When the Eagles' offense takes the field for the first time this season on Sunday, they'll be staring across at some familiar faces. Juqua Parker departed for Cleveland during free agency in March, joining Dimitri Patterson who exercised his rights one year earlier. Both are there to provide depth on a Browns defense that surprisingly finished second in the NFL against the pass in 2011. Their diminishing talents cast aside by the Birds' front office, neither Parker or Patterson are likely to engender much of a reaction from the Philadelphia fan base.
The same could not be said for Sheldon Brown, who arrived at this moribund franchise under far different circumstances. Once a fan favorite, his No. 24 jersey once among the shirts that would litter the parking lots and fill the seats inside the Linc, Brown was unceremoniously dumped off on Cleveland along with Chris Gocong in April of 2010. The return: fourth- and fifth-round picks, and some linebacker who made it through about a week's worth of training camp.
It was an unpopular trade to say the least, sending a borderline Pro-Bowl talent away for seemingly next to nothing, clearly weakening the roster at cornerback in the process. But as these types of deals often are, it was all about cold, hard cash.
The Eagles selected Brown in the second round of the '02 Draft, and upon becoming the starter two years later, he promptly signed a six-year extension in '04 that ran through 2012. It was a typical Joe Banner contract for that time period, done in the mold he became infamous for -- rewarding young players with long-term deals that had nice up-front bonuses, yet leaving them with all the risk down the line when the guaranteed money has dried up and multiple years still remain. Brown gritted through the dispute in '09, but by next season all his guarantees were gone, and he could be cut at any moment with no financial repercussions to the team.
The organization no longer saw Brown as a wise investment. At 31 years old, his best days were surely behind him, so handing over more money and a longer commitment was out of the question. His unhappiness with the club's stance was well-known however, and there likely was not a happy ending on the horizon had they forced him to play out another season. The Eagles had already begun the process of purging the roster of most of its highly-paid veterans over the past two offseasons. Sheldon was just next in line, followed days later by the earth-shattering Donovan news.
It would be fair to characterize the Brown move as one of the handful the franchise made around that time that did not work out so well for them. Both he and Gocong went on to become staples in Cleveland's defense -- though Gocong is currently on IR, and what that statement even means anyway on a team that can't win more than five games in a season, I'm not really sure. For whatever it's worth, Brown's play has remained reliable enough to hang on to a starting job despite his losing a step or two. Meanwhile, the Eagles went into 2010 with Ellis Hobbs at corner, then Patterson taking his place due to injury. Both were memorably torched.
The trade doesn't look a whole ton better once you see what those picks turned into. The fourth rounder was used on cornerback Trevard Lindley, who has been cut from the 53-man roster for the second year in a row. The fifth was sent to Detroit for veteran linebacker Ernie Sims, who spent one forgettable season with the Birds. They also leveraged a seventh rounder in '11 out of the Sims exchange, which as it turns out is the only remnant leftover from this apparent debacle in the form of Jamar Chaney.
Sheldon Brown and Chris Gocong for Alex Hall, Ernie Sims, Trevard Lindley, and Jamar Chaney.
Of course, merely grading from the haul and the immediate outcome ignores the bigger picture. Extending Sheldon Brown in '10 wasn't the solution either, and forcing a disgruntled player to work on what both sides knew was a bad contract would have been a mess. Although corner turned out to be a glaring hole for a year, it was also a season where expectations were already low to begin with. Parting with Brown when they did at least gave the Eagles the opportunity to get something of value in return, and more importantly, it gave them the freedom to eventually cut the deal for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and pursue Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency.
That may not come as much of a consolation to Brown's ardent supporters or plain ol' front office critics who will accurately point out the Eagles have received essentially nothing in return for a starting cornerback and linebacker. Brown is 33 and still balling. He's excellent in run support, and while he requires some safety help, No. 24 has held up in Cleveland.
But in some respects, this is not entirely different from the trade that sent Asante Samuel to Atlanta for a seventh round pick just this past offseason. While the deal itself did not produce much of value, it was a business decision where both sides ultimately got what they wanted: Brown a contract, the Eagles moving on so they could get younger and better at a key position.