do all of that. We still sit here with a lot of things that we would like to do, but just seeing those guys on the field sometimes we’re encouraged by the progress, encouraged by a lot of those guys that we brought in here, the chemistry of the group.”
Giving up Matthews and a third-round pick for Darby, who is only 23 years old with two years left on his contract and who two seasons ago was considered, in the midst of a fantastic rookie season, one of the rising, young stars of the position, is a significant price. The Eagles traded away their 2018 second-round draft pick in the Wentz trade prior to the 2016 NFL Draft and now they’ve dealt their third-round pick. They have an extra fourth-round selection from New England in the deal that sent cornerback Eric Rowe to the Patriots that becomes a third-round pick should Rowe play 50 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this season.
But, as Roseman said on Friday, you can’t get value in this league without giving up value and that’s the deal here. With Matthews gone, the Eagles will see who takes advantage of the opening. Does Nelson Agholor, who did not have a strong preseason game on Thursday night after a really good spring and summer, emerge? Does Bryce Treggs, who has come on in a big way the last couple of weeks in camp and in the preseason opener, continue to develop? Remember, the Eagles were high on Treggs when they claimed him off of waivers last summer from San Francisco.
Adding Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency and then selecting Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson in the draft are obvious reasons the wide receiver group has improved so much, but let’s be just as fair and say that the internal improvement of players like Agholor, Treggs, and Marcus Johnson play into the equation. New wide receivers coach Mike Groh has done a terrific job with his room. The Eagles have an abundance of young talent at wide receiver after a 2016 season during which they were among the highest in the league in dropped passes and among the lowest in the league, 31st to be exact, in receiving yards at wide receiver.
And, as Roseman said, it’s important to factor into the equation the versatility the tight end group brings. Zach Ertz and Trey Burton are going to catch a lot of passes this year. Running back Darren Sproles is going to be involved a lot in the passing game. The Eagles have options in the passing game, and they’re not afraid to use them.
(23), C.J. Smith (24), Rasul Douglas (22 in August), and Sidney Jones (21), who is recovering from Achilles tendon surgery and will not, repeat, will not, be rushed back this season. Veteran Patrick Robinson is here on a one-year contract and he played well in the preseason opener at Green Bay.
Roseman isn’t finished with the roster. He’s a wheeler and a dealer and he’s going to keep looking. But just think about how far this team has come since the trade that put the Eagles in position to take Wentz No. 2 overall in the ’16 draft. There is some really promising talent throughout the roster, young players who are getting good coaching and improving and emerging and building a foundation with some long-term veterans who are still highly productive on the field.
The Eagles gave up something on Friday in the form of a consistent, hard-working, and very well-liked and admired young veteran in Matthews and a valuable third-round draft pick in 2018 to get their hands on a two-year starter at cornerback who is a quality starting cornerback in this league. The Eagles are a better team right now than they were a day prior.
All of the pieces added to the existing roster are fitting right in like a puzzle that should stay together, for the most part, for many years to come.