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March 29, 2021

John McMullen: Here's what the Eagles really got with their trade back to No. 12

Opinion Eagles

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Howie-Roseman-phone_102120_usat Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman

What’s behind the Eagles' move back from No. 6 overall in next month’s NFL Draft to the No. 12 selection?

Let’s hijack a term Sam Hinkie introduced to Philadelphia that the former Sixers’ chief of basketball operations stole from his old mentor in Houston, Daryl Morey, who now happens to be in Philadelphia leading the current 76ers with the same philosophy — optionality.

That’s just the base of a cocktail for the Eagles' blockbuster deal that also included positional valuation and the politics Howie Roseman faces as he attempts to rebuild the team.

The mechanics of the trade are this: the Eagles moved down to No. 12 in the first round while also acquiring a fourth-round pick (No. 123 overall), and a 2022 first-round pick from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for the sixth overall selection and a 2021 fifth-round pick (No. 156 overall). 

What it means is the more difficult part to decipher.

The goal is rather obvious, though. With three potential 2022 first-round picks (as long as Carson Wentz carries his own water in Indianapolis) and flush with salary-cap space in the wake of gulping down $33.8 million of bitter-tasting medicine this spring in the Wentz divorce coupled with no pandemic shortfall, the Eagles should be players again and in a position to do anything they desire when the calendar is fast-forwarded 12 months.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Eagles needing a politician to deal with owner Jeffrey Lurie’s increased meddling in reference to new head coach Nick Sirianni.

Turns out, Roseman is aware of the need to steer Lurie in the proper direction to get this franchise back on track.

So what the embattled GM did was pay deference to the boss’ less-than-savvy desires while also creating numerous failsafes to pivot if need be.

From speaking with sources from around the league, it seems that quarterback Zach Wilson (understanding Trevor Lawrence is not in play for anyone other than Jacksonville) was the one player who Roseman and his right-hand man in personnel, Andy Weidl, would have banged the table for, but there was no longer an avenue to even dream about getting the former BYU star.

There was at least some hope Joe Douglas would survey things up in North Jersey and decide that Adam Gase was the reason for Sam Darnold’s struggles with the New York Jets and perhaps Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who may believe is the second-best actual prospect in the draft, might be the prudent decision.

Roseman is certainly aware of what Douglas is thinking, and even if it is that unlikely scenario of Sewell, San Francisco’s move up to No. 3 effectively put a firewall between the Eagles and Wilson.

For those demanding LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase land in Philly or Archbishop Wood product Kyle Pitts returning home from Florida, you haven’t paid attention to the modern Eagles.

The foundational DNA of the current regime can be traced back to Andy Reid in 1999.

Over the years Reid’s initial head-coaching interview with Lurie, Joe Banner and company has been paraphrased with the certain future Hall of Fame coach impressing that he would need two offensive tackles, a quarterback, two pass rushers, two corners, and he would figure the rest out.

Since that time, the Eagles have only had four top-10 selections, all of that at either quarterback (Donovan McNabb in 1999 and Carson Wentz in 2016), the defensive line (Corey Simon in 2000), or the offensive line (Lane Johnson in 2013). The caveat to Johnson was Chip Kelly, who would have preferred disaster-in-waiting Dion Jordan — but that’s still an edge rusher.

Take it a step further from that and look at the history of the top half of the first round and you get DE Jerome McDougle at No. 15 in 2003, OL Shaun Andrews at No. 16 in 2004, DT Brodrick Bunkley at No. 14 in 2006, DE Brandon Graham at No. 13 in 2010, DT Fletcher Cox at No. 12 in 2012, and DE Derek Barnett at No. 14 in 2017.

That’s a pattern over what is not an insignificant sample size. Even at 12 you can start with the offensive line, defensive line, and maybe throw in the cornerbacks.

You can make a strong argument that it should always be about the player, and a difference-maker at less-valued positions should be considered at any spot on the draft, but the Eagles’ DNA has proven to be more successful than most over those 20-plus seasons.

That brings up to the end-game here — that aforementioned optionality.

Roseman has now acquiesced to Lurie by “building around” an unproven second-year quarterback in Jalen Hurts, who will be given the opportunity to sink or swim in 2021.

For those concerned that you can’t evaluate a QB without the proper weapons — as if a rookie like Chase or Pitts is the only way to get a solid assessment of Hurts — that’s best left to the mindless rants on social media or dialing 610...

The Eagles will have a firm grasp on what Hurts is after the 2021 season no matter what curve the grade needs to be based on.

The irony here is that if Roseman just threw up his hands and said ‘fine, let’s build around Jalen Hurts and keep our fingers crossed,' he’d be diverting from his "hope is not a strategy" directive and showing the very incompetence most Eagles fans have forever attached to his reputation.

The smart fans rest easier tonight knowing by 2022 multiple levers can be pulled — significant additions in both the draft and in free agency to build up around a burgeoning Hurts or the draft capital to move up as high as need be to next year’s Wilson.

There will also be the ammunition to put together a trade for the organization’s white whale, Russell Wilson, if he’s still unhappy, perhaps make a run at an allegation-free Deshaun Watson if things shake out right for him on the personal-conduct front or take a stab at the next proven but disgruntled star QB, something that seems to pop up more and more these days.

Somewhere the popular GM in town is admiring what the unpopular one just did.

Enjoy your optionality Eagles fans.


John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey, and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen.

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