RASUL DOUGLAS might be the most intriguing player on the Eagles roster this season, a living testament to the unique offseason strategy orchestrated by his bosses, and, thus, a potential bellwether of its success or failure.
The rookie third-round draft pick out of West Virginia is the kind of athlete who stands out from his surroundings. Mostly, it is his frame, a perfectly proportioned 6 feet, 2 inches, devoid of the subtle awkwardness present in many defensive backs of his size. He is square, thick and athletic looking. While his silhouette might appear to the naked eye as being similar to that of former second-round draft pick Eric Rowe, there is something more compact, more balanced, more put together about Douglas. Rowe moved about the practice field in a stiff, upright manner. Douglas' size looks a lot more natural.
But the intrigue goes deeper than the usual questions that confront draft picks of his ilk, most of which concern the deficiencies that dropped him into the draft's middle rounds (in Douglas case, it's a lack of foot speed, as well as a lack of experience). See, the Eagles selected Douglas only after waiting and watching 25 additional players go off the board from where they were initially slotted to pick in the third round of May's draft. Earlier in the offseason, the club had agreed to swap third-round picks with the Ravens to acquire the final season remaining on defensive tackle Tim Jernigan's contract. The move gave the Eagles an adequate but temporary patch for the hole left by Bennie Logan's departure to the Chiefs on a one-year, $8 million free-agent contract (the Eagles are scheduled to pay Jernigan $1.02 million for his one season of service).
In return for the rights to one season of Jernigan, the Eagles agreed to move back in the third round from No. 74 to No. 99 overall. At the time of the deal, the cost was so abstract as to sound neglible. But now that the draft has passed, its implications are more concrete and easier to conceptualize. Had the Eagles stayed at No. 74, they obviously still would have had a chance to draft Douglas, whom they ended up taking at No. 99. But they also would have had a chance to draft five other cornerbacks who went off the board after the Ravens selected Michigan defensive end Chris Wormley with the pick the Eagles gave them. Perhaps Douglas would've been the best corner on their board regardless.
But suppose he was sixth in their rating, and suppose the Eagles had a much higher grade on someone such as UCLA corner Fabian Moreau (Redskins, No. 81), Central Florida's Shaquill Griffin (Seahawks at No. 90), Michigan's Jourdan Lewis (Cowboys at No. 92), Tennessee's Cameron Sutton (Steelers at 94) or Clemson's Cordrea Tankersley (Dolphins at 97), or even Penn State receiver Chris Godwin. Suppose they loved one of those guys the way they loved Brian Westbrook in 2002, back when they held their breath as they watched him fall to No. 91. On draft night, in the war room, watching the names tick off your list - that's when you feel the real cost of one year of Tim Jernigan. The wider you zoom, the more that one year reduces to the speck that it is.
There's a scenario in which the Eagles and Jernigan agree to a contract extension before the season and Jernigan becomes Warren Sapp in a 4-3, and he and Fletcher Cox team up for the next four years wreaking havoc on offensive guards across the country. Otherwise, the Eagles will be exactly where they were a year before, looking to re-sign or replace a starting defensive tackle via free agency, trade or the draft.
In that scenario, the variable upon which everything hinges is Douglas. The odds say that Douglas wouldn't be an Eagle right now if the Eagles hadn't traded for Jernigan, and that there are multiple alternate worlds out there in which Jaye Howard, Frostee Rucker or Beau Allen is starting at defensive tackle, and that Lewis or Tankersley or one of those other corners is lining up with the Eagles 1s and trying to solve a position that has the potential to undermine yet another season.
A lot of eyes were on the Eagles third-round pick on Tuesday, a cool gray morning of rain steady enough to soak through practice clothes, but light enough that a baseball game might've gone uninterrupted. For a rookie hoping to earn playing time, Philadelphia is a good place to be. Douglas lined up at the left outside cornerback spot on the first-team defense, with veteran newcomer Patrick Robinson on the other side and second-year man Jalen Mills in the slot. A variety of factors will determine the extent of Douglas' eventual role in Jim Schwartz's defense, but the most significant one does not appear likely to change: The Eagles have few other options.
The question with Douglas is whether he has the speed and agility necessary to hang 1-on-1 with NFL receivers. His combine results were underwhelming across the board, including a 4.59 40-yard dash that was a hundredth of a second slower than the time posted by Nate Gerry, who was drafted by the Eagles as a linebacker.
He certainly has the aggressive mentality, and, if one day of practice was any indication, the physicality. From a ground-level perspective, there's a lot to like. From a wide-angle view, there's a lot to wonder about regarding what the Eagles would've done at No. 74 versus No. 99.
Just that morning, Schwartz had articulated the inherent tension between past and future in roster management.
"You always have to hedge short term and long term in this business," the defensive coordinator said. "That's a difficult balance, not only for coaches, but for the organization."
He was talking about second-round pick Sidney Jones, who is unlikely to play this season because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon he suffered a month before the draft. But the notion applies up and down the roster. It's often the accumulation of small moves such as these that end up determining long-term success or failure. That's of little concern to Douglas himself. But it's part of the story we'll tell.