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What the Jordan Matthews - Ronald Darby trade means for the Eagles

Covering the big trade from all angles.

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NFL: Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles acquired cornerback Ronald Darby from the Buffalo Bills by sending Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick up north (story here). Here’s a deep dive on all the implications of this big deal.

Jordan Matthews is gone

In some ways, it’s a bummer to see JMatt go. He was a productive player with a fun personality who worked very hard and was well-liked in the Eagles locker room. He seemed to have a pretty tight relationship with Carson Wentz.

Speaking of Wentz, this trade may seem curious when you consider this offseason has been all about giving the young Eagles quarterback weapons to work with. In this case the Eagles removed a safety blanket for Wentz.

But it’s hard to blame the Eagles for feeling this trade was necessary. As I explained all along, Matthews was never going to be re-signed after this year. The Eagles have a number of key players set to be free agents next offseason. Due to limited cap space, Philadelphia can’t extend everyone and it’s very easy to argue Matthews will get overpaid due to inflated volume stats. This trade was very much a business decision by the Eagles.

In any case, here’s wishing Matthews the best in Buffalo.

Ronald Darby is here

And here’s wishing Darby the best in Philadelphia.

The Eagles suddenly have a new No. 1 cornerback. That’s a huge relief considering how much the team’s corners have struggled during practice this offseason. There was just no way the Eagles could go into the season with the group they had before adding Darby.

There are some questions about just how good Darby is following a lackluster 2016 season. It seems like Buffalo’s defense as a whole didn’t perform well under Rex Ryan last season, though. Darby looked really good as a rookie in 2015. The former second-round pick might not be an elite player but he’s at least a capable starter. 33 pass breakups in 29 starts is pretty impressive.

Bills fans seem to upset Buffalo traded Darby, who many believed to be the team’s best cornerback. We’ll have more insight from Bills fans on this trade at Bleeding Green Nation in the coming days.

The Eagles are very young at corner

Darby is a bright young talent at the age of 23. He’s hardly the Eagles’ only young corner, though.

Ronald Darby - 23
Jalen Mills - 23
Sidney Jones - 21
Rasul Douglas - 21
C.J. Smith - 24

Darby and Mills are likely the starters for this season. It remains to be seen what happens with 29-year-old Patrick Robinson, who has really struggled in training camp. Jones and Douglas likely won’t have major roles this season. The injured Jones might not play at all while Douglas seems like he needs more time to adjust to the NFL. It’s not impossible that Douglas will split playing time with Mills or eventually take over his job, however. Smith isn’t a flashy prospect but he’s looked solid since signing with the team as an undrafted free agent last offseason. He could be a nice depth guy to have around.

There’s really no guarantee any of these players pan out, but this group is more inspiring than what the Eagles have had at corner in a long time. There’s at least some long-term potential here to work with.

It’s exciting to think about the combination of a healthy Jones and Darby starting in 2018.

The Eagles don’t have a Day 2 pick in 2018

Here’s a recap of the Eagles’ draft picks in 2018.

4th - (from the Minnesota Vikings)
4th - (from the New England Patriots; can elevate to a 3rd)

The Eagles still have seven picks in next year’s draft. They’re missing their second rounder due to the Carson Wentz trade. The third rounder was obviously dealt for Darby.

Philadelphia will potentially have one Day 2 pick if Eric Rowe plays at least 50% of New England’s defensive snaps this season. If that happens, the Patriots’ pick will elevate to a third rounder.

Given Howie Roseman’s penchant for making trades, it wouldn’t be surprising if he packaged some combination of picks/players to get more pick(s) on Day 2 before next year’s draft.

For reference, here’s a recap of the Eagles’ draft picks in 2019 as well.

7th - (from Denver Broncos; conditional)

This trade doesn’t have an immediate impact on cap space

Trading Matthews saved the Eagles $1,094,901 in cap space but the Eagles took on Darby’s $800,426 base salary for this year. So this move didn’t really impact the Eagles’ cap space much.

... but the trade does have an impact on the long-term cap space

Spotrac projects Matthews to sign a five-year deal worth around $50,138,099 after this season. As previously stated, the Eagles were never likely to sign him to that deal. Now the Birds won’t have to worry about him and they can focus on re-signing Alshon Jeffery, Tim Jernigan, Nigel Bradham, etc.

As for Darby, he’s eligible for a contract extension after this season. His deal runs through the 2019 season, though, so the Eagles don’t have to rush to pay him.’

The Eagles are high on their remaining wide receivers

The Eagles obviously don’t trade Matthews if they had last year’s group of receivers here. Philadelphia feels really good about their receiving corps. Alshon Jeffery has looked like the real deal all offseason long. He’s a beast. Torrey Smith has caught the ball well in practice and still looks fast despite two down years in San Francisco. Nelson Agholor has look improved in practice, though he’s struggled a little recently.

But the Eagles aren’t just putting all their eggs in the Agholor basket. Rookie Mack Hollins has shown reliable hands and play-making ability. Marcus Johnson has shown he’s capable of taking the top off a defense and making plays underneath as well. Bryce Treggs is having a productive summer. Greg Ward Jr. has made surprisingly good progress and might have the makings of a reliable slot receiver. David Watford looks practice squad worthy at the very least.

A number of these young receivers aren’t as proven as Matthews, that’s for sure. But they’ve shown potential worth betting on. The Eagles are taking a reasonable risk.

The Eagles have a lot of options to replace JMatt in the slot

It can certainly be argued that Matthews was the Eagles’ best slot option. But he is far from their only slot option.

The Eagles have no shortage of players they can use in the slot. Agholor is likely the favorite to take snaps there, as Daniel Jeremiah indicated last week. But the Eagles can also line up Jeffery, who ran 17% of his routes from there in 2016 per Pro Football Focus, there in certain situations. Hollins is an option in the slot. Ward could get some looks there if he makes the team. Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey, and Wendell Smallwood are all running backs with receiving ability. The Eagles line up Zach Ertz and Trey Burton not only in the slot but outside as well at times.

Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily need to have an every-down slot guy like they did with Matthews. They can get creative and mix and match their slot options in order to add a new level of unpredictability to the offense.

It won’t be long before Jordan Matthews returns to Philly

Oddly enough, Matthews will be returning to Philadelphia this upcoming Thursday when the Eagles play the Bills at Lincoln Financial Field. This should be a nice opportunity for Philly fans to give Matthews some recognition for the hard work he’s put in during his time with the Eagles.

Eagles fans seem to be OK with this trade

We asked you to grade the Matthews-Darby trade and here’s what you said.

My personal grade for the trade was a “B” rating so clearly great minds think alike. You can still vote in the poll by (clicking here).

Final thoughts

I’ve seen it suggested the Eagles should have kept Matthews as insurance if something happens to Jeffery. That doesn’t make sense because Matthews clearly isn’t a No. 1 receiver. If Jeffery isn’t the answer, the Eagles will need to find another one, because Matthews was never the solution in that regard. But that’s all moot now anyway.

Overall, I’m glad the Matthews deal is done. It was pretty obvious that he wasn’t in the team’s long-term plans. Now the debates can stop and we can all look forward to seeing what Darby brings to the table.

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