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October 20, 2021

Eagles trade deadline candidates, if they're 'sellers'

Eagles NFL
Miles_Sanders_5_Eagles_49ers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles running back Miles Sanders.

The Philadelphia Eagles are just six games into the 2021 NFL season, and we're already talking about them as "sellers?" 

Yep. They're three games back in the NFC East behind the Dallas Cowboys, who also have a head-to-head win in the bank against the Birds, and they're 13th in the NFC in terms of playoff positioning, even if they're technically only one game back from the final wildcard spot.

Plus, you know, they have already traded Zach Ertz to the Arizona Cardinals. So who could be next? The following are my top three Eagles trade deadline candidates, in order of likelihood.

1) CB Steve Nelson

After signing a three-year, $25.5 million deal with the Steelers in 2019, Nelson was released by Pittsburgh a week after free agency began this offseason. He didn't find any offers that he felt were suitable, so he sat on the open market until July, eventually signing with the Eagles on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Nelson made sense to the Eagles as a Band-Aid who could fill a glaring hole in the defense. The Eagles made sense to Nelson because it was a place that he could start in the hopes of cashing in again in 2022 free agency. 

Nelson has been a solid starter for the Eagles through the first six games, making 23 tackles, with 4 pass breakups and an INT. However, he turns 29 in January, and may not be in a rebuilding team's long-term plans. He would certainly be more useful to a Super Bowl contender.

One of the themes of Eagles opponents so far this season is that they have been hurt badly by injuries at cornerback.

  1. The Buccaneers were missing two starters in Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting, so they signed Richard Sherman off the street, and watched as he promptly got hurt.
  2. The Panthers lost first-round pick Jaycee Horn, and have tried several approaches to replacing him, such as signing Rashaan Melvin, and making a pair of trades for C.J. Henderson and Stephon Gilmore.
  3. The Niners lost Jason Verrett for the season, and were missing Emmanuel Moseley. They signed Josh Norman off the street and inserted him into the starting lineup. 

Around the NFL, it's been more of the same. Sidney Jones has started three games for Seattle this season. Rasul Douglas played 52 snaps for Chicago on Sunday. The Raiders are reportedly signing Desmond Trufant off the street this week. The Titans placed Kristian Fulton on IR, and they lost rookie first-round pick Caleb Farley for the season. They'll no doubt be adding a cornerback this week as well.

I could go on, but the point here is that there are no shortage of teams that badly need cornerback help. Nelson has played in seven career playoff games, starting five. He is substantially better than anyone that CB-needy teams are going to find off the street, on the waiver wire, or off of practice squads around the league. Oh, and his 2021 salary is only $990K, $350K of which the Eagles already paid.

Projected value: Because he's a solid starter who costs virtually nothing, and because the Eagles would take a dead money hit of $1,510,000 to trade him, the asking price might bump up a smidge. I believe a 4th round pick from a contender would be a reasonable asking price.

2) LT Andre Dillard

After a disastrous training camp, Dillard was forced to start four games at LT for the Eagles due to injuries and a Lane Johnson personal matter. He exceeded expectations, and perhaps showed that he can be a starting NFL LT. 

With the Eagles, there isn't really a good fit for Dillard. When Johnson was absent with his personal matter, Mailata moved from LT to RT, and performed reasonably well enough, but ultimately, his best usage is at LT, where he has been built from the ground up by Jeff Stoutland. With Mailata having signed a four-year deal worth $64 million just after the start of the season, the Eagles signaled that he was the LT of the present and future.

Realistically, Johnson will be on the Eagles' roster through the 2022 season, which lines up with the end of Dillard's base rookie contract. If Mailata and Johnson are the starters at LT and RT, Dillard's only value is as a backup LT, since he is not a fit at guard, and is (we'll put it kindly) uncomfortable at RT.

If Dillard finishes the 2021 season with the Eagles, the team will have to decide during the 2022 offseason whether or not to exercise his fifth-year option for 2023. projects that Dillard's fifth-year option would cost $11,640,000, which would be fully guaranteed. Even with Dillard's improvement this season, there should be absolutely no justification whatsoever for the team guarantee him that kind of money.

And so, if the Eagles can get something decent for Dillard now, they should. A few contenders (or wannabe contenders) with varying needs at LT: 

  1. The Ravens announced on Tuesday that All-Pro LT Ronnie Stanley is done for the season. 
  2. On Monday night, you may have seen Titans Pro Bowl Taylor Lewan get carted off. 
  3. The Saints' Terron Armstead is on IR with an elbow injury.
  4. The Browns will be without both of their starting offensive tackles this week.
  5. Eric Fisher has not yet panned out for the Colts.
  6. The Panthers' Cameron Erving is a replacement-level starting LT, and Dillard could be more of a long-term fit.

Projected value: The Eagles shouldn't just trade Dillard for peanuts at this point, and he has shown some value. I think the asking price should be around a 3rd round pick, maybe landing on a 4th.

3) RB Miles Sanders

Sanders' game log this season:

Opponent Rushes Yards YPC TD 
 Falcons15 74 4.9 
 49ers13 55 4.2 
 Cowboys27 13.5 
 Chiefs13 1.9 
 Panthers11 45 4.1 
 Buccaneers56 6.2 
 TOTAL57 270 4.7 

That would be 9.5 carries per game. If the Eagles aren't going to use him, there are plenty of other contenders (or wannabe contenders) around the league that could use help at running back, notably the Rams, Ravens, Chiefs, 49ers, Seahawks, and Cardinals, among others.

If you'll recall, one of the appealing aspects of the Jay Ajayi trade that the Eagles made with the Dolphins during the 2017 season was that Ajayi was under contract for another full season in 2018. Similarly, Sanders has another full season under his rookie contract in 2022.

If the team doesn't intend on paying Sanders large sums of money for a second contract (as bountiful evidence around the league says they shouldn't), then the time to maximize the return on Sanders is right now.

Projected value: 3rd round pick.

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