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May 08, 2021

What they're saying: Trade up for DeVonta Smith hurt Eagles' chances of landing Rodgers, Wilson or Watson

Plus, Reich speaks on Wentz-Hurts dynamic and a way-too-early look at a 2022 mock draft

Eagles NFL
120320CarsonWentzAaronRodgers Green Bay Press-Gazette/USA TODAY Sports

Carson Wentz was already traded this offseason. Will Aaron Rodgers be next?

We'll be the first to admit that the headline might be a tough one to wrap your head around, especially since the Eagles' decision to leap-frog the Giants in the first round of the draft to land DeVonta Smith has been widely praised around the league, with some going so far as to say the Birds got the best player in the class not named Trevor Lawrence (more on that in a minute). 

It also might be a bit much considering none of those three quarterbacks — despite each reportedly expressing various degrees of desire to be moved — are currently available. At least that's what their teams will say publicly. Furthermore, with at least two of those quarterbacks, Rodgers and Wilson, their career timelines likely don't mesh with the current state of the Eagles, who seem at least a couple years away from fielding a contending team. And the third, Watson, is currently mired in off-the-field issues that could land him on the commissioner's exempt list or at the very least earn him a suspension, making the prospect of trading multiple first-round picks quite risky. 

But once you get past that, there's actually some merit to the idea that the Eagles might have found themselves deciding between a trade up to guarantee they land Smith and a future trade for one of those top-tier QBs. How? We'll get into that and much more in today's edition of What They're Saying... 

A missed opportunity?

Mike Sando | The Athletic

Over at The Athletic, Mike Sando spoke to NFL execs from around the league to try to get a better understanding of how the draft played out, who made out the best, and, basically, put together an insider's version of What They're Saying. And this point about the Eagles missing out on a chance to get a fourth* first-round pick in 2021 is a pretty good one, and one that could find itself coming up again in the future if the Eagles do indeed make a play for one of the quarterbacks mentioned above.

*Assuming Carson Wentz plays 70% of the snaps for the Colts and that second-rounder converts.

In an alternate universe, the Eagles would have resisted trading up two spots to select DeVonta Smith, who some see as the best receiver in this draft. Philly instead would have traded the 12th pick to Chicago for the Bears’ 2022 first-rounder, plus a couple mid-round picks. The Eagles in this alternate universe would enter next offseason with their own first-round selection, one from Chicago, another acquired from Miami for moving back from six to 12 and one from Indy, contingent on Carson Wentz meeting playing time thresholds.

“They would have had four first-round picks next year and could have gotten Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson,” an exec said. “I mean, I can’t think of a team that has ever had four first-round picks in one year. They literally would be in the driver’s seat to get the first overall pick if a quarterback is there or get one of these veterans who will be available next year. Who could offer something better than four ones?”

There were so many interesting alternative scenarios. Had Philly stayed at six, the team could have selected quarterback Justin Fields, who went 11th to Chicago. The team also could have selected another Alabama receiver, Jaylen Waddle, who wound up going to Miami in Philly’s original sixth slot. The top two corners (Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain II) were also available at six, as was the top offensive tackle in Penei Sewell.  [theathletic.com]

Beyond that, having an extra first-round pick is never a bad thing. But there's also a world in which the Eagles are able to get one of those QBs (or trade up to No. 1) and only use three of those first-rounders to do so. That would allow them to massively accelerate the current rebuild. 

All of that being said, landing one of those QBs is a long shot to begin with, and you know what they say about a bird in the hand... 

“I thought DeVonta Smith was better than Jaylen Waddle,” an exec said. “I thought he was the best player in the draft next to Trevor Lawrence.”  [theathletic.com]

At least it seems like the Eagles landed a winner in Smith. 

Hurts didn't hurt Wentz?

Frank Reich | The Rich Eisen Show (via ProFootballTalk)

Speaking of Eagles' first-round picks and franchise quarterbacks being traded, let's check in with old friends Frank Reich and Carson Wentz, who have been reunited in Indy in an offseason trade that netted the Eagles one of those potential first-round picks in 2022 we just mentioned. 

The Eagles surprised everyone last spring when they drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round. Even more surprising was the precipitous drop that followed from Wentz. Did Hurts arrival in Philly cause Wentz to have his worst season as a pro and the worst of any starting QB in 2020? Not according to Reich, who coached Wentz to his most successful season in the NFL before being hired away by the Colts. Here's more from his recent appearance on The Rich Eisen Show...

“I don’t think that’s the case. That’s how I feel about it. That’s my opinion, that I don’t think the drafting of another player sent Carson in a tailspin,” Reich said. “I think it’s complicated. I think it was a lot of different dynamics. When you win or lose in this league, everybody should share in the success and everybody should share in the blame. It usually doesn’t work that way. The quarterback, head coach, whoever, GMs tend to be the focal point. So Carson took his share of being the focal point of the blame, and that’s part of the process of being a quarterback in this league. And you’ve got to be a big boy and you’ve got to be able to take it.

“Now is an opportunity to hit the reset button. It’s an opportunity for the Eagles to [hit] the reset button. And … there’s nothing I want more than to see the Eagles succeed and this be a win-win for both teams — that Jalen Hurts is successful, it’s all good. I love great quarterback play, but I’m glad we got our guy.”  [profootballtalk.nbcsports.com]

A top-10 draft class

Gennaro Filice & Dan Parr | NFL.com

For the most part, we just looked at grades on the Eagles draft picks, but where does their haul rank among all 32 NFL teams? Luckily, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr of NFL.com recently ranked each team's draft class, and the Eagles didn't do too poorly. 

8. Philadelphia Eagles

FILICE: The Eagles ultimately landed one of the top three receivers in the class, but what a long, strange trip it was. The team initially held the No. 6 overall pick, prime position to atone for last year's lamentable Jalen Reagor-over-Justin Jefferson decision by scooping up Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle or Smith. But then the Eagles moved down to No. 12 in the back end of Miami's late-March trade two-step, throwing many Philly fans into a tizzy by seemingly exiting the range to nab one of this draft's elite talents. Then the draft gods smiled upon the City of Brotherly Love. When the top two cornerbacks exited stage right before Dallas' No. 10 pick, the Cowboys immediately looked to trade down with somebody, anybody -- even a hated divisional rival. The Eagles, clearly surmising that the Giants were planning to select Smith at No. 11, leaped at the opportunity to leapfrog Big Blue and take the reigning Heisman Trophy winner for themselves. Strange bedfellows teaming up to stab a common NFC East foe in the front? Apparently the draft's a delicious, prime-time soap opera! That wasn't the only spicy selection by the Eagles, either. In Round 2, Philly grabbed some much-needed O-line help with Dickerson, who could've been the first interior offensive lineman off the board if he hadn't torn his ACL in last December's SEC title game. The injury history's lengthy and concerning, but Dickerson's mix of athleticism and joyful destruction is the kind of stuff that makes an O-line coach fan his collar. And four straight middle-round selections caught my eye as potential value picks: Williams, McPhearson, Gainwell and Tuipulotu.  [nfl.com]

Of course, the real rankings will come in 2024 when we've had three seasons to see these players develop. 

What's the worst that could happen?

Dave Zangaro | NBC Sports Philadelphia

We mentioned a few times already that the Eagles are rebuilding. But if 2020 was any indication, they'll be playing in a weak NFC East. How good can the Eagles be? How bad can they be? And would being really bad be the worst thing for Nick Sirianni and Co. in Year 1?

In his recent Eagles mailbag, Dave Zangaro was asked to give his best- and worst-case scenarios for the Eagles season. And while I'm not sure that making the playoffs would be best for a rebuilding team (mainly if things play out like last year and 8-8 is enough to win the NFC East), I couldn't agree more with his second one here... 

Best case: Jalen Hurts improves greatly and proves himself to be a true franchise quarterback. The Eagles win the division and get into the playoffs, the team finally stays healthy, DeVonta Smith is a stud and the new coaching staff begins to build a championship program. And in Indy, Carson Wentz plays 75% of the Colts’ snaps but their team has a mediocre record and misses the playoffs. That means the Eagles would get a nice first-round pick from that trade.

But really, the key to this season is Hurts. Because if he proves that he’s a franchise quarterback, then the Eagles have a nice head start in building their team. Not only do they have their QB under contract for a low price for the next two seasons but they would also have 10 draft picks, including three first-rounders, and a bunch of cap space to build a championship team around him.

Worst case: This might seem weird, but I actually don’t think the worst case long-term would be a two or three-win team. Honestly, the worst-case would be that Hurts is just OK or slightly above average. Any season where the Eagles end it still not sure if he can be the franchise quarterback isn’t ideal. Because then the Eagles would be in a situation where they have to decide if they give up on a good quarterback and try to land one they hope can be elite. Either way, you’d think the Eagles will want to know. Aside from Hurts, the other things that could go wrong: Sirianni looks overmatched, injuries still pile up, Smith’s size ends up being a problem, Wentz gets hurt before hitting 70% of their snaps and the Colts are still great without him.  [nbcsports.com]

Looking (way) ahead... 

Todd McShay | ESPN+

And finally, let's look beyond next season and ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft. That's right — the 2021 draft is barely in the rearview, but there's already a slew of mocks out for 2022. Brandon Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation has a nice roundup of several, but one in particular stood out to me: Todd McShay's. Why? Well, for starters he has them taking a QB with the first (of three) first-round pick. But he also has them taking a safety from my alma mater with one of their other two picks... and the Eagles rarely take Miami players. 

7. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

This is another spot where the pick could go a lot of different directions based on this season. If Jalen Hurts proves he’s the guy, then don’t expect the Eagles to look QB. If he provides doubt, then Howell would be an excellent pick. Howell followed up his 38-TD 2019 season — an FBS record for true freshmen — with 30 more in 2020, and he improved his completion percentage and yards per attempt along the way.

17. Isaac Taylor-Stuart, CB, USC

Cornerback continues to be an issue for the Eagles, as they lack depth behind Darius Slay, especially with Avonte Maddox on an expiring contract this season. Philadelphia used a Day 3 pick on Zech McPhearson but has not invested a first-round pick in the position since drafting Lito Sheppard in 2002. Taylor-Stuart has 6-foot-2 size and speed, and I think he will have a big year in 2021. He has a lot of talent.

20. Bubba Bolden, S, Miami

This pick isn’t Philadelphia’s just yet, but since we are projecting the Colts to make the playoffs, we’ll say Carson Wentz plays 70% of the snaps this season and the Colts’ second-rounder involved in the offseason trade becomes this first-round pick. After getting a cornerback a few spots earlier, the Eagles can add a big, experienced safety here. Both starters — Anthony Harris and Rodney McLeod — could come off the books next spring. Bolden transferred to Miami from USC two years ago, and he had a big 2020 season, making 74 tackles and tying for second in the nation with four forced fumbles.  [espn.com]


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