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Philadelphia Eagles

Mosher | Ronald Darby trade is move Eagles needed to make

Buffalo Bills cornerback Ronald Darby (28) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo

The Philadelphia Eagles on Friday executed a trade, and paid a steep price in the process, that they absolutely needed to make.

They dealt their most productive receiver the last three years, Jordan Matthews, to the Buffalo Bills and also sent a 2018 third-round pick to get cornerback Ronald Darby, a deal that will help them much more in the short and long term.

In short, the Eagles said goodbye to a player who wasn’t part of their future and brought in a proven starter at their weakest position.

Matthews has been a proven, productive slot receiver for three years, but he’s not dynamic, not explosive and entered the final year of his four-year rookie deal. He’s never eclipsed 1,000 yards, is prone to occasional drops and didn’t prove he could win on the perimeter in his few opportunities there.

The team didn’t have any major conversations with Matthews on an extension, which was a major indication that they were preparing to move on if the right deal came along.

It’s rare that good corners become available on the trade market, but Buffalo is rebuilding behind a new head coach-general manager combo, so Darby, a former second-round pick, is that rare good corner who became available.

Darby, who played well as a rookie, isn’t a superstar, and his presence doesn’t immediately make the Eagles playoff contenders. But he’s way better than anything the Eagles had on the roster, and they are unquestionably a better overall team with Darby and without Matthews than vice versa.

The Eagles were looking at starting the season with Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills as starters at cornerback. Robinson is having a terrible camp and said recently that he’s nowhere near where he should be. Mills has two career starts and is probably more suited to play nickel back.

This tweet pretty much says it all:

Even better, Darby has two years left on his deal, which is why the Eagles needed to throw in a 2018 third-rounder to make it happen. If Darby plays well this season, the Eagles can think about giving him the long-term money they didn’t want to commit to Matthews. If not, the Eagles have high 2017 draft picks Sidney Jones (second round) and Rasul Douglas (third round) to develop.

The loss of Matthews hurts, but should be mitigated. The Eagles have several different options for the slot, starting with Nelson Agholor, who’ll get the first chance to prove that his impressive training camp signifies an awakening after two dismal seasons. Versatile halfbacks Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey are slot specialists. Tight end Zach Ertz and Trey Burton are also reliable pass catchers who operate around the same area of the field that Matthews does.

Besides, if the Eagles are developing offensively around free agents Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, there should be less emphasis on the role of the slot receiver. Matthews was the team’s focus at receiver because the Eagles have lacked any real presence on the outside since Chip Kelly let Jeremy Maclin walk out the door after the 2015 season. The team has since juggled Riley Cooper, Miles Austin, Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff and some others in attempt to find a field-stretcher.

Bottom line: The Eagles needed cornerback help much more than Carson Wentz needed an inside receiver. The price was steep, but solid, young corners don’t become available every day of the week.

– Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL. 

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