This would be a seamless transition, the Eagles thought. Trade wide receiver Torrey Smith to Carolina and then sign wide receiver Mike Wallace, who has done the things Smith has done in his NFL career: Run faster than anyone on the field, create separation with speed, and stretch the field vertically in the passing game. For the Eagles, it would be a simple one-out, one-in swap and the wide receiver corps would be set for 2018.
Except, of course, nothing is ever easy in the National Football League.
And rarely does the course of a season follow a plan.
As the Eagles prepare for their final regular-season game of 2018, Wallace walked to his locker at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday and was greeted by a large handful of reporters and cameras all interested in hearing how Wallace's work in practice felt to him. Limited to two games this season before suffering a broken leg, Wallace was removed from Injured Reserve on Monday and took part in his first practice since September on Wednesday.
Thus, the grand plan at wide receiver was basically derailed before the season even got rolling. Wide receiver was, arguably, one of the deeper depth charts on the roster in the spring and into Training Camp. It looked perfect: Alshon Jeffery, when he returned from offseason shoulder surgery, would be the big-man "possession" receiver, drawing double teams. Wallace would be the "go" wide receiver, using his legs as he's always done in his career.
Nelson Agholor, following his breakout season of 2017, would return to the slot receiver position and create favorable matchups that the Eagles would use to their advantage all season. And second-year man Mack Hollins, was primed for a bigger role along with, possibly, fellow second-year wideout Shelton Gibson, who would no doubt be ready to contribute after learning the NFL ropes in his rookie season.
The wide receiver corps, on paper, looked deep and talented and versatile.
Injuries helped alter the plan.
Jeffery missed the first three games of the season before being cleared for live action. Wallace suffered a broken leg in the loss at Tampa Bay in Week 2 and spent the next 13 game weeks shelved. Hollins suffered a sports hernia injury of some kind and never played a down.
So much for the blueprint.
"Your job in this league is to be ready at all times," Agholor said earlier in the season. "You never know what's going to happen. It's something you learn in this league, so you need to be as prepared as you can be because things are going to change. That's just the nature of this business. And when there is change, you have to be ready for it."
A passing game that lacked consistency for much of the season has come alive as the Eagles have won four of their last five games. It's helped that Jeffery is healthy, all the way back from his rotator cuff injury, and virtually impossible to cover one-on-one. Agholor has worked hard to become a threat both on the outside and in his slot position. Golden Tate, acquired at the trade deadline in late October, has played in seven games, worked his way into the mix, even with weeks where he's been really busy and others when he's been targeted very little. Jordan Matthews, added early in the season when Wallace went down, has 20 catches and two touchdowns and has been a go-to target on third downs.
Tight end Zach Ertz has enjoyed his historic season with 113 receptions, an NFL single-season record for tight ends, and rookie Dallas Goedert has shown that he will be a force in his career, so the Eagles have been able to turn around a sporadic passing game at just the right time down the stretch.
"We have so many weapons here and you have to understand that," Tate said. "We're winning and that's all that matters. We've got so much talent here and there's only one football so you have to understand that. You're going to work your way into the offense each week. One week you might be a big part of the game plan and another week you might not be as involved. That's the nature of the offense. But the scheme is an excellent one and it's receiver-friendly. There are a lot of big plays in this offense every week."
What might have been had Wallace not gotten hurt? He would have given the Eagles that proven, veteran deep threat that Smith offered last season. Maybe Wallace would have been integrated into the offense and the Eagles then wouldn't have traded for Tate and maybe Gibson would have had more reps and …
You can't think that way. Wallace certainly isn't.
"It's frustrating because you have big expectations for yourself and the team and not being out there in some games when things are not going the way we all wanted them to go and you feel like you can be helping and contributing, it's frustrating," he said on Wednesday. "It's my first time going through it. I have a lot of faith. I just stayed prayed up and just kept my head up and just keep grinding, controlling the things that I can.
"I just got activated. I just take it day to day to see how I feel and just get back out there and into the flow of things. I'm not sure. I feel like I can run but it's different when you get on the football field actually against other players, so I haven't been out there against anybody yet. I've just been with the trainers running routes and doing things like that, so it going to be different getting out there against other players. I'm up for the challenge."
In this run of four wins in five games, the Eagles have gotten contributions from the wide receiver corps throughout. One week it's been Jeffery, then Tate, and then Agholor. Matthews has pretty much caught everything thrown his way this season.
A wide receiver group ends the season looks vastly different than the preseason projections. That's OK. That's business in the NFL. If you aren't flexible with your plan, you don't have a chance to succeed.