On the surface, the deal is but a ripple in the water of an intriguing, where-are-they-going off-season: Greg Lewis, a reserve wide receiver and solid utility belt on special teams, gets traded along with a 2010 draft pick to New England in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick in April. Big deal, right? Maybe, maybe not.
The Eagles made their second trade of the off-season on Thursday, announcing a deal that sends Lewis and the draft pick in 2010 (I'm guessing a seventh-rounder) to the Patriots for an undisclosed selection (I'm guessing a fifth-round pick) in April. If my guesstimate is correct, the Eagles will have four fifth-round draft picks in April, 12 overall, and a very clear indication of where the team's emphasis is in this off-season. We'll get to that in a moment.
On Saturday the Eagles dealt cornerback Lito Sheppard to the Jets in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick this year and a conditional draft pick (a fourth-round pick that could escalate to a second-round pick) in 2010. Now, they've shed Lewis, a lightly-used wide receiver. When you consider both of those deals, along with the departures in free agency of Brian Dawkins, Correll Buckhalter and Sean Considine, plus the anticipated losses of veterans L.J. Smith, Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan (none of whom have signed elsewhere to date), you understand what the Eagles are doing.
They want to replenish the core with younger, stronger legs. They still have a high number of starters returning from the team that played in the NFC Championship Game -- as it stands now, the Eagles have nine of 11 starters back on offense and 10 of 11 starters back on defense -- but they also want to bring in some new energy.
And it's fair to look at it a couple of ways, as the free-agency market dries up and the pickings become even more slim: Should the Eagles stay intact with the roster that was, and just add a piece or two in free agency, to get over the hump? Should the Eagles take apart things and start from scratch? Should the Eagles mix and match some of the comings and goings and try to find the right mix?
The approach the team is taking is to keep as much of the young core intact as possible. They have lost some experience and they have lost some talent and they have lost some leadership, but they still think they have a lot of all of the above still here. They added a significant piece in free agency by bringing in offensive lineman Stacy Andrews, and they welcome back his brother, Shawn, after a very rough 2008 season. So they have addressed, very distinctly, their first area of need, which is the offensive line.
They also have some holes to fill, which we have discussed at various times here. They need a backup running back to replace Buckhalter, and instead of diving into free agency and adding more age -- other than Derrick Ward, who was out there? -- the Eagles seem willing to pick from a talented group of prospects in the draft. The Eagles feel good with Brent Celek at tight end, but they know they need a second man to provide a strong 1-2 punch, and the draft has a couple of players who would fit in nicely. Dawkins' absence creates a void at free safety, with second-year man Quintin Demps first in line to step in. The Eagles will make sure to have that position right before the regular season is here.
The point is, the Eagles have taken the approach that they are A) Going to trust some of the young players on this roster and give them a chance to step up, an area in which the Eagles have had great success in the past, and B) The draft is where it's at for this team.
They have 12 draft picks. That is an incredible amount for a team with a roster that is set pretty well. If Buddy Ryan were here, I might imagine that he would trade nine or 10 of them to move up and get that guy, but this is a sane group running the show now and the Eagles aren't going to operate that way. Still, Andy Reid has always been willing to wheel and deal. Trades are going to be discussed leading up to and including draft weekend.
There is going to be some action on draft weekend. The Eagles have two first-round picks. They have all of those draft picks on the second day. Something is going to give -- once, twice or three times.
So whatever the Eagles have planned for this roster, it revolves around the draft. Free agency is all but dead in the NFL -- the players who are out there are largely reserve-type players. The Eagles brought in Shawn Springs for a visit this week, but didn't make a move to sign him and he went north and reportedly is primed to sign with New England.
Anyway, the trade with New England marks the end of Lewis' time with the Eagles. He made the team as a non-drafted rookie in 2003 and kept his job as a reserve receiver who ran good routes, had quick feet and generally caught the football when he had the chance. To show you how it works in the NFL, Lewis had some of his best games against New England -- a touchdown catch in Super Bowl 39 and a two-touchdown performance last season in Foxborough.
The move makes you wonder what the Eagles are going to do at wide receiver. I happen to think they are set with what they have, for the most part. Maybe a draft pick somewhere in the early to mid rounds on draft weekend. A trade is a long, long shot as I see it. The team has said it will look for a difference-maker, but there aren't any of those who are being dangled as trade bait.
You never know, though. Sometimes, moves come completely out of the blue. Certainly, the one with the Patriots did. The Eagles are loading up for the draft. They are preparing to set the roster up with enough young talent to make competition in training camp more intense and to add some energy and fresh legs to a team that appeared to be graying around the edges in 2008.
Now, the Eagles are young and getting younger. They've seen to that by stocking up on draft picks for April. How they use those picks, nobody really knows at this point. No doubt, though, the Eagles have made it clear how they want to re-fill the cupboards: They are going all in for the draft, which makes April the most critical month for this team in many moons.