The Eagles almost certainly had to make a move before Tuesday’s trade deadline. The roster had a handful of glaring holes that would need to be addressed if the team was going to make it back to the postseason to defend its Super Bowl crown.
Philadelphia could have used a lot of help in the secondary. It needed a running back after Jay Ajayi’s season-ending injury thrust the underwhelming Wendell Smallwood into the starting lineup. With Mike Wallace’s health in doubt, a field-stretching receiver would have also been a smart addition.
Well, the Eagles did trade for a receiver. And one with a big name, at that. Hours before the deadline, the team announced it had swapped a 2019 third-round pick for Lions WR Golden Tate.
Tate is one of the league’s best weapons out of the slot. He knows how to get open and is an absolute pain to bring down once he gets the ball in his hands, which is why he finds himself at the top of the NFL’s yards-after-catch leaderboard every year.
But… Tate does not improve the Eagles all that much. He certainly doesn’t fill any of the weaknesses we mentioned above.
Tate will likely replace Nelson Agholor as the team’s primary slot receiver. Agholor had lined up in the middle on 200 snaps this season. Tate had done the same on 162 snaps in Detroit. Agholor has played on the outside during his career, but isn’t all that good at it. And with rookie TE Dallas Goedert’s role growing by the week, you can expect Agholor’s snaps to dwindle over the rest of the season, which could be his last in Philadelphia.
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So really the Eagles didn’t fill a hole with this trade; they simply upgraded a spot they were already solid at.
Agholor has had a problem with drops at times during his career, but Tate’s hands aren’t any more reliable. In fact, Tate has dropped 9.6% of his targets in 2018. Agholor has dropped only 5.4% of his.
Tate does offer a one-yard advantage in average YAC – 6.4 to 5.4 – but Agholor is no slouch in that department either.
Philly still needs a receiver capable of taking the top off a defense. It had brought in Wallace to fill that void, which was left after Torrey Smith was traded away in the offseason. But the team trading for another receiver is not a good sign for Wallace, who was placed on IR after fracturing his fibula in September. The team could get Mack Hollins back in the next few weeks, but he’s not going to scare defenses like Wallace would.
As for the compensation, a third-round pick is a bit rich for what will likely be a half-season rental. Tate’s deal is up after the 2018 season, and it’s almost certain that he will hit free agency. I’m not sure the Eagles – or any team for that matter – will be in a rush to pay a 31-year-old slot receiver who has taken a lot of hits over his career. If they do let Tate walk, the Eagles will get a 2020 comp pick back – probably a fourth- or fifth-rounder. They’re also now on the hook for $3.7 million of Tate’s salary. That money could have been rolled over to next year’s cap.
That’s not the steepest price for a player of Tate’s caliber but it is a costly one for a player who is little more than a luxury buy. It’s as if the Eagles felt pressured to add a big name and set out to do so whether or not it filled a pressing need. Giving up picks for Patrick Peterson or Le’Veon Bell or DeSean Jackson? Yeah, that would have made a lot of sense given the state of the roster. But Tate only marginally improves the team’s chances of winning the NFC East, which might be its only path back to the postseason.
The Eagles will still be inconsistent running the football. They won’t be any better at defending the pass. The passing game won’t be any more explosive. But, hey, they now have a recognizable name to play alongside Alshon Jeffrey and their bubble screens will be a bit more effective!
General manager Howie Roseman has earned the benefit of the doubt over the last two years, but it’s hard to envision this trade making a significant difference for a team that seems to be caught in a Super Bowl hangover. Perhaps the front office is, too.
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