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Just when you thought you had all the answers, the Eagles change the question…

Maybe I should have seen the trade of Jordan Matthews coming… after all, he was in the final year of his rookie contract with the Eagles, but despite a less-than-stellar 2016 season numbers-wise he was still the Birds’ most reliable slot receiver, and also well-loved by his teammates and respected by his coaches for his work ethic.

In other words, he had trade value.

But the thing that fooled me was—if you’re going to trade a guy on Friday, why in the heck do you play him for multiple reps on the previous Thursday night in Green Bay? Don’t you hold the guy out of action to prevent injury and preserve his trade value?

All things considered, my guess is the trade of Jordan Matthews to the Buffalo Bills was a last-minute decision by GM Howie Roseman based upon the injury to CB Ron Brooks in the Green Bay exhibition game. Brooks suffered a severe hamstring pull in that game.

It also speaks to the apparent fact that the Eagles like their depth at wide receiver right now, so much so that they were willing to let JMatt go now in order to shore up their iffy cornerback resources.

The Buffalo shuffle came into play again. The Eagles traded Jordan Matthews and a 3rd round pick in 2018 to Buffalo for the potentially solid cornerback Ronald Darby.

That throw-in of the 3rd round draft pick in the deal is a bit of a head-scratcher, until you realize that Darby is still under contract control for 2 more years, and that Howie Roseman said that it was a deal-breaker if he didn’t throw in the future pick…adding that Darby is “worth it”…

Welp, there it is in a nutshell. You’re gonna miss Jordan Matthews’ big plays on offense. Hopefully you’re gonna dig Ronald Darby’s big plays on defense.

Our resident commentators here at the EYE put some added perspective on the deal:

Harry Organs (Rodney Vee Vee) : “Buffalo is switching to a zone D, Darby is more of a mad coverage guy…made him expendable. Had a solid season as a rookie, Buffalo was a train wreck last year and his play suffered as well.”

Translation— Darby is going to be a good fit here.

Beanstalk (Bob Downe) : “A Bird in the hand is worth two Draft picks in the bush, I guess. Considering we spent THIS years 2nd and 3rd on two CB’s who don’t look like starting… guess we probably would have drafted two more CB’s that wouldn’t play till 2019???? RIGHT JOE DOUGLAS?!?! Fml… At LEAST we are pushing to win now, and grabbed a guy who could start for the next two years at least.”

It is amazing to witness how the Eagles are morphing into a syndicated version of Buffalo Bills South:

Beanstalk: “Eagles have had Ron Brooks, Ronald Darby, Corey Graham, Leodis McKelvin and Nigel Bradham join their ranks from Bills now.”

Tehe, throw in Jason Peters for good measure there, too!

Who is this cat Darby anyway? I know I had him on my Mach 10 Challenge draft contest entry two years ago, but how and where on the field does he play now?

Beanstalk: “Darby did start at LCB and faced off at times vs Odell Beckham, Jr. They matched up well, although they had Reuben Randle going against the shorter Darby more. Corey Graham and Bradham both featured too.. it was good film for the 3 ex-Bills, now Eagles. Considering McLeod looked ordinary at times last year, don’t be shocked if Corey Graham wins some snaps from him, by the way.”

“In the Bills’ first preseason game against Minnesota this year, Darby did line up on the right, in Stephon Gilmore’s old spot. Sam Bradford didn’t even want to look his way, even when Darby played off man instead of press man. It’s a small sample size… he did play predominantly on the Left at FSU. The jury is out, I guess, as to where Schwartz will use him. But I do know Mills played shadow man against Julio Jones all over the field.. and you would rather Mills against Dez. Darby didn’t face Dez in 2015, Dez was hurt, and Nickell Robey and McKelvin were the starting corners, with Gilmore out. Romo was out too…”

Howie Roseman went on record to further explain the trade:

“You look around the league, and it is a corner-deficient league,” Roseman said Friday a short time after the deal went down. “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.

“In this league, you’re not going to be able to get anything unless you give something.”

In Darby, they get a young talent with upside who likely was available in part because of the scheme shift under new Bills head coach Sean McDermott (as Harry Organs pointed out). The former second-round pick out of Florida State finished second in voting for defensive rookie of the year in 2015 before taking a bit of a step back last season. Asked what he liked about Darby, Roseman pointed to his “rare speed” — he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine — as well as his “production on the ball.” He only has two career interceptions but has racked up 33 pass breakups in 29 games.

The Eagles’ evaluators also had the benefit of watching Darby against a number of receivers in the division, as the Bills played the NFC East in 2015 (as Beanstalk pointed out). So they at least have some idea of how he could fare against Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant, et al.

The Eagles’ corners from top to bottom have struggled with inconsistency throughout camp, and it was no secret that the Eagles were very much in the market for an upgrade. Darby has a good chance to claim one of the starting spots in short order.

The move leaves Philly with four cornerbacks under age 24 who figure to play major roles moving forward:

  • Darby, 23, was a second-round pick in 2015 and has 29 starts through two seasons.
  • Jalen Mills, 23, started two games in 2016 as a rookie seventh-round pick and figures to start in 2017.
  • Sidney Jones, 21, slid to the second round of April’s draft after rupturing his Achilles during his pro-day workout.
  • Rasul Douglas, 21, was a third-round pick in April after intercepting eight passes in his final year at West Virginia.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell broke down all aspects of the trade, concluding that the expense was worth the risk to solve the Eagles’ cornerback woes.

Tim McManus of ESPN.com chimes in with the flip side of the deal:

“…the Eagles have just stripped Wentz of a trusted ally and security blanket. Thursday night’s preseason opener turned out to be the last time the two were on the field together as teammates, and it was a reminder of why game action is the only reliable way to evaluate a player. Wentz was under duress on nearly every dropback in his one series of action, as the blitz-happy Packers overwhelmed the Eagles’ offensive front. Wentz threw four passes in all; three of them went to Matthews.”

Matthews might not be the prototypical slot receiver the Eagles envision, but the numbers are the numbers. It’s no slam dunk that Agholor or a guy like Hollins, the fourth-round pick out of UNC, will replicate that production. Beyond being a reliable outlet on the field for Wentz, Matthews is also tight with the quarterback personally. Members of the same church, they recently took a mission trip to Haiti together (which we covered a few months ago here at the EYE).

“JMatt’s been great,” Wentz said earlier in the week. “I love that guy. … I don’t want to say he was a leader in there — there’s a bunch of leaders in that room — but he’s a guy that a lot of the younger guys looked up to and respected, and I just loved playing with that guy.”

What’s love got to do with it? I guess we’re going to find out the answer to that age-old question soon enough.

McManus with the final word: “Matthews had his share of drops, has had trouble staying healthy of late and lacks the type of burst that is ideal for his position — but he was the receiver Wentz was most closely connected to and the one he relied on most to this point in his young career. That comfort was taken away from him a month before the start of the regular season. In that respect, the move runs counter to the philosophy that has been at the center of the Eagles’ offseason plan.”

Billy Barnwell got clever here with the obvious comparison of Matthews to Nelson Agholor (who is in line to take his place with the Eagles on offense)—

Winner:

Jordan Matthews

The Broncos were comfortably a three-wideout team under new Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, going three-wide as high as 72 percent of the time in 2014, per Football Outsiders, which was the fourth-highest rate in the league. At the same time, though, the Bills just paid $8.4 million over four years to sign fullback Patrick DiMarco this offseason, suggesting that their organizational plan was to roll a fullback onto the field more often than not.

The presence of DiMarco (and Mike Tolbert) suggests that Matthews will be spending more time on the outside than he did in Philadelphia, where he was primarily a slot receiver. That could be a positive if he succeeds on the edge, given that some teams still discount the work done by receivers out of the slot.

More than anything, though, it’s clear that Matthews is going to get far more targets in Buffalo than he would have in Philadelphia, where he was competing with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Darren Sproles and a bevy of tight ends for targets. Now Matthews will be the primary focus of a receiving corps that includes second-round pick Zay Jones, the newly signed Anquan Boldin, a limited Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy. The Vandy product has a great shot at topping the 117 targets he racked up a year ago, which could get Matthews paid this offseason. It’s also possible that the Bills give him a sweetheart deal in an attempt to smooth things over with their fans in advance of what looks like another rebuild.

Winner:

Nelson Agholor

Who saw that one coming? Agholor was basically left for dead after two frustrating seasons in Philadelphia, but after training camp reports suggested Agholor looked like a new man in the slot, the Eagles cleared out a spot for him by trading away Matthews. Coach Doug Pederson might not go three-wide all that often — Philadelphia was there 60 percent of the time last season, 26th in the league — but Agholor went from looking like a likely trade candidate to securing a roster spot with an outside shot at meaningful receptions.

May God have mercy upon our soles!


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