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November 02, 2016

Eagles were right to be quiet at trade deadline

Eagles NFL
110216AlshonJeffery Matt Rourke/AP

The Alshon Jeffery hype was a figment of someone's imagination.

The San Francisco 49ers' Torrey Smith and the Chicago Bears' Alshon Jeffery will join the "Eagles fans' wish we had 'em wide receiver ring of honor," joining such notables as Plaxico Burress, Eric Moulds, Kevin Johnson, and Anquan Boldin.

After a couple weeks of hype and hoopla, the 4:00 p.m. trade deadline on Tuesday passed by without the Birds making a deal for a wide receiver. Instead, for the rest of 2016, they will roll with a wide receiving corps that includes Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Josh Huff, who rank 44th, 122nd, 135th, and 246th, respectively, in receiving yards per game.

The Eagles' troubles at wide receiver are both well-documented and easily observable to the most casual fan. A quick summary:

  1. Green-Beckham has dropped 12.9 percent of his targets, which is the highest in the NFL among receivers with at least 10 receptions. 
  2. Matthews has dropped 9.1 percent of his, which is the fifth-most using that same criterion. 
  3. It's difficult to figure out any one thing that Agholor does well.
  4. Huff rarely catches anything past the line of scrimmage and was just arrested for DUI, as well as possession of marijuana and a firearm loaded with hollow-point bullets.
  5. Bryce Treggs has been inactive for all seven games.

As a team, the Eagles' drop 6.6 percent of all passes, which is the highest in the NFL, and actually feels like a very generous figure. The Eagles' receivers have hindered the offense's effectiveness through the first seven games both with drops and the absence of a player who opposing defenses have to respect as a deep threat.

In essence, quarterback Carson Wentz and head coach Doug Pederson are being asked to make chicken salad out of, well, you know.

For all the above reasons, it certainly made sense for the Eagles to try to find a wide receiver at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, doing so would not have been wise. Let's take a quick look at the two rumored receivers who were linked to the Eagles.

Alshon Jeffery, Bears

There was no validity whatsoever that "Alshon Jeffery to the Eagles" was ever in any way a viable possibility, despite the following report:

To begin, the idea that the Bears would have accepted a "mid-round pick" as compensation for their best player, who is only 26 years of age and still ascending seems ludicrous.

Beyond that, this past offseason, the Bears slapped the franchise tag on Jeffery, which cost Chicago $14,599,000 this season to retain him. According to page 46 of the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, the deadline for teams to sign franchise-tagged players to a multi-year contract was July 15.

Any Club designating a Franchise Player shall have until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on July 15 of the League Year (or, if July 15 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the first Monday thereafter) for which the designation takes effect to sign the player to a multiyear contract or extension. After that date, the player may sign only a one-year Player Contract with his Prior Club for that season, and such Player Contract may not be extended until after the Club’s last regular season game of that League Year.

In other words, the Eagles would be unable to sign Jeffery to a multi-year deal until after the last regular season game, should they trade for him. When this fact was brought to Allbright's attention, he countered with this:

That's not at all how business in the NFL (or anywhere else for that matter) works. In a fantasy world where Jeffery went to the Eagles as a half-year rental, let's look at two potential outcomes:

  1. Jeffery plays well and the Eagles finally get quality production from their wide receiver. Great! Except now he's going to cash in on free agency, where over half the league has more the $30 million under the salary cap in 2017, according to The Eagles would run the heavy risk of losing him for nothing.
  2. Jeffery plays poorly or tears an ACL or something, and now the Eagles have just wasted a high pick on an under-performing or injured player.

But the Eagles and Jeffery are going to work out a deal "in principle" now before seeing how it all plays out? Please.

But wait, the Eagles could always tag Jeffery themselves if need be.

Yes, in theory, they could, except that would cost them 120% of his previous year's salary, or $17,518,800. That would make Jeffery the highest paid receiver in the NFL by a margin of over $2.5 million, and you wouldn't even control his rights beyond 2017.

Torrey Smith, 49ers

Torrey Smith to the Eagles made significantly more sense. Smith is similar to the profile of wide receiver the Eagles brought in this past offseason, when they tried unsuccessfully to add a blazer who could take the top off a defense. They signed speedy receivers Chris Givens and T.J. Graham, who both ran a 4.41 40 at the 2012 Combine. Both Givens and Graham could not make the 53-man roster.

Smith fits the profile of a deep threat. He ran a 4.41 at the 2011 NFL Combine and has a 17.2 yards per catch average over his career. However, unlike Givens and Graham, Smith has actual NFL production, having amassed 4,453 career receiving yards and 36 career TDs.

As noted above, the Eagles don't currently have a deep threat opposing defenses have to respect. Smith could have been a good fit for the Eagles' offense, giving Carson Wentz a legit vertical option in the passing game, while also opening things up underneath for players like Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, and Darren Sproles.

However, it appeared that the cost to acquire him was simply too high. According to Ed Werder of ESPN (appearing on TV), the 49ers were looking for a third-round pick in return for Smith:

In my experience covering football, reported trade compensation before a deal is announced is rarely spot on. However, using the above-reported compensation, even a fifth-round pick would have been too much, in my opinion.

In 23 games with the 49ers, Smith is averaging 37.5 receiving yards per game. In 2017, Smith will count for $9,600,000 against the Niners' cap, $4,800,000 of which they can save if they release or trade him. Should Smith's production on the field remain in the same ballpark as what he has produced the last two years in San Francisco, it is highly unlikely they would keep him on their books at $9,600,000, especially when he showed a desire to be somewhere else.

If during the 2017 offseason the Niners choose to release Smith, the Eagles would have to give up nothing in the way of draft pick compensation to acquire him, and they could theoretically work out a deal with Smith that would be south of the $8,000,000 he would have counted against the Eagles' cap every year through the 2019 season had they traded for him.


This was a case of short-term view vs. long-term view. Yes, Jeffery or Smith would have helped the Eagles in the short-term, however, consider the following:

  1. The Eagles traded starting quarterback Sam Bradford for a future draft pick and inserted rookie quarterback Carson Wentz into the starting lineup.
  2. They are starting rookie fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai at RT instead of an obviously better short-term scenario in which they could move an experienced, versatile Allen Barbre over to RT and insert in an experienced, versatile Stefen Wisniewski in at LG.
  3. They traded CB Eric Rowe to the Patriots for a draft pick, and are giving significant snaps to rookie seventh-round pick Jalen Mills.

This is a team that is building for the future, which makes sense. Above all, they have the quarterback in place, and it appears that he can be the face of the franchise for the next decade-plus. The Eagles will have far more options at their disposal during the offseason to improve the wide receiver position, and they can do it with far better value at that time than they could have at the trade deadline.

Yes, it's going to frustrate Eagles fans who are almost certain to be subjected to poor wide receiver play the rest of the season. You've done it for a decade. What's another nine games?

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