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Why the Eagles should trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick

The Dolphins are selling again, and Philadelphia should absolutely be buyers.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As another Thursday Night Football banger wore down the final seconds of a resilient clock, rumors regarding the trade availability of yet another Miami Dolphins player surfaced. This, from Chris Mortensen, was the first report I saw:

Now, Mort would go on to specify that the Dolphins will not admit that they’re actively shopping Fitzpatrick, though they also wouldn’t deny that his agent has the freedom to field offers. So Fitzpatrick’s future, and availability, are murky at best. But, should Fitzpatrick become even a reasonable acquisition — or even if he’s still in unreasonable territory, the young defensive back makes a world of sense for the Philadelphia Eagles and Howie Roseman. Jimmy Kempski and Brandon Lee Gowton discussed this possibility in the latest BGN Radio episode.

Here’s how I see it.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a good player

In the 2018 NFL Draft, Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick — lauded as a true CB/S swing talent, crowned as one of Nick Saban’s favorite players — was selected 11th overall by the Miami Dolphins. Lauded for his football character, high IQ play, and ball skills, Fitzpatrick was viewed as a potential culture-change player because of his leadership skills and versatility to remain on the field and create big plays.

These notes, pulled from Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network’s 2018 evaluation of Fitzpatrick before the NFL Draft:

Fully capable of walking up to the line of scrimmage and disrupting release before flipping hips into trail position...Does very well to stay aware of route combinations in [his] vicinity...Ability to pick up the football in air is top notch...Defensive chess piece capable of being moved around the entire field.

And when he was selected, Miami got what they paid for. In 11 starts, Fitzpatrick delivered 80 total tackles, 9 PBUs, and 2 INTs. He played slot corner, wide corner, and deep safety for them. He didn’t make the All-Rookie team at either corner — Jaire Alexander and Denzel Ward — or safety — Derwin James and Jessie Bates — but that’s to be expected, when you split your time between those roles.

Fitzpatrick remains one of the smartest defensive backs to come out in years, with a great tool-set to win in the Eagles’ zone-heavy Cover 3 scheme — but still, with the physical tools in terms of size, explosiveness, and quickness to match a spectrum of athletes in man coverage. Coming into his sophomore season and (potentially) extricated from the slough of the Dolphins’ rancid defense, the surface has hardly been scratched on Minkah Fitzpatrick’s NFL ability.

Minkah Fitzpatrick fills a big need for the Eagles right now

If you’ve followed my work here at Bleeding Green Nation, listened to my shows on BGN Radio, or even just follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been frustrated with the Eagles’ management of the SAF3 position for quite some time now. They shackled themselves to Corey Graham for multiple seasons when young UDFA/bargain bin dart throws failed to pan out, and that decision lost them games — literally. They added Andrew Sendejo in free agency, but in doing so, put a potential 2020 fourth-round compensatory selection in jeopardy.

Fitzpatrick immediately solves that issue. As he is highly versatile, Fitzpatrick snugly slides into the SAF3 role, leaving the Eagles free to cut Sendejo whenever they please — they don’t even need to do it right now, the deadline is Week 10 — though it would be a rather impolite thing to do to Sendejo. Fitzpatrick, like Malcolm Jenkins, can play pretty much everywhere in the defensive back seven: per PFF, in his 2018 rookie year, Fitzpatrick played 379 snaps as a slot corner, 281 as a wide corner, 166 as a free safety, and 85 in the box.

So adding Fitzpatrick doesn’t force the Eagles defense to change a certain direction. He becomes one of their starting five defensive backs immediately, but where exactly he’s deployed is up to the experimentation of the defense. Perhaps he’ll take more corner reps, as he did for Miami; maybe he’ll take more safety reps. Regardless, he buttresses the DB room to the point that you can move on from Sendejo; he protects your roster from injury; he improves your coverage shells immediately, which is just what the doctor ordered on Philadelphia’s roster.

Minkah Fitzpatrick fills a big need for the Eagles in years to come

Even with his immediate boost put aside, the Eagles have exactly one defensive back secured in 2021: Avonte Maddox. Maddox, a bit like Fitzpatrick, fits somewhere between corner and safety — but given the lack of clarity, a player like Fitzpatrick (who would be controlled through 2021 on his current deal and into 2022 on his fifth-year option) could be critical to a restocked secondary.

Because he can fit almost anywhere, Fitzpatrick’s presence as a young building block gives you the flexibility to address different positions, and fill Fitzpatrick in wherever’s left. That’s not ideal, but it’s possible, and possible helps. This potential is especially valuable in the question of safety: Malcolm Jenkins will be 33 when he hits free agency; Rodney McLeod will be 30 and was restructured such that the Eagles could move on from him after 2019 if he’s not up to health; Sendejo will unquestionably be gone. There is no certainty at safety, and a trade for Fitzpatrick would create some.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, once traded, will be even cheaper than he is now

As I said above, Fitzpatrick is under contract through 2021, and into his fifth-year option, through 2022. Critically, because of the rookie wage scale and how contracts are written under it, Fitzpatrick’s salary is already cheap, but would get cheaper with a trade.

When a player is traded, the team trading him away is still on the hook for the guaranteed money attached to the signing bonus. Fitzpatrick’s initial deal was four years, $16.4M, with $10M guaranteed in a signing bonus. $2.5M of that signing bonus was already paid, but the remaining $7.5M stays on the Dolphins’ books. $500K of the leftover $6.4M in base salary was already paid; $5.9M remains. And that’s what the Eagles would pay Minkah Fitzpatrick over the next three seasons: $5.9M total. Overview via Over The Cap:

This past year, for the 2016 NFL Draft class, the fifth-year option price tag for a safety drafted at 11th overall was $6.5M. It was $6.3M the year previous, and before that, just under $6M flat. Accordingly, for the 2018 class, we should expect it to be around $7M flat.
So, the Eagles are potentially looking at four years and $13M total for Fitzpatrick. For a starting CB or a starting S, that is wonderful value. Take, for example, Darnell Savage’s contract with the Green Bay Packers: before the fifth-year option, Savage is on a four-year, $12.5M contract — he was drafted at 21 overall, 10 picks after Fitzpatrick. So the Eagles would be paying the wage scale of the 21st pick, for the 11th overall pick, even after you fit the fifth-year option into the calculation. (If Fitzpatrick plays well for Philly, they’ll likely just extend him without the fifth-year option, and he’ll have played three years on $6M total, which is a value too astronomical to even contextualize.)

Minkah Fitzpatrick will likely come at a discounted price tag.

It’s a buyer’s market in Miami, as the Dolphins look to unload desirable players for draft capital and beef up their rebuild efforts. ESPN reports “teams initially have been resistant to the Dolphins’ apparent asking price that includes a first-round pick.” One account suggests Miami “will likely settle for a [second-round pick].”

Keep in mind that 1) Minkah Fitzpatrick was drafted at 11th overall and 2) costs what the 21st overall pick does, fifth-year option included. So trading any pick after 21 for Fitzpatrick already presents value; and the further away you get from 21, the more value the trade offers.

Say the Eagles do trade their first-round selection to the Dolphins for Fitzpatrick. As long as it’s later than 21 — that is, as long as they get beyond the Wild Card round of the playoffs — they’re essentially drafting Fitzpatrick, a player who is better than the 21st overall pick, at a price tag of the 21st overall pick, at a later pick than 21. Surplus talent at discounted value: it’s the definition of a steal. They wouldn’t get a better player than Minkah Fitzpatrick at 21 overall anyway.

And now remember that the Eagles, in trading for Fitzpatrick, would be able to move on from Sendejo and recoup a fourth-round compensatory selection back. So, even if they lost their first-rounder, they’d bring back a fourth rounder in the trade when you consider the whole calculus.

I’m sure Roseman will try to protect the 2020 first-rounder, but Fitzpatrick is a 23-year old sophomore defensive back with as much upside as any college prospect you’ll see. He is worth a first-round selection.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is #OneOfUs

He grew up watching McNabb. He tries to mimic Malcolm Jenkins in his on-field play. He was raised in Middlesex County! He is #FromHere, and he loves the Eagles, and this is not actually a reason to trade for a player, but it just feels right!

(As another added bonus, current Eagles defensive special assistant Matt Burke was the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator when Miami drafted Fitzpatrick last year.)

Minkah Fitzpatrick should be a Philadelphia Eagle

He’ll improve the team now, he’ll improve the team two years from now, he’ll be cheaper than he should be, and he’ll provide more value for Philadelphia in both the short and long term than the draft capital they’d likely exchange to get him. This is a no-brainer trade if the compensation is as rumored, and I expect Roseman to approach it as such. If Fitzpatrick is truly on the block, the Eagles will be first in line — especially given the success they’ve had trading with Miami in the past.


Should the Eagles trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick?

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