Did the Eagles Just Get a Golden (Tate) Ticket?
I was getting ready to write about how last season's Cinderella Philadelphia Eagles had turned back into pumpkins this season (in honor of Halloween), but then de facto GM Howie Roseman went all in again by making a trade for Detroit WR Golden Tate at the trade deadline.
I don't think that Tate is going to solve all of the Eagles problems and I'm not sure that he is the missing piece that is going to lead them to repeating as World Champions, but damn if it doesn't feel good to have a team that knows it's time to do whatever it takes to win now.
Usually, I'm the one who says to play for the future and build through the draft. But this Eagles team is full of aging veterans and the window for them to remain great might just be closing after this season. You see, this offseason is the first time the Eagles can negotiate a contract extension with Carson Wentz. Obviously the Eagles are going to do whatever it takes to keep Wentz as an Eagle for his entire career. The problem is that the Eagles are already over the 2019 NFL salary cap.
If you will indulge me, let's take a quick look at their 2019 cap.
The NFL salary cap for 2019 is $187 million, but teams can roll over any unused money from 2018. That means the Eagles will have around $190 million (They will be paying Tate $3.7 million this season). Even if we subtract the $20 million Nick Foles is owed and the $11 million that Jason Peters is owed, the Eagles would only be $28 million under the 2019 cap. They just might have to pay Carson Wentz more than that in a new contract. And that's not even considering other free agents, such as Jay Ajayi, Brandon Graham, Ronald Darby and Jordan Hicks. Every single one of those players is going to be very hard to replace, especially Hicks. And is anyone else comfortable with Halapoulivaati Vaitai protecting Wentz's blind side? I'm not.
So you may be thinking that I just made the argument that trading a draft pick at the exact time when the Eagles will need young, inexpensive talent, is a bad thing. While that is true, I'll take the promise of what Tate can offer over any possibility the Eagles will strike gold in the third round next year. Yes, I know Nick Foles (2012) and Jordan Hicks (2015) were recent 3rd round picks (dammit why do my fingers keep typing all these things that go against my argument?), but so were Josh Huff (2014) and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (2010). (OK, now my fingers are on board) And the Eagles still have 11 draft picks next year, including two second rounders.
Anyway, back to the trade for Golden Tate.
The Eagles are a horribly disappointing 4-4 going into their bye week. Sure they could have a worse record, but they also should probably be 6-2, if they hadn't coughed up late leads to both the Titans and Panthers in spectacular fashion. The defense got most of the blame for those two late collapses, but I contend that it was probably just as much the offense's fault. And by that I mean Doug Pederson's fault, since he is the one calling the plays.
Last season I called Doug Pederson the worst coach in the NFL (I'm not hiding from what I said) after he dialed up a game plan that even Andy Reid thought leaned way to far towards the pass, in a loss to Kansas City. I received a ton of grief from fans with 20/20 hindsight, but those people probably thought Reid and Chip Kelly were great coaches too, just because they coached their hometown team. The truth is that Pederson lost that Week 2 game against the Chiefs last season, due to his play-calling and he has reverted back to ignoring the run again this season. Calling 2 running plays in the entire second half of a game they were beating Carolina by 17-0 was inexcusable. And it led directly to that loss.
I bring that up because anyone who thought the Eagles needed to trade for a RB like Le'veon Bell or LeSean McCoy aren't considering the fact that Pederson isn't running the ball very often this season anyway. Plus, they are due to get Darren Sproles back after the bye. Sproles isn't an every down back, but he is a weapon in the passing game that Doug loves so much this season and he can actually pick up a blitzing defender, unlike any of the other RBs on the roster. A RB rotation that includes Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and Josh Adams, is good enough to get the job done with the weapons the Eagles now have in the passing game.
Is Doug Pederson Getting to Pass-Happy Again?
If you thought the Eagles could have used an upgrade at CB or safety, I'm not really going to argue. I would have given up a 4th round pick for safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix from Green Bay (That's what Washington gave up for him). But Patrick Peterson was going to cost the Eagles a first rounder plus at least another high pick. Besides, if Jalen Mills is more seriously injured than they are letting on, the Eagles defense will be better just by him not being on the field to give up long pass plays every game. Seriously, why is Mills starting over Sidney Jones or Rasul Douglas? Last week, Douglas was in for Mills in the second half and, viola, the Eagles didn't blow a fourth quarter lead. Coincidence? I think not. Defensive End or Defensive Tackle? Sure, they could have used an upgrade after the Derek Barnett injury, but I didn't see any DEs traded. And there has actually been recent DT Tim Jerrnigan sightings at practice. If Jerrnigan can make it back onto the field this season from his back injury, that would be a huge jolt to the defense.
Plus, the defense is playing well, in spite of the late game collapses. Did you know the Eagles defense is ranked 7th in scoring defense, giving up only 19.5 points per game? That is pretty damn good and more than enough to win games, in spite of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's love of the bend-but-don't-break defense where his CBs seem to be 20 yards off the WRs on every down.
The Eagles' four losses have been by 2, 3, 4 and 6 points. In those loses the Eagles offense scored 17, 21, 21 and 23 points. The Eagles are only averaging 22.3 points per game this season after averaging 28 last season. That is simply not enough production out of the offense. That is where Tate can help.
I have to admit that even I didn't know how good Tate is. He has 44 receptions for 517 yards and 3 TDs through 7 games this season. He has 31 catches of over 30 yards since 2012, which is 9th most in the NFL over that span. Since he signed with Detroit in 2014, he has averaged 93 receptions for 1,056 yards and nearly 5 TDs a season. That is the 6th most catches in the NFL since 2014. And he is coming off two straight 1,000 yard seasons. This is a damn good receiver the Eagles just traded a 3rd round pick for.
As for the argument that both he and Nelson Agholor are slot receivers, I counter with the fact that people said the same thing when they signed Jordan Matthews and he just led the team in receiving yards against the Jaguars, while playing on the outside. I don't think anyone is going to say that Matthews is better than Tate, so this trade represents a huge upgrade there. Or maybe Agholor moves outside and Tate plays in the slot. Agholor certainly has the speed to play outside. And with Tate joining a receiving corps that also includes Alshon Jeffery and TE Zach Ertz, defenses won't be able to double team anyone. Carson Wentz and Pederson's offense were at their best last season when they were spreading the ball around. They need to get back to that.
Is Golden Tate Better than a Wonka Bar?
I really don't see any downside to this trade.
The Eagles are clearly in win-now mode. They have a star QB, who looks to be fully recovered from last season's knee injury. They had a glaring need to upgrade at WR. They have a roster of aging veterans and impending salary cap issues next season. And they have plenty of draft picks next year. Even a cynic like me can't find fault with what the Eagles did in trading for Tate.
Is Golden Tate, the Golden Ticket that will deliver the Eagles a second consecutive Super Bowl Championship? I don't know. What I do know is that, just like the Ajayi trade last year, Tate makes the Philadelphia Eagles better and that's all that really matters.