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January 24, 2017

The Eric Rowe trade: A Philadelphia travesty!

In case anyone missed the Philadelphia Eagles' 2016 season, their cornerbacks stunk. We could go into deeper analysis of how they stunk and why they stunk, but because it's nearly unanimously accepted that they stunk, let's just acknowledge they stunk and move forward. Good? Good.

Prior to the start of the 2016 season, the Eagles employed a big, 6'1, 205 pound corner who ran a 4.45 at the Combine and had outstanding physical measurables in Eric Rowe. In his rookie season in 2015, Rowe had good moments and bad, but certainly showed promise as a starting corner in the NFL, particularly in a win against the New England Patriots, which was Rowe's first ever start. After watching the tape of that game, by my count, Tom Brady targeted Rowe 13 times. He was 4 of 13 for 37 yards, 0 TDs, and an almost interception. That would be a passer rating of 40.2. 

It certainly made sense why the Pats would have an interest in Rowe after that game, and a week before the start of the 2016 season, they offered the Eagles a fourth-round pick (that can become a third-round pick) for Rowe, which the Eagles accepted.

Fast forward through the 2016 season, (which, as noted above, was a season in which the Eagles' corners stunk) to a Howie Roseman press conference, where Roseman oddly stated that the reason the Eagles traded Rowe was because they did not intend to re-sign him to a second contract, when they would not even be eligible to do so until after the 2018 season. 

A few weeks after that unsatisfying statement, Rowe was still playing in the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the fourth quarter of that game, facing a 33-9 deficit, Ben Roethlisberger threw a ball up for grabs down the field, nowhere near his receiver, which Rowe camped under, called for a fair catch, danced the Charleston, and then came up with the easy interception.

Due to everything mentioned above, many Eagles observers reacted similarly to this:

My advice: Chill out.

To begin, it would seem that many observers are forgetting that Rowe regressed from 2015 to 2016. At the start of OTAs last year, the Eagles had Rowe near the top of the depth chart. He was a quasi-starter, playing on the outside when the Eagles were in their nickel set. 

However, after a downright bad showing in OTAs, minicamps, training camp, and the preseason, Rowe went from second or third on the depth chart at corner to sixth, as Howie Roseman explained while taking a second crack on 94.1 WIP at an explanation on the Rowe trade.

"It’s the first week of the season and we get this offer from the Patriots," Roseman explained. "And we’re not sitting there, thinking, ‘We’re getting over on Bill Belichick,’ maybe the best evaluator of defensive backs in the history of the NFL. What we were thinking about was where he was on our depth chart. At that time the starting three guys were Nolan, Leodis, Ron Brooks; Jalen Mills at that point in camp had beat him out, so he was the fourth guy. And then when we spoke with our coaches they said that Malcolm will be the next guy in the slot.

"So for where we were and for what his role was at the time, we thought it was pretty good value. For them to give up that kind of pick – a fourth that can become a third – we knew they had a role for him. We knew that there was going to be an opportunity. And we gotta do what we think is best for us."

From May until the start of September, Rowe went from playing with the first team offense, to second team, to playing in the fourth quarter against third- and fourth-team offenses in preseason games. Speaking after the Eagles final preseason game against the New York Jets, Rowe himself was unsure if he would even make the team.

“I can’t say that because it’s not in my control," he said. "All I can do is my thing in the game like I did today. I can’t really say yes or no.”

On the final play of that preseason game, Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw an off-target Hail Mary pass, which was caught by Rowe about three yards out the back of the end zone, mercifully ending a game that was sloppy from start to finish.

Rowe kept the ball as a souvenir. He kept a ball he didn't even intercept on the final play of the fourth preseason game against guys who are now playing in the arena league or the CFL. That was an appropriate cap to his 2016 offseason.

So ... Should the Eagles have kept Rowe? 

There are two ways to answer that.

1) From the perspective of the coaching staff: Yeah, maybe. Even with his struggles during training camp and the preseason, it was clear that Rowe had more natural ability than any of the corners on the team. However, confidence and competitiveness, it would seem, are huge selling points for Schwartz, while height-weight-speed trumped all else in the former regime under Chip Kelly and Ed Marynowitz. Rowe possessed the latter, but not the former. That's one of the unfortunate realities of regime changes. A player one that one regime used a valuable resource one year might be valued completely differently by another regime.

There's certainly an argument to be made that having rigid preferences for players and not being able to make the best use of all different kinds is a coaching flaw.

2) From the front office perspective: Nope. The defensive coordinator did not value Rowe even a little. Had Roseman turned down the Patriots' offer, Rowe likely would have ridden the bench all season, obliterating his trade value. Unless you want Howie Roseman telling the coaching staff who they have to play like he's Brad Pitt in Moneyball, getting a fourth- or third-round pick was reasonably good value for a player the coaching staff didn't want.

Rowe has good strengths, but significant weaknesses. If there's a team that can maximize his strengths and help to limit exposure to his weaknesses, it's the Patriots. But we're not talking about a Darrelle Revis-like player here. 

Rowe played 42 percent of the Patriots' snaps in 2016. If he plays 50 percent of their snaps in 2017, the Eagles will receive a third-round pick instead of a fourth-round pick from the Pats. If not, the Eagles will have obtained a fourth-round pick for a player they didn't want from a team who doesn't value him enough to keep him on the field for even half the game.

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