Could the Eagles be on the move again in Thursday’s draft?
General manager Howie Roseman said the Eagles are open to dealing away their number 23 pick, and hinted at drumming up interest from squads eager to get a late first-round quarterback.
“Especially where we are in the first round, I think that’s where you anticipate some of the quarterbacks coming up. Obviously we’re in a great place in the draft to get some of those quarterbacks where they’re slotted to go if someone wants to come up and get one of those quarterbacks,” Roseman told Philadelphia-area reporters today. He said the team has alreamody received calls. "People are interested in moving up. ... There are a bunch of teams that look like they're in the top 10 first round, second round that may be interested in a quarterback. If they want to make sure that they get one, and get the one that they want, I think it's an area that you can come and move to."
Roseman might be sending out a smokescreen, but more likely he was sending a message to other teams: if you want our first rounder, we're listening.
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His comments fit with recent breakdowns from draft analysts, who have predicted a “feeding frenzy” on late first round quarterbacks (in the words of the NFL Networks Mike Mayock), especially among QB-needy teams who can’t get veterans through trades or free agency. ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have each made similar comments, saying that after Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert come off the board, teams will be scrambling to get into the bottom of the first round to grab next-tier QBs, for fear of missing out entirely if they wait.
We saw this happen last year when the Broncos traded back into the first round to get Tim Tebow at number 25.
While you always have to worry about misdirection this time of year, Roseman’s comments hint strongly at the Eagles looking to move back in the draft, not up. If that happens, look for them to go after offensive or defensive linemen, where the draft is deeper, instead of a cornerback, where there are three top players and not much afterwards (though Roseman said the depth of cover men who could play in the slot specifically may be better than those who are strictly corners who play on the outside).
So how would the Eagles get a cornerback, a position where they desperately need help? Talking in general, Roseman several times referred to “other avenues” available after the draft (read: eventual trades and free agency). He also talked repeatedly of not looking at any one pick in a "vacuum" and of assessing the combinations possible in the first and second rounds. (See last year, when they passed on safety Earl Thomas expecting that they could still get a starting-quality safety, Nate Allen, in the second round).
With that in mind, the draft looks like the better bet for offensive linemen, since there are many good ones available and few quality veterans likely to be around in free agency.
The opposite holds true at corner, where there could be a good free agent group and only a few top flight cover men in the draft.
The cornerback free agency class should be a strong one, headlined by Nnamdi Asomugha, but with several other very good players potentially available as well, depending on free agency rules – including Johnathan Joseph, Antonio Cromartie and maybe Brent Grimes – again, depending on the rules around restricted free agents. In the draft, the Eagles would have to pay heavily to get Prince Amukamara -- likely giving up their first and second round picks to move up high enough to snag him -- and might have to move up to get Jimmy Smith, who analysts say is rising again (though the price would be lower).
The sense today was that they would much rather move back than up.
"We’re open to explore any options that we think make us better, whether that’s moving up, moving down, we're definitely open," Roseman said. After a long pause he finally added, "Or picking."
Some other highlights:
-- Roseman said he expects to be able to stick even closer to the team's draft board than usual this year, because even if the team doesn't fill draft needs, those "other avenues" (free agency, trades) will let them fill remaining holes later. That means picking for top talent at each slot, with less emphasis on specific needs. He allowed that if two available players are graded closely, the edge would go to the one that fills a need, but only if it's a close call.
-- He touted the defensive line talent at the top of the draft, calling it "very enticing" but said it's not as deep in later rounds this year. He said linebacker value is probably in the middle rounds, which would keep with recent Eagles history of waiting to pick LBs.
-- On cornerback Jimmy Smith's character concerns: "Jimmy's a good guy to talk to ... he did a great job when he was here."
-- On his tendency to make so many draft-day trades: "A.D.D." Then he got more serious: "The more players you get, the better chance you have of hitting on guys."
-- On some of last year's mid-round picks: He said Daniel Te'o-Nesheim got "beat up" in training camp and had a disappointing year, but "I don't think we've seen the best of Te'o." He thought Trevard Lindley "did a great job" and played "at a high level" for a rookie fourth rounder. Linebacker Keenan Clayton he said will be a weakside linebacker, not a safety. Roseman said the team knew it would probably take him a year to adjust to the NFL.