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October 16, 2020

What they're saying: Will Eagles trade Ertz? Should Fulgham remain a starter? Will Arcega-Whiteside get cut?

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Zach_Ertz_hug_Eagles_Rams_Kate_Frese_092020.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Zach Ertz hugs a coach before the Philadelphia Eagles game against the LA Rams.

The Eagles have a big game on Sunday against a reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson as they look to avoid dropping to 1-4-1 on the season and possibly falling further behind Dallas in the race to win the NFC LEast. 

But for some reason, all the talk seems to be about off-the-field issues, whether its the upcoming NFL trade deadline, questionable roster moves or decisions that will need to be made in coming weeks assuming some of the team's injured players can return to action. 

According to TheLines.com, the Birds are currently a 7.5-point consensus underdog for Sunday's home matchup against the Ravens at the time of this writing, but that could change now that the final injury report is out — Philly will be without several starters on both sides of the ball, while Baltimore remains fairly healthy overall. It's part (just part) of the reason so many NFL writers are picking against the Eagles this week. 

But before the week is out, we figured it was as good a time as any to take a look at what they're saying about the Birds, with an emphasis on the trade deadline, Howie Roseman's questionable roster management and what happens when (if?) guys like DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are healthy enough to play. Let's do this... 

Buyers or sellers?

Zach Berman | The Athletic

One of the big names that keeps popping up in Eagles trade rumors is tight end Zach Ertz, who has publicly stated that he wants to finish his career in Philadelphia but may not get the chance if the Birds decide to deal him away at the deadline, whether that's in an effort to save some money, get younger, acquire picks or some combination of the three. 

Over at The Athletic, they asked a beat writer from NFL market to break down that team's needs, potential trade candidates and likelihood they make a move. Here's a look at what Philly writer Zach Berman thinks about the Birds with just a few short weeks left until the deadline... 

Philadelphia Eagles

Needs: Linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver. Their biggest need is linebacker. But the Eagles have neglected to make a notable investment in the position — they’re paying their long snapper more than any of their linebackers — so it’s hard to see them surrendering a resource of value. But if the decision-makers form the type of evaluation behind closed doors that the fans have made in public forums, then the Eagles should be looking for an upgrade.

Keep an eye on: If the Eagles’ season craters, watch out for tight end Zach Ertz as a high-profile player who could be on the move. Ertz, 29, is one of the best players in franchise history and wants a new contract to keep him with the team into his 30s. The two sides aren’t close to a deal and Ertz was publicly honest with his frustration before the season opener. His production has waned this year, a puzzling development considering his consistency in recent seasons. With Dallas Goedert eligible for a contract extension this offseason, the Eagles might need to choose which tight end to pay. It makes sense to try to make it work with both. But if the Eagles keep losing before the deadline, would they shop the player who caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in their only Super Bowl victory?

Likelihood the Eagles make a move: 50-50. It’s hard to consider a team with a 1-3-1 record to be buyers, although the wide-open NFC East is keeping the Eagles in contention. Still, it would make little sense to trade a draft pick or absorb an expensive contract just to improve their chances of winning. Any acquisition would need to be more than a rental. A better argument could be made that they should become sellers and trade a player or players not in their 2021 plans — especially if they lose their next two games.  [theathletic.com]

A farewell to Ertz?

Bill Barnwell | ESPN

Interestingly enough, over at ESPN, Bill Barnwell wrote about 13 possible trades around the NFL, and not only were the Eagles included, but they were the first team listed. Furthermore, Barnwell seems to be in agreement that the Eagles could desperately use a linebacker while also could look to dump Ertz's salary and opt to extend currently-injured Dallas Goedert to be their tight end of the future. 

This might not be the deal some fans were hoping to, but the Eagles do pick up a decent pick in the deal — and even though Haason Reddick has fallen out of favor in Arizona, he can't possibly be any worse than Nate Gerry, right? 

Still, there's something to be said for the Eagles just giving up on Gerry and throwing their young linebackers out there to see what they have. In a season where winning the division could be pretty meaningless — with no one in the NFC East looking like they'll challenge for anything other than a participation trophy — why not use these games to help develop your young players, emphasizing the importance of evaluation and allowing them to get actual game reps over the importance of winning. That's not tanking, that's called forward-thinking. 

Eagles trade Zach Ertz to Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals get: TE Zach Ertz, 2022 sixth-round pick
Philadelphia Eagles get: LB Haason Reddick, 2022 third-round pick

Let's start by resolving a difficult situation in Philadelphia. The Eagles and their star tight end appear to be heading toward a messy breakup. Ertz has publicly suggested the team doesn't seem interested in signing him to an extension. With the top of the tight end market finally moving after George Kittle and Travis Kelce signed extensions over the summer, Ertz might rightfully look at his $6.7 million base salary in 2020 and expect more. Ertz, who will turn 30 in November, has $8.3 million coming due in 2021, which is the final year of his deal. ...

So, let's try to make this work. The Cardinals would be taking a shot on Ertz over the next year before deciding whether they want to give him a contract extension, either after 2020 or 2021. He is expensive, and the Cards already have a lot invested at receiver, but they should be able to make the finances work while Murray remains a bargain. The sixth-rounder the Eagles are sending in 2022 could turn into a fifth-rounder if Ertz isn't on the Arizona roster in 2021.

The Eagles wouldn't be in line for a compensatory pick if they cut Ertz, so instead, they get a third-round pick in the 2022 draft. They also get Reddick, a former first-round pick who hasn't panned out and is only playing half of the defensive snaps because the Cardinals don't trust 2020 top-10 pick Isaiah Simmons. The Eagles are desperate for athletes at linebacker and might want to see if they can get more out of Reddick than the Cardinals have. Ertz is a beloved member of a Super Bowl-winning team, and trading him in the middle of a divisional race could backfire, but I'm not sure he is going to be in Philly much longer either way.  [espn.com]


MORE: McMullen: Who's to blame for your Eagles angst: Schwartz, Pederson or Roseman?


The Alshon error

Brandon Lee Gowton | Bleeding Green Nation

OK, now this isn't a great look for Howie Roseman and Co.

Alshon Jeffery will again be out against the Ravens — and may not be ready by next week given it's a short week — meaning the Eagles could have simply put him on the PUP list in the preseason rather than wasting a roster spot on him for the first month and a half of the season. 

It may seem like a small thing, given that the last man on the roster doesn't make that big of an impact, but when you consider that two of the players the Eagles let go — guys who could've filled the spot Jeffery shouldn't be taking up in the first place. 

All of this is to say that questions should be raised about the Eagles’ decision-making process here. Especially since not putting Jeffery on PUP looks like another case of roster mismanagement by Howie Roseman.

Had the Eagles placed Jeffery on PUP, they could’ve avoided losing young players who showed potential like Noah Togiai or Casey Toohill. Those players very well might end up being irrelevant. Or they might be the next Travis Fulgham. Even with the added roster flexibility due to COVID-19, having an extra roster spot with the team being so injured would’ve been ideal.

For the Eagles in this case, roster mismanagement has further begot roster mismanagement. Jeffery likely wouldn’t even be on the team right now if the Eagles didn’t unnecessarily guarantee his salary for 2020 back in September 2019. The team has reportedly tried to move on from him dating back to last year but no team has been willing to take on his albatross of a contract. And now they’ve only made the situation worse by needlessly burning a roster spot on a player who anonymously trashed Carson Wentz twice in the past two years.

Perhaps Jeffery will come back soon (Week 7 is a short week so it might not be until Week 8?) and be a valuable contributor to the offense. One shouldn’t hold their breath for that outcome but, hey, it’s possible. Even if that’s the case, though, the team is likely to move on from Jeffery after this year. And any playing time he gets could be coming at the expense of a younger receiver with more long-term potential.  [bleedinggreennation.com]

Fulgham should remain a starter

David Murphy | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Speaking of receivers possibly returning from injury, what happens to guys like Travis Fulgham when DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are healthy. 

Over at Inquirer.com, David Murphy has a message for all those who keep saying, "But wait until DeSean and Alshon are back." And that is this: Maybe the better option is already on the field. 

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on the Eagles' bad luck. But here we are, a month into the season, and there is still an audible chorus of voices salivating at the prospect of Jeffery and Jackson getting back out there. Who is the real fool? We’re running out of options.

Look, I get it. Desperation is a powerful source of optimism. For a third straight season, the Eagles have somehow managed to mire themselves with one of the NFL’s worst set of wide receivers. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’ve spent the money. They’ve spent the draft capital. They’ve added youth. They’ve added experience. They’ve added speed. Yet there was a day a couple of weeks ago where the Eagles couldn’t find more than one wide receiver to practice.

Given the circumstances, the hopes for Jeffery and Jackson are more than understandable. But there is also a real scenario in which they end up being counterproductive.

Last week, an Eagles wide receiver had a day at the office that the franchise had not seen in nearly a decade. In catching 10 balls for 152 yards, Travis Fulgham joined a list of 12 other wide receivers who have done at least that in a game over the last two seasons. The others: Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Will Fuller, Chris Godwin, Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Tyler Lockett, Michael Thomas, Robert Woods.

Before we pencil Jackson or Jeffery into his old spot, perhaps we should ask ourselves which of those 12 we’d think it wise to replace? Snicker if you want. I’ll acknowledge that one standout game does not put a twice-released former practice squad player in the same realm as the NFL’s elite. But Fulgham’s performance is not the sort of thing that just accidentally happens.  [inquirer.com]


MORE: A look at Eagles WRs Travis Fulgham, John Hightower and Jalen Reagor, with gifs and stuff


Will JJAW get released?

Reuben Frank | NBC Sports Philadelphia

So if Fulgham is going (or at least should) keep his spot, what does that mean for some of the other young wideouts currently on the roster. Specifically, 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

According to Reuben Frank, there's a chance his time here is coming to an end, but ultimately, the state of the current wide receiver corps might allow for him to stick around just a little bit longer. After all, you never know how long DeSean and Alshon are going to hold up when they return — and with the way this group of receivers gets injured, they might need him.

But the main reason they probably won’t cut him is because there are so many question marks with this current group of receivers.

Granted JJAW is one of them. One of the biggest.

But as promising as Fulgham looks, it’s just two games. As reliable as Ward has been, he’s a short-yardage slot. As fast as Hightower is, he’s a 5th-round rookie with 7 catches for 57 yards through five games. And it’s hard to be confident in Jackson and Jeffery staying healthy even if they do make it back onto the field.

So as disappointing as he’s been, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles being in a rush to jettison JJAW. The way things have gone around here, they just might need him back on the field in the near future.

Plus the last thing the Eagles need is to cut Arcega-Whiteside and have him sign somewhere else and instantly start catching passes and making plays.  [nbcsports.com]

A perfect scenario for Philly

Neil Paine | FiveThirtyEight

And, finally, a look at just how bad the NFC East is, courtesy of FiveThiryEight.com. They ran 50,000 simulations of the NFC and came up with four of the worst possible ways for the division to be won. Scenario No. 1 was the Cowboys winning with a 5-11 record, but the Eagles can do them one worse by winning it with a 4-11-1 record (they also had scenarios for both Washington and New York winning the division with 4-12 records).

Doomsday scenario No. 2: Philly wins at 4-11-1

Average outcomes in the 10 (out of 50,000) simulations in which the Philadelphia Eagles win the NFC East with a 4-11-1 record

SIMULATED SEASONS

TEAMCURRENT
WINS
REMAININGTOTAL
PHI1.53.04.5
DAL2.01.83.8
WFT1.02.83.8
NYG0.03.73.7

*Ties are counted as half-wins.

Because of their tie in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Eagles could do the Cowboys one better — winning the division with a lowly 4-11-1 record. As in Dallas’s scenario, they would need to go 3-8 down the stretch; they would also need the Giants to go on a “tear” and finish around 4-7 in their remaining games, while the Cowboys would need to win about two of their last 11. The odds of this happening are lower simply because the Eagles with Carson Wentz are rated with an Elo of 1480, while the Cowboys with Dalton have an effective Elo of 1391 — making it less likely that Philadelphia would be quite so bad over the rest of the season (even if the Cowboys do play the league’s second-easiest remaining schedule in terms of opponents’ Elo ratings).  [fivethirtyeight.com]

Honestly, this might be the best-case scenario for the Birds, who would still keep a solid, top 10 draft pick while winning a hollow division title and getting to host a playoff game. It's really the best of both worlds — although watching them go 3-7 the rest of the season would be pretty painful. 

UPDATE: As Dylan kindly pointed out to me on Twitter, the Eagles would be disqualified from a high draft pick if they made the playoffs.

Duh, I'm an idiot. Teams that don't make the postseason will get picks 1-20 based on regular season record, meaning if the Eagles were to win the division at 4-11-1 and had one of the worst records in football, they would still be picking somewhere in the 20s, while a 10-6 team that missed the playoffs would be picking ahead of them. While I understand it, I'm not sure I agree with that rule. 

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