The NFL Week 8 trade deadline is quickly approaching and the Eagles are known for making deadline deals. The past three years have all seen moves for the Eagles. In 2017 the team traded a 4th round pick for RB Jay Ajayi on October 31st. The 2018 saw them trade a 3rd round pick for WR Golden Tate on October 30th. In 2019 they traded a 4th round pick for EDGE Genard Avery on October 28th.
The Eagles tend to be buyers at the trade deadline. But a bumbling start to the 2020 season has the Eagles looking more like a team that should be selling at the deadline this year. So which is it?
Should the Eagles be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
The reality is that it isn’t quite that simple. In a normal year, the decision to be sellers would be easy because a 2-4-1 record would have a team already nearly out of the playoff race. But 2-4-1 is good enough for the division lead this season in the NFC East. Any division leader should be looking for the final piece needed for a playoff push, right? But with the Eagles a projected $63 million over the cap for 2020 (check out this great article for an excellent breakdown of what that means), the team can’t afford to take on bloated contracts or make a push for a big name.
The Eagles should not mortgage the future to make a playoff push this season, nor should they tank for a draft pick. Playoff experience is valuable for young players. A run to the playoffs means that players like Carson Wentz, Travis Fulgham, and Josh Sweat have continued to play well and make an impact. The Eagles priority should be maximizing the potential of the players currently on the roster while taking a hard look at how to make the roster younger and cheaper. If younger and cheaper can be accomplished via a deadline trade, then I am all for it. I would place the highest priority on the offensive line and linebacker positions. If the Eagles can find players on cheap contracts that run through at least 2021 (preferably 2022), then they should pull the trigger if the price is right.
Who Should the Eagles Trade?
There is a shortlist of vets that the Eagles should highly consider trading at the deadline.
Trading Alshon would result in a savings of around $5 million this season and $2.25 next season. While he would still count against the cap for his $10.5 million in dead money in 2021, moving Alshon opens up more room for some of the younger receivers who are likely better than him at this point anyway. The tricky part of dealing Alshon would be finding a team willing to take him since he looked totally washed up before suffering a foot fracture next year. If anyone offered a 2022 7th round pick I would take it.
I would normally never advocate trading a player that has been an Eagle for the majority of their career and signed a 1-year deal to give it one last run. But, those types of players usually don’t hold out for more money less than three weeks after they signed their original contract. Peters looked horrible at LT before he was injured and has been outplayed by Jordan Mialata this year. Like Alshon, I would literally take anything offered for Jason Peters to ship him off and save the $1 million on this year’s cap. Assuming he does stay, he should not start for this offensive line when it is healthy (more on that later.)
Javon Hargrave was the Eagles priority free agent signing this offseason. Not a cornerback or a wide receiver or a linebacker. Those were positions the Eagles could have actually used upgrades at mind you. The Eagles paid him $39 million over a 3-year deal and thus far he has produced 7 tackles in 7 games. I still like Hargrave as a player, but there is no denying that he has been outplayed by Malik Jackson this year. The Eagles spend way too much cap at defensive tackle and trading Hargrave would save the team around $2 million next season.
Derek Barnett has never lived up to the hype of his draft slot. However, he has been a solid player for the Eagles. Barnett is having the best year of his career this season but seems destined to be a cap casualty next year. The Eagles can save $10 million dollars on next year’s cap by cutting or trading Barnett. They might as well try to get something for him at the deadline.
DeSean Jackson and Zach Ertz
Like Alshon, I would take anything anyone would offer for DeSean Jackson. Jackson continues to prove to be a terrible acquisition, catching a pass in only 8 of the last 28 games. DeSean will almost certainly be gone next season and I doubt anyone would even offer a 7th rounder for him at this juncture, and that is before he was injured in his first game back. Since then, he has been placed on IR so he is unable to be traded.
Zach Ertz would account for a savings of $4.8 million next season and the Eagles should have shopped him far and wide before the trade deadline. At the conclusion of the 2021 season, the Eagles will have to choose between Ertz and Goedert and that decision is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the Eagles placed Ertz on short-term IR rendering him immovable, a massive blunder on the part of the front office.
Who Should the Eagles Play on Gameday?
The focus of the rest of this season should be getting experience for players who will be here long term. As such, there are several moves the team should make.
As is well established, Nate Gerry stinks. Nate Gerry is not a long term solution at linebacker. It isn’t realistic to say that the Eagles should bench him (although they should), but his snap count needs to dramatically decrease to make room for rookies Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley to see the field.
K’Von Wallace needs to play more at the expense of Jalen Mills. The reason the Eagles didn’t address the safety position after cutting Malcolm Jenkins is that they were relying on a sub-par cornerback in Mills to make the transition to safety. That experiment hasn’t been as big of a disaster as it could have been but it hasn’t been a success either. The Eagles should not bring Mills back next season. They should commit to getting Wallace on the field to get experience now.
If the offensive line is fully healthy (minus Brandon Brooks who is out for the season), the Eagles should start Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Nate Herbig, and Lane Johnson. If one of the tackles goes down, the backup should be Jack Driscoll, not Jason Peters. The only way I would insert Peters into the starting lineup again is if the team needs a backup guard or a 4th string tackle due to injury.
I’ve made my feelings about Alshon and DeSean pretty well known by this point. Even if they stay on the team there is no circumstance that I would put them on the field. The team needs to fully commit to the younger guys and roll with a group of Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, and John Hightower. Fulgham can play outside as the X receiver (the bigger-bodied possession-type guy) Reagor can play as the Z receiver (the deep threat), and Greg Ward as the Y (the slot receiver). John Hightower should get some reps as the Z, bumping Reagor to the X receiver as well.
Play Jalen Hurts.
No, this isn’t an anti-Carson Wentz take. The Eagles made a tremendously stupid move drafting a QB in the 2nd round of last year’s draft. Hurts has been shown to provide a spark for the offense this season, but he isn’t being utilized enough. They need to use him in the power running game in the RedZone. I want to see Hurts on the field for double-digit snaps every week, and not just as a gadget player either. Let him throw the ball some. If the team doesn’t ever let him throw the ball then the packages with him get stale and predictable. The team needs to use him to provide a spark as often as possible this year, inflate his value as high as they can, and then trade him in the offseason.
Fire Jim Schwartz
I think Jim Schwartz is an average defensive coordinator. If he were only coordinating the defense, I would be fine with him staying long term. Unfortunately, Schwartz meddles way too much in personnel decisions and his loyalty to players who simply aren’t good is hamstringing this defense’s ability to put together good performances. Jalen Mills wasn’t a good cornerback and isn’t a good safety. But Jim Schwartz likes him so he plays while a 4th round rookie sits on the bench. Nate Gerry is possibly one of the worst linebackers to ever play in the NFL. But Schwartz likes him so he plays 100% of the snaps while a 3rd round rookie sits on the bench.
The driving factor for the rest of this season has to be youth development and that will never happen while Schwartz is on the sideline, so it is time for him to go.
The Eagles have one of the easier schedules in the NFL over the rest of the season. They sit in the lead of the NFC East with a record of 2-4-1. If they take care of business and beat the Cowboys and Giants, they will hit their bye week at 4-4-1. Hopefully post-bye they will start to get some of their injured players back and make a push into the playoffs. This is a team that could pull it all together, just like they have each of the last two years. They are the favorites to win the division after the injury to Dak Prescott.
But the Eagles must not let the poor quality of competition in the NFC East shift their ultimate goal to another mediocre, barely above .500 season with an early playoff exit. Philly fans were promised a new normal after the 2017 Super Bowl victory and the team has failed to deliver. Changes are needed and must be made to the defensive personnel management. The team overall must get younger and cheaper. Continuing to double down on maximizing a Super Bowl window that already vanished will only prolong the mediocrity the team has been mired in for the last 2 seasons.
It is time for the Eagles to stop living in the past. It is time for the front office to stop pushing for a Super Bowl that isn’t going to happen. Time has come to start making moves for the future, playoffs be damned. If they chose to take that route, I’m confident not only that they will find the playoffs waiting for them on the other side, but that they might just discover some more young players who have been sitting on the sidelines simply waiting for their chance to shine.