Let’s cut right to the chase. I don’t understand what Howie Roseman and the Philadelphia Eagles have been thinking over the last two years.
Flashback to last year’s NFL Draft, in which the Eagles entered with the No. 25 overall pick. When you’re picking at the end of the first round, you’re mostly looking to grab the best available player and, as the draft wore on, a left tackle named Andre Dillard fell further down the board than expected. Knowing that the Eagles had, in Jason Peters, a talented yet aging left tackle, Roseman moved up three spots to No. 22 overall to select Dillard, and gave up a fourth-rounder and sixth-rounder to make it happen.
The plan seemed obvious — let Dillard sit behind Peters for a season, back him up in case Peters got injured (which he did), and let Dillard take the job for himself in 2020. Dillard played reasonably well at left tackle, certainly about as well as you would expect a rookie making his first three career starts would play. Was there a lot of room for improvement? Sure, but he was OK over there, and there was reason to think he’d improve with more playing time.
But then came the Seattle game. The right tackle debacle. Dillard proved incapable of switching sides on the offensive line and was benched by halftime. He appeared beaten before he ever stepped on the field, which is not something a football coach or general manager likes to see. There was also an incident in training camp where he appeared to cry after getting into an on-field skirmish with Derek Barnett. Apparently it wasn’t the only such outburst that occurred in 2019.
These are not great things, and perhaps even red flags. If the Eagles have doubts about the kid, it’s understandable. But with reports this week that the Birds and Peters may be reuniting this season, it calls into question the selection of Dillard in the first place. Are the Eagles really willing to let their first round pick, a guy they traded up to get, a guy they had pinned as the team’s future franchise left tackle, sit on the bench for another year? If so, how bad a pick was this? Did they know enough about Dillard before they drafted him? Because if he sits in 2020, it’s essentially a wasted first round pick.
In the second round, they wisely picked Miles Sanders, an explosive runner and outstanding receiver out of the backfield. Can’t criticize that move, Sanders looks like a stud. But a few picks later, they chose wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who was absolutely dismal in 2019. He was so dismal the team drafted three additional wide receivers in the 2020 draft (Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, Quez Watkins), and traded for Marquise Goodwin from the 49ers. It’s entirely possible JJAW doesn’t even make the team in 2020.
Also last off-season, the Eagles wisely decided to let Nick Foles walk in free agency. That was the correct decision. They also made the correct decision to commit to Carson Wentz long-term, signing him to a four-year, $128 million contract with $66.4 million guaranteed. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do, but there were certainly concerns about Wentz’ durability. He had missed the end of the 2017 season as well as the playoffs with his knee injury, started the ‘18 season late and then missed the end of that season with a back injury. But Carson stayed healthy for all of 2019 and, with some poor games in the middle of the season and his wide receivers actively hurting him and costing them literal wins aside, he rallied the offense with MVP-like play over the season’s final month, landing the Birds an NFC East title.
The investment in Carson Wentz was smart. Of course, Wentz was concussed on a “cheap shot” by Jadeveon Clowney early in their playoff loss to Seattle, costing him virtually the entire game. That was a bummer, but most intelligent fans realized Wentz’ “injury” that day had nothing to do with being “injury prone.” A large and fast human being illegally smashed into the back of his head with his helmet. The Hulk would have gotten a concussion from that blow.
Fast forward to the 2020 Draft, in which Roseman, Doug Pederson and Andy Weidl went against the grain and selected Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts in the second round of the draft.
Folks, it’s this simple. The Eagles didn’t draft Hurts with a second round pick to a back-up QB for his entire career. They didn’t draft him to trade him for the exact same pick a year from now. And they didn’t draft Hurts to be a gimmick, gadget QB. They drafted him because they believe he can play quarterback and be a playmaker.
The drafting of Hurts can only mean one thing — they don’t fully trust Carson Wentz as their man for the future.
That’s quite a 180-degree turn from a few months before when they gave Wentz the mega contract and made it clear to everyone in the locker room that Carson was the guy. Now, with Hurts in the fold, the picture is once again murky, and Wentz can’t be happy. Instead of gaining another playmaker on offense, or a defensive player that will help keep games closer, they drafted his competition in the second round, the guy who undoubtedly hopes to be a starting quarterback in the league at some point.
So what changed between the time Roseman gave Wentz his contract and Round 2 of the NFL Draft? The concussion? A concussion that would have concussed every other player in the NFL had he been hit like that? Is that what turned Carson from the franchise’s QB of the future to a guy who now has to question whether or not the team really believes in him as their guy? Roseman and Pederson can say all they want that “they’re married to Wentz,” but actions speak a lot louder than words.
No matter what, one of Roseman’s two decisions was awful — either signing Wentz to the long-term deal or drafting Hurts. There is no in between.
Regardless, Hurts isn’t getting on the field in 2020 unless it’s for a couple snaps here and there. It’s likely his development as a QB will take a couple years. How is that worth the investment of a second round pick? It isn’t, unless you believe that pick will one day be your starting quarterback.
And what about helping Wentz this off-season? Sure, they drafted Jalen Reagor, a speed guy who will hopefully give Carson another field-stretching option, but selected him over Justin Jefferson, a wideout who had a more established track record in college. We’ll see how wise that pick was. But why did Roseman sit out the free agent wide receiver market entirely? Why did he not trade for a wideout until the draft, when he got the underperforming and oft-injured Marquise Goodwin? Why did they rely solely on the draft to improve at that all-important position?
And why didn’t they beat out all other offers for Dallas cornerback Byron Jones instead of giving up trade capital for Darius Slay? People point to Jones’ lack of interceptions and claim he’s not a shut-down corner, but those are hollow arguments. Jones doesn’t get many interceptions because QBs don’t throw in his direction.
Now hear me, Slay is great, and the Eagles defense will be much better with him, but giving up a 3rd and 5th round pick possibly cost them the opportunity to trade up and get CeeDee Lamb when he started to fall in this year’s first round.
The Eagles then chose an athletic but untested third round pick on linebacker Davion Taylor, a player who has speed to burn and a ton of upside, but didn’t play football in high school and is clearly a developmental player. He won’t see the field as a linebacker in 2020. Right now, the team’s starting linebackers are undrafted free agent T.J. Edwards, Nate Gerry and Duke Riley. Maybe more help will come, but expecting Taylor to play a major role at linebacker is foolhardy, and still leaves the Eagles very weak at that position this year.
If Roseman really has lost faith in Wentz and has drafted someone they think could be his replacement, if they really do plan to start Peters over Dillard, if they trade Dillard, if they cut Arcega-Whiteside, it at least shows he doesn’t fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy. Many franchises fail to move forward because they don’t want to admit they made a mistake and eat the cost of those expensive errors. It’s commendable that Roseman doesn’t appear to be a victim of that fallacy and is willing to correct mistakes, even pricey ones.
It’s hard to justify the Wentz/Hurts dilemma, but perhaps Dillard does become the franchise left tackle he was drafted to be, and maybe Arcega-Whiteside lives up to his billing as a second round pick. Maybe Pederson is an offensive genius and is preparing to launch a new offense on the rest of an unsuspecting league. If all that is true, then you can throw these 1500 words in the recycle bin.
If not, it’s fair to wonder if Howie Roseman is just making too many mistakes.
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