Monday night’s trade, which sent wildly popular Philadelphia Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos to the New Orleans Saints for a 2019 seventh-round pick, drew more fan backlash than one might expect for a deal that involved draft compensation in exchange for a 37-year-old veteran.
Dorenbos’ personal story of overcoming terrifying childhood tragedy and his overall good-guy charm endeared him to a unique city whose fans appreciate an athlete’s journey as much as his destination.
Dorenbos was 12 when his father murdered his mother in their suburban Seattle home. He turned to magic to escape from depression. Out of this hobby emerged a talent that not only helped him acclimate in locker rooms, but also propelled him to global stardom last year when he captivated a national audience as an “America’s Got Talent” finalist.
Only in Philly, where football passion reigns supreme, can a charismatic special teamer turn an 11-year career into iconic status.
Only in Philly does trading a 37-year-old for a draft pick— a no-brainer if there ever was one — require the franchise to release a statement quoting three different organizational heads along with a video tribute on social media. Even a team source expressed surprise that the Eagles pulled the trigger, given owner Jeffrey Lurie’s affinity for Dorenbos.
“It’s tough. I’ve known him for a long time,” coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s been sort of the icon and the staple around the city of Philadelphia for a lot of years. It’s hard. It’s challenging in a way because as you guys know, who have been around me, we bring in competition and talent at every position. I’m fortunate now that he still gets to continue his career, obviously. I’m happy for him and everything that he’s done. But those decisions are extremely hard.”
Anyone paying close attention to general manager Howie Roseman’s moves since the start of camp can see that the Eagles are in the midst of a youth movement, consistently executing personnel transactions with an eye beyond the 2017 season.
Sure, they’re still old at some significant positions, including running back and left tackle, but every deal “Trader Howie” has pulled off since the start of camp — it’s up to five after the Dorenbos deal — has been geared toward turning over the roster to its young nucleus.
Dealing 33-year-old left guard Allen Barbre, a solid starter last year, opened a spot for 23-year-old second-year lineman Issac Seumalo, a 2016 third-round pick. Moving 25-year-old slot receiver Jordan Matthews to Buffalo enabled the team to fill the void with 24-year-old Nelson Agholor, who has a maximum of three years left on his deal, and potentially 23-year-old rookie Mack Hollins.
The Matthews trade also brought back 23-year-old cornerback Ron Darby, who supplanted 29-year-old Patrick Robinson at one starting spot.
Roseman also traded away 27-year-old backup swing tackle Matt Tobin, who probably wouldn’t have made the team, to likely keep 23-year-old Dillon Gordon. Although the deal that sent 26-year-old safety Terrence Brooks to the Jets brought back Dexter McDougle, who is also 26, McDougle’s presence will likely push Robinson or Ron Brooks, 28, out of a roster spot.
The average age of Barbre, Robinson, Matthews, Tobin, Ron Brooks and Dorenbos is 29.8 years old. The average age of Seumalo, Darby, Agholor, Gordon, McDougle and new long snapper Rick Lovato is 23.8. The Eagles are now younger at six pivotal roster spots by an average of almost six years thanks to the trades.
Don’t discount the money saved in these moves. Barbre carried a cap figure of more than $2 million, a heavy price for a backup. Matthews will be a free agent this offseason and stands to make around $8-10 million annually on the market compared to the $5.5 Agholor is expected to collect over the next two seasons.
Dorenbos, who is signed through 2019, carries cap figures around $1 million in each of the next three seasons. Lovato will cost the team about half that in 2017. Pederson admitted that Lovato didn’t necessarily outperform Dorenbos.
“No, I mean, it’s a little more than that. Without getting into a lot of the details, Rick has done a nice job, even going back to last season when he came in late in the season and filled in for us last year,” Pederson added. “Competition makes everybody better. At the end of the day, [we] felt like he was in a good position to help our football team.”
The Eagles, who are building around second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, needed to get younger and free up money for next offseason, when receiver Alshon Jeffery and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan — among others — become free agents. Star linebacker Jordan Hicks and Darby will also be eligible for extensions from their rookie deals.
All of Roseman’s moves reflect the team’s mission of being competitive this year without jeopardizing the ability to take another big step in 2018 and beyond. The goal this past offseason was to improve the Eagles in 2017 without leaving them vulnerable to falling behind again in 2018, hence the unusual number of veterans signed to one-year deals.
The Eagles have insisted that they’re taking a more patient, practical approach to roster rebuilding than in the past. Because of this approach, Dorenbos became an unfortunate cap casualty — wrongly symbolic of disloyalty — for heartbroken fans who were reminded that the NFL can be a cold, callous business.
— Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.
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