Howie Roseman

Thanks to newly-found WR depth, Jordan Matthews was expendable

Thanks to newly-found WR depth, Jordan Matthews was expendable

As rookie Mack Hollins stiffed-armed would-be tacklers out of his way to the end zone on Thursday night in Green Bay, he also might have sealed the deal to send Jordan Matthews to Buffalo. 

While that's probably a bit of an overstatement, Hollins' emergence, as well as the overall depth of the Eagles' receiving corps made Matthews expendable — for the right price. 

So Howie Roseman on Friday sent Matthews, along with a third-round pick in 2018, to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby. 

"Last year at this time, from where the group was," Roseman said, "it would have been hard to do."

A year ago, Matthews was the only real receiver the Eagles had. He led a group that included Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner. 

Roseman spent this past offseason flipping the unit from a team weakness into a strength. He went out and signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency and then drafted a couple of receivers in the spring. 

He did such a good job that their top receiver from a year ago became superfluous. 

"When you talk about the production Jordan has had, which has been really historically good for a Philadelphia Eagle, you have to be confident that other people can pick up that load," Roseman said. "We go with the information that we have since they’ve been in Eagles uniforms and that wide receiver group has been tremendously competitive throughout the spring and summer. We know we were going to have tough decisions to make."

Earlier in training camp, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah — who has ties in the Eagles' front office — said Agholor would become the team's slot receiver, but he didn't know what that meant for Matthews. It turns out, it meant that Matthews was getting shipped out. 

Agholor, the former first-round pick, has had a disappointing start to his career. But now it seems like he's poised to take over in the slot for his recently-moved biggest advocate. Agholor has been impressive during training camp and should now get his chance to produce inside, a position that seems to better suit his abilities. 

"Obviously, Nelson's had a really good spring and the young players have taken a step up, which is a great testament to our coaching staff," Roseman said. "We're excited about some of their futures."

While fifth-rounder Shelton Gibson has struggled during his first few months in the NFL, fourth-round pick Hollins from North Carolina has thrived. He's been impressive throughout the spring and summer. 

And then on Thursday night, he took the next step, grabbing a pass from Carson Wentz and taking it 38 yards for a score, just the day before Matthews was dealt. 

"Mack, since the day he's been here, has been tremendously consistent," Roseman said. "He's obviously a big kid with good speed. But Coach (Mike) Groh and our offensive coaching staff have done a great job with him on his routes, consistently catching the football. And really overall, when you look at that group, we have a bunch of young players that we're excited about."

Trading Matthews 'hard trigger to pull,' but Eagles desperate to stockpile corners

Trading Matthews 'hard trigger to pull,' but Eagles desperate to stockpile corners

Howie Roseman has spent a good portion of his two tenures as Eagles GM trying to find cornerbacks.

He’s drafted guys. He’s signed guys. And now he’s traded for a guy.

The morning after the Eagles’ preseason opener, Roseman executed a blockbuster trade, acquiring third-year pro Ronald Darby — a 23-year-old former second-round pick — from the Bills in exchange for free-agent-to-be Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick.

"This was a hard trigger to pull, when you’re talking about Jordan and a premium pick," Roseman said.

"But we’re just trying to figure out the best way to build this team and be competitive — not only during the regular season but hopefully one day to win playoff games and get even further than that. 

"And when we look at this, the corner position is a huge priority for us and having the opportunity to get a young corner who can grow with our group, it was appealing."

Roseman, the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations, said the trade was the most difficult he’s ever had to make.

“You have a knot in your stomach,” he said.

But in the end, his desire to stock the cornerback spot with young talent convinced him to ship Matthews, whose 225 receptions are ninth-most in NFL history by a receiver in his first three seasons.

Darby started 29 games for the Bills the last two years. He had two interceptions with Buffalo — both in 2015 — but 33 pass knockdowns in 29 games.

"You know you're going to need a bunch of corners to play," Roseman said. "And so the more you can have at that position, the better set up you are. 

"It is a pass-driven league and throwing a bunch of three- and four-wide receiver packages is a part of (teams') game plan. And so when we looked at it and we looked at the teams that have tremendous success, they continue to throw resources at that position." 

The Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since their cornerbacks were Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, a pair of high 2002 draft picks.

Since that duo left Philly — Sheppard after 2008, Brown after 2009 — the Eagles have stumbled with an ever-changing cast of overpaid free agents, failed draft picks, disinterested reclamation projects and fading veterans on their last legs.

The Eagles this offseason drafted Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas in the second and third rounds, signed veteran Patrick Robinson and brought back guys like Jalen Mills, Aaron Grymes, Ron Brooks and C.J. Smith.

"When you look at depth charts around the league, it’s hard to find corners," Roseman said. "It’s hard to find teams that have a lot of corners, and having all these guys who are 21, 22, 23 years old. I think that’s the most exciting thing about this."

Because of the cost — a capable receiver and a third-round pick — Darby automatically becomes the centerpiece of this group.

"He's got rare speed," Roseman said. "His production on the ball, he doesn't have a high interception number but his (passes defensed) number is incredibly high. 

"He's played a variety of coverages. He won a national championship at (Florida State). You see him go against the players that we go against in our division. The Bills in 2015 played the NFC East. So you have that look. 

"When you go into the draft, a lot of those things are unknown. So you have a lot of known qualities in him. We have people in the building who have been around him and that's an important part as well. 

"There's no insurance on these things. We do what we think is in the best interest of the team. And then when you pull the trigger on anything like this, you think about the player you're giving up and the draft pick. But we felt like this was the right decision for us."

The Eagles now have a nucleus of corners who are 23 or younger: Mills, Jones, Douglas and Darby. C.J. Smith, who has had a promising camp, is 24. 

"We spent a lot of time going over this because this is obviously a big trade for our football team," he said. "You look around the league, and it is a corner-deficient league. It's hard to find those guys. It's hard to find guys who have been solid starters in this league and can play at a high level. And teams that have them aren't really ready to move them. 

"So it's something that we felt — as well as the quarterback position, the offensive line, defensive line — you can never have enough of those guys."

Before the trade, Mills and Robinson were the projected starters, with Brooks the top slot guy. Douglas and Jones — out indefinitely while rehabbing an Achilles injury — presumably are the long-term future starters. 

Where does Darby fit in? 

"All those are good problems to have," Roseman said. "They'll all be sorted out through competition, through this process. 

"Our coaches will put the best guys out on the field and in the best positions. Jalen certainly has done a great job. Big jump from Year 1 to Year 2, he's really taken it and run with it."

How bad have the Eagles' cornerbacks been?

The Eagles have allowed 25 or more touchdown passes in eight straight seasons, the longest streak in NFL history.

The last time they didn't? That was 2008, the last time they won a playoff game.

"There are a lot of priorities that go into building a team that consistently competes for championships," Roseman said. "And having a defensive back, corner position that was young and could grow together, this fits with that description. 

"Ronald's got two years left on his contract. He's played in the National Football League for two years. You have the tape of watching him go against the guys we go against. Doesn't make it any easier. We wish Jordan all the best, but we did what we thought was best for our team going forward."

Howie Roseman, Eagles didn't want to move Jordan Matthews, but 'unique opportunity' arose

Howie Roseman, Eagles didn't want to move Jordan Matthews, but 'unique opportunity' arose

A year ago, Jordan Matthews was the unquestioned leader of a young and inexperienced receiver group, charged with not just carrying the load but also helping the rookie franchise quarterback acclimate to the NFL. 

Now he's gone. 

The Eagles traded away the 25-year-old Matthews, along with a third-round pick in 2018, to the Bills in exchange for cornerback Ronald Darby on Friday. 

"This was a unique opportunity," Eagles de facto general manager Howie Roseman said. "We were not out there shopping Jordan Matthews."

Talk and rumors about the Eagles' possibly trading Matthews have been floating for months and it's those rumors — true or not — that actually led to the Eagles' receiving calls about him, Roseman said.

Matthews has been extremely productive during the first three years of his career. Since the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2014 out of Vanderbilt, Matthews has piled up 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. 

Despite what some might consider inflated numbers, Matthews' production is unquestionable. He's one of just seven players in NFL history to put up those numbers in his first three NFL seasons. The others are Randy Moss, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins. 

But Matthews was entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract and instead of trying to gamble on re-signing him next season, the Eagles decided to get something back for him — although in the process, they also had to part ways with a third-rounder.   

"I think from our perspective and Jordan's perspective, everything's been incredibly positive with Jordan Matthews and our conversations with him and his agent," Roseman said. "It never came down to this guy's asking for too much money and we're not willing to do this so we better ship him out now. This all came down to this particular trade and this particular value for where our football team is now. Last year at this time, from where the group was, it would have been hard to do. It was still hard to do but when we looked at the overall needs on this team and what this guy could potentially do for us, we thought it was the right deal." 

Getting a player back with two years left on his contract allowed the Eagles to pull the trigger. If Darby had just one year left, Roseman said it would have been hard for the Eagles to take him. 

Roseman said it's not that Matthews wasn't in the team's long-term plans; it was just that the offer in return was good for the team. And he didn't rule out a possible reunion with Matthews, however unrealistic that might be. 

"Theoretically, [Matthews is] a free agent in March so there's nothing precluding us from signing any free agent in March," Roseman said.

During his three years in Philadelphia, Matthews became a clear favorite within the Eagles' locker room. The Eagles upgraded the receiver position enough this offseason by signing Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, as well as drafting promising rookie Mack Hollins, to feel comfortable making this move. 

But Matthews' departure will still leave a void. His teammates flooded social media in the wake of the trade to wish him the best. It was clear he had a great relationship with his teammates, specifically franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. 

Roseman said he had a "knot in his stomach" before talking to Matthews on Friday morning and certainly thought about the possible locker room ramifications a deal like this one might have. 

"You worry about everything when you trade a professional like Jordan Matthews," Roseman said. "This isn't one where you're celebrating and doing a dance because you're giving up a good player and a good pick. In this league, you're not going to be able to get anything unless you give something. I think we have a really good character group, not just at the wide receiver position but on this team and on the offensive side of the ball. But it hurts when people you care about leave. 

"The hardest thing to do was talking to Jordan about this. It never gets any easier in this business because however good he is as a player, he's a better person. But we've got to do what's in the best interest of this team moving forward and that's why we made the trade."