The Eagles made a bold move before Tuesday's NFL trade deadline when they acquired wide receiver Golden Tate from the Detroit Lions for a 2019 third-round pick, signaling that the team's decision-makers believe they're still legitimate contenders despite a 4-4 start.
"The message to our fans, to our players, to our coaches, to everyone in this organization is our foot is always going to be on the gas," said Howie Roseman, the Eagles' executive vice president of football operations. "We're always trying to win. We're always going to try to put our best foot forward. What we can do now is try to do that for this season and this moment."
Tate, 30, is a three-time Pro Bowler who's been one of the NFL's most consistent wide receivers since signing with Detroit in 2014. But he's also in the final year of his contract, so the Eagles sacrificed a Day 3 contract for a player who's only contracted for eight games (and the playoffs) in an Eagles uniform.
That was the risk in the trade, but the reward was clear. Tate has 44 catches for 517 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has averaged 93 catches for 1,056 yards and four touchdowns during the last four seasons with the Lions and has not missed a game during that span.
"We're really excited to bring him to Philly," Roseman said. "He fits what we do offensively, fits what we do from a character perspective, and [we] can't wait to get him in here and for everyone in Philly to see what we're getting."
Tate joins Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor as the Eagles' top receivers. They also have Jordan Matthews and might get Mike Wallace and/or Mack Hollins back from injured reserve. Plus, the Eagles have Pro Bowler Zach Ertz and second-round pick Dallas Goedert at tight end. So there's no shortage of weapons for quarterback Carson Wentz to find and coach Doug Pederson to deploy.
That's what the Eagles need, considering their offense has only twice topped 23 points in eight games this season. They average 22.3 points per game, which is more than six points per game fewer than last season. They need to quickly integrate Tate into the offense — the bye week will help — and figure out how to use him (Who will play the slot? Whose playing time will dip?), but that's a better problem to have than a lack of offensive firepower.
"You have versatility there," Roseman said. "All of those guys can play inside and out. That's the excitement that our coaches have: You're not just having one guy lined up in a particular situation and the defense knows that this guy is going to line up there. …Our coaches have a game plan for all of those guys and certainly [for] our tight ends in the middle of the field and the damage that they can do. And we are going to get some guys back [from injury], too. So we want to be multiple on offense; we want to be a handful for defensive coordinators. This guy is a heck of a player and I think our fans are going to be really excited to see him in Eagles green."
The Eagles have been engaged in trade conversations during the past month, and Roseman said his staff has "talked to every team in the league." They inquired about "any player that you could imagine we'd be interested in," and they went deep enough into conversations with the Lions brass that they started to weigh the price.
The Dallas Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper from Oakland last week for a first-round pick. Houston dealt a fourth-round pick and swapped seventh-round picks to pick up Demaryius Thomas from Denver on Tuesday. Quality wide receivers were not in the bargain bin this season, and Roseman realized he would need to pay the price.
"It was about the value of this player for our football team – what we think he can do for us – and then, obviously, [the value] in the market that was going on at this time," Roseman said. "We know that it wasn't a cheap price to pay, but again, we are not trying to win the deal, we are trying to win games."
This was different than the Eagles' deadline deal last season, when they acquired Jay Ajayi for a fourth-round pick. They wanted Ajayi to help in 2017, but they also liked that Ajayi was a young, cost-controlled player who would be a key part of their 2018 roster. Tate could amount to a rental, and Roseman needed to reconcile that before deciding to make the trade.
"Certainly when you are looking at it, you have to balance the fact that he is going to be a free agent – and we have a bunch of free agents here – but we did all of that research and background as to the ramifications of which way this can go," Roseman said. "We were comfortable with it at the end of the day."
What could help the Eagles is they've put effort into studying and utilizing the compensatory pick formula. If the Eagles do not re-sign Tate and he signs a lucrative deal elsewhere, and the Eagles aren't big spenders in free agency themselves, they could recoup a mid-round compensatory pick in 2020.
Even if that's a possibility, the Eagles did not make this trade with 2020 in mind. This trade is about the next few months. The Eagles might be .500 at the midpoint of their season, but they're still all-in on trying to repeat. If their confidence was not known on Tuesday morning, it was clear for all to see on Tuesday afternoon.
"There is no doubt," Roseman said. "We have a lot of confidence in our players and in our coaching staff. Has everything gone exactly the way we thought this year? No, I don't think any season does. But we think we have a really good football team and we are adding a really good player. Again, we are going to keep our foot on the gas and that's our message."