Ford: Eagles hope big draft bet yields Super payoff like Atlanta's

Julio Jones vs Seattle
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) scores on a 7-yard touchdown catch against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

It is always a huge risk for an NFL team to package a wealth of draft picks to reach for a golden prize near the top of board, but the promise of that one magical component is sometimes too great to resist.

For teams in that dangerous but delicious situation, the league has a special place they can go: Cleveland.

The Browns are eternally pinned to the upper reaches of the draft board and annually unsure what should be done with the opportunity. Not that long ago, a team knocked on Cleveland's door holding a bagful of picks if the Browns would just part with their highest one, and, of course, a deal was made.

But the example at hand is not from last year, when the Eagles essentially gave up two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and a third-round pick to get Cleveland's second pick in the draft and the chance to take quarterback Carson Wentz.

The trade that matters at the moment, and the one that could yield the greatest of fruits on Feb. 5, is the 2011 deal in which the Atlanta Falcons gave the Browns two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and two fourth-round picks for the sixth spot in the draft and the right to select wide receiver Julio Jones. Right now, that looks pretty good.

At the time, however, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff was advised not to make the deal. The counsel was given by his former boss, the guy for whom he had served as director of college scouting for six years, some fellow named Bill Belichick.

In the world of Belichick and in his philosophy of team building, one does not expend a great many assets in a blind Let's Make a Deal bargain for whoever is behind the curtain pointed to by Carol Merrill. It could turn out to be Julio Jones, no question, but it could also be Charles Rogers, and where are you then?

Call it irony if you like, but the ultimate validation of Atlanta's gamble might arrive against Belichick and the Patriots. That doesn't mean Belichick was wrong. It's hard to argue with his method of putting together a roster. It just means that Dimitroff beat the odds and, for those who do, the rewards can be immense.

That is also the hope of Howie Roseman, who also went against accepted NFL wisdom - and his own previous stance - to move up for Wentz. Will the Eagles ultimately be as fortunate as the Falcons and reach the Super Bowl with the object of their draft strategy? Well, that was the idea, even if a risky and expensive one.

"The history of trading up for one player, when you look at those trades, isn't good for the team trading up and putting a lot of resources into it. Because the [teams] who are really good at the draft, if you're hitting on 60 percent of your first-round picks, that's a pretty good track record. So really, the more chances you get, the more tickets to the lottery you get, the better you should be doing," Roseman said.

He made that statement at an analytics conference in 2015 during his powerless purgatory within the organization, and it was perceived as a backhanded slap at Chip Kelly's unsuccessful attempt to move up for Marcus Mariota. One year later, however, he did exactly that to get Wentz.

The machinations to land Wentz cost the Eagles and will continue to do so for a while, but the Falcons drifted to 4-12, 6-10, and 8-8 before being able to reload around Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan.

"We knew we had to get a little uncomfortable for this season and next season, really, to build something that hopefully lasts and gives us a chance at being a really good team again for a long period of time," Roseman said of the short-term pain designed to provide a big payoff.

A consolation for both teams is that the Browns are never a threat to make you look really bad. None of the five players who landed in Cleveland as a result of the Atlanta trade - and a subsequent one - are still with the Browns. The two first-round picks were defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who started just 42 games before being released, and quarterback Brandon Weeden, taken late in the 2012 opening round with future Pro Bowl players David DeCastro, Dont'a Hightower, Harrison Smith, and Doug Martin still on the board. (Also still on the board were quarterbacks Brock Osweiler, Russell Wilson, and Kirk Cousins.)

It will take a while for the Browns to totally mess up the Eagles trade, but they made a good start by trading down from No. 8 last year, handing stud tackle Jack Conklin, who would start every game and be selected all-pro as a rookie, to Tennessee, in exchange for the 15th pick and some lesser selections. Cleveland took wide receiver Corey Coleman, and he might turn into something but was merely the fifth-leading receiver on the 30th offense in the league. We'll see what the Browns do with their 2017 pick from the Eagles, which is the 12th in the draft.

Should the Eagles get to the Super Bowl with Wentz, the other side of the trade ledger will cease to matter, anyway, and isn't that the point of all this? It certainly was the point for Atlanta when Dimitroff ignored the warnings of his mentor and bet everything on Julio Jones. Regardless of what happens in Houston in 10 days, the Falcons made it to the cashier's window to collect. The Eagles hope to be standing in line right behind them.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports