Philadelphia Eagles: 10 Winners and Losers from Draft Weekend
Grading a team immediately based on its draft day moves is obviously a flawed process.
At the time he was drafted in 2012, Russell Wilson was seen as a reach for a Seattle Seahawks team that had just signed Matt Flynn to be its starter. For the Philadelphia Eagles, Danny Watkins looked like a safe pick and Tony Hunt was finally going to be the powerful running back the franchise needed.
So there’s no way of knowing whether Philadelphia's first-round pick this year, Marcus Smith, will turn out to be a good player. The same goes for Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Jaylen Watkins or any of the draft selections by the Eagles. What we might have a better grasp on, though, is how these new additions affect returning Eagles players.
Does Nick Foles emerge as a winner based on Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly’s draft-day decisions? (Hint: yes). What about Trent Cole? Or Brandon Boykin?
The following slides break down whether 10 players should be viewed as winners or losers based on this past weekend’s draft.
Winner: Nick Foles
Perhaps no player on the Philadelphia Eagles benefited more from draft weekend than Nick Foles.
There was speculation leading up to the draft that Chip Kelly had an interest in Johnny Manziel, a polarizing quarterback who has dynamic playmaking skills. As it turned out, Kelly had a perfect opportunity to take Manziel with the 22nd pick and reunite him with the quarterback that once broke his heart.
Kelly said no and traded back, allowing Cleveland the chance to take Manziel. Then Kelly added an NFL-ready wide receiver in second-rounder, Jordan Matthews, and a potentially-dynamic slot receiver in Oregon’s Josh Huff. Those two should help to ease the loss of Pro Bowler, DeSean Jackson.
Loser: Riley Cooper
Following a breakout 2013 season, Riley Cooper was rewarded with a five-year, $25 million contract extension. Technically, the contract is more like a two-year deal that only guarantees Cooper through 2015, and it’s looking more and more like Cooper will play those two (or maybe three) years out and then leave.
That’s because the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Jordan Matthews in the second round, then slot receiver Josh Huff in the third round. Matthews is a complete, polished, and NFL-ready wide receiver. He should be able to contribute immediately.
Huff will play more as the fourth receiver, but he’s definitely an upgrade over last year’s 30-year-old plodder, Jason Avant. It will be interesting to see if Cooper can create separation from opposing defensive backs in 2014; he certainly couldn’t last year (save for the Oakland game), but he benefited immensely from DeSean Jackson opposite him.
Winner: Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith probably didn’t even think he would be a first-round selection in this year’s NFL draft. Most analysts expected Smith to be picked midway through the second round. Some had him going in the third round.
The Philadelphia Eagles essentially found themselves in an unfortunate situation. All six players they apparently wanted with the No. 22 overall were off the board. General manager Howie Roseman traded down four spots, then grabbed Smith with the 26th overall selection.
Smith will be eased in slowly in 2014, as the team still has pass-rushers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin signed to contracts. A breakdown of their respective deals though shows both possibly being on their last legs with the team; neither will likely be back in ’15.
Loser: Brandon Graham
Brandon Graham only has himself to blame for this. He’s been a disappointment since he was drafted into the league, registering just 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in four NFL seasons. That amounts to one sack for every 4.5 games played.
Graham’s contract shows he will make $3.4 million in 2014 and then $3.2 million in 2015. He can’t conceivably be released until after this coming season, but he can be traded. Graham has been the speculation of trade rumors for months now.
Per Tim McManus of Philadelphia magazine, the Philadelphia Eagles would move Graham for the right price. At this point, Chip Kelly would probably just be willing to take a seventh-rounder next year to rid Graham’s salary.
Winner: The Offensive Line
It’s almost shocking that Chip Kelly didn’t draft a single offensive lineman, and it says a lot about his confidence in this year’s group. It’s not as if he shouldn’t be confident; the five players started all 17 games a year ago (including the playoff contest).
As a whole, the unit rated over three times as proficient as any other team in run-blocking, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis made both the Pro Bowl and AP All-Pro team, and deservedly so.
Center Jason Kelce was the highest-rated center in the league, per PFF. Right guard Todd Herremans played remarkably better in the second half of the season. And rookie first-round right tackle Lane Johnson looks like a future Pro Bowl lineman.
Still, three of those players are over 30 years old. Mathis is the oldest starting guard in the league, and Peters is now 32 with a serious injury under his belt. It seemed logical that Kelly would draft an offensive lineman in the first three rounds, one he could presumably groom to replace one of his older linemen.
The fact that he didn’t suggests all five lineman are staying for 2014 and maybe even ’15.
Loser: Trent Cole/Connor Barwin
Linebacker Trent Cole is the longest-tenured defensive player on the Philadelphia Eagles, and he’s set to begin his 10th season with the club. Cole played well as a 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013, rating by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the seventh-best player at his position.
Still, Cole is scheduled to earn $6.6 million in ’14 and then $11.6 million in ’15. The Eagles won’t possibly pay his ’15 salary, which means he is likely entering his last season unless he restructures his deal.
Connor Barwin is locked in for 2014 at $4.9 million, but a $6.7 million base salary in ’15 allows for an easy release, should the Eagles feel that is best. The drafting of Marcus Smith shows they’re already planning the replacement for one of the two players, and now both will have to compete with the rookie for snaps.
Winner: Jordan Matthews
There’s no better place to play in the National Football League than a Chip Kelly offense. Just ask Nick Foles, who developed from a mediocre third-round pick to a record-setting franchise quarterback in year two. Or ask DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper or LeSean McCoy, all of whom set personal bests in total yards.
Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews enters the NFL as a complete receiver with the physical tools to make an impact immediately. Per NFL.com, he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and put up an impressive 21 reps on the bench press. He’s a polished route-runner, catches everything and has excellent bloodlines (Jerry Rice is his cousin).
Beating out Cooper for the No. 2 receiving job shouldn’t be a too-difficult task for Matthews. He's going to start as the slot receiver, but he'll see snaps everywhere. There’s a chance he could be the team’s go-to option by the end of his rookie campaign. And the contracts of Maclin and Cooper suggest Matthews will be the top receiving option by 2016.
Loser: Colt Lyerla
What a fall it has been for Colt Lyerla. The former Oregon tight end possesses physical attributes that should have made him a top-15 overall pick; instead he’s garnering zero interest as even an undrafted rookie free agent.
Lyerla ran a 4.61 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, posted a 39-inch vertical leap and broad-jumped 128 inches. All three of those totals were tops for his positional group. At 6’4”, 242 pounds, Lyerla would essentially be an oversized slot receiver, causing mismatch problems for opposing linebackers and safeties.
Still, teams are extremely wary of Lyerla for obvious reasons. He was kicked off the Oregon Ducks as a junior. He frequently skipped classes, meetings, practices and was suspended for a time. And there was the cocaine problem, which is the most telling problem of them all.
The fact that Lyerla’s college head coach, Chip Kelly, didn’t even want Lyerla says a lot. As of now, Lyerla remains unsigned. Is he even worth the risk on a rookie salary with no guarantees?
Winner: Brandon Boykin
Sitting at pick No. 22 overall, the Philadelphia Eagles had a handful of first-round options at cornerback. They could have opted for Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, who went two pick later to the Cincinnati Bengals. Howie Roseman could have opted for undersized ballhawk Jason Verrett from TCU. And he could have added Ohio State's Bradley Roby. All three of those corners likely would have started in Week 1.
Instead, Roseman passed on all three players, traded back, and selected a pass-rusher with his first-round selection. It wasn't until the fourth round that Roseman added a cornerback, selecting Florida's Jaylen Watkins. While Watkins projects to be a fine player—and a versatile one who can play safety—he won't likely push Boykin for playing time in 2014.
In fact, this was the ideal scenario for Boykin. Cary Williams' contract ($6.4 million in 2014 and $8.1 million in 2015) suggests he has maybe one year left. Bradley Fletcher is a free agent after this coming season. It isn't illogical to expect both players to start again in '14, with Boykin in the slot and new addition Nolan Carroll as the dime back.
But that means Boykin will at the very least be the nickel back. If he plays as well as he did last year—six interceptions, two in the final minute to preserve division wins—he has to get playing time on the outside.
Loser: Earl Wolff
The Philadelphia Eagles didn't draft a first-round safety. In fact, Howie Roseman didn't address the position until the fifth round, grabbing Stanford's Ed Reynolds.
But there's now a logjam of safeties on the roster. Malcolm Jenkins is all but guaranteed to start, given the nature of the three-year deal he signed in free agency. Nate Allen was brought back on a one-year deal, and he showed substantial improvement a year ago.
Free-agent addition Chris Maragos isn't a threat to take snaps on defense, but Reynolds is. So is new corner Jaylen Watkins, since he can play cornerback and safety.
NJ.com's Matt Lombardo even suggested that Wolff's roster spot may be in jeopardy. After all, Wolff was just a fifth-round pick, and he played well...but not well enough by any means to secure one of the coveted 53 spots.
Realistically, it is doubtful that Wolff would get cut. He played well enough last year to warrant a spot, and his salary certainly doesn't handicap the team. But he may have to prove himself all over again to even see the field in 2014.