The Eagles Should Trade for Alshon Jeffery

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

I am preparing for an oral argument right now, so my time is limited. But I wanted to get some quick thoughts down on the rumors that first circulated on Monday night regarding the Eagles pursuing trading for a wide receiver.

The initial report involved the Eagles in talks over San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith, who is a 27 year-old, one trick pony on a $9.3 million a year contract. That’s the definition of meh. But Smith still presents an upgrade over the cast of characters manning the wide receiver spots not named Jordan Matthews. That of course is more of an indictment on the Eagles receivers than it is a compliment to Smith. But I digress.

So  Howie Roseman is doing his thing, working to maximize Carson Wentz’s ability to throw deep by getting him a receiver that can stretch the field. Don’t love it. Don’t hate it. Have at it, Howie.

But then Jason La Canfora dropped this:

Whether this was a “report” or educated speculation is unclear, but it gained steam when Benjamin Allbright confirmed the talks and provided further details about the potential move.

Now this is interesting.

Yes, the history of mid-season trades is not kind, and that is putting it mildly. The Professor (no, not this Professor) John Clayton broke down 10 of the most memorable midseason trades of all-time and they were mostly memorable for how spectacularly they failed: Herschel Walker to the Vikings, John Hadl (who?) to the Packers, Roy Williams to the Cowboys (ha), and Trent Richardson to the Colts (Ryan Grigson strikes again!), highlight some of the trades on this list. So if history is any indication, trading for Jeffery is fraught with risk.

But the Eagles should still do the deal. Jeffery is a 26 year old Pro Bowl receiver. He’s 6’3, 230 lbs and runs a 4.4 40.  The Bears are only considering the move because they are in rebuilding mode and Jeffery is a free agent at the end of the season. Acquiring him at a discounted rate is a rare opportunity that the Eagles should jump on without hesitation.

Sure, it likely won’t help them compete for a Super Bowl this year — learning a new playbook on the fly is no small feat (and are the Eagles really Super Bowl contenders?) — but long term? Jeffery is a complete receiver entering the prime of his career. His production — 174 catches, 2,554 yards, 17 touchdowns, on 14.65 yards per catch from 2013-14 alone —  is something the Eagles have lacked from the receiving position since they lost Jeremy Maclin to the Kansas City Chiefs. While Jefferey isn’t lighting the world on fire this season, he would still be a significant upgrade for the Birds. Consider this:

And while Jeffery doesn’t have any touchdowns this year (something that would likely change if his quarterback wasn’t Brian Hoyer and Matt freaking Barkley), his 16.3 yards per catch rank 12th in the league, according to ESPN.com. That type of deep threat would make the Eagles offense significantly more difficult to defend and would finally provide Wentz a legitimate target to attack defenses down field. I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired watching Nelson Agholor flail at that role.

And unlike Smith, Jeffery is more than just a deep threat. He is a physical receiver, good route runner, and does a great job of making difficult caches. Watch how he brakes Jalen Mills ankles on this stop and go route in week 2 and then adjusts mid-air to make a difficult catch in traffic:

 

I didn’t have the time to make more clips of Jeffery doing Jeffery-like things, so watch this Youtube video (on mute) instead.

But this isn’t just about what Jeffery can do. It’s also about what Jeffery’s presence means for other players on the Eagles offense. For starters, Jeffery’s ability to stretch the field opens up underneath routes for Zach Ertz, Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles to exploit and takes pressure off the much maligned running game.

It also means that Matthews no longer has to be miscast as the Eagles primary receiving option, but can instead fill the roll as a damn good number two option. And this would undoubtedly help Ertz as well. I know we joke that Ertz will break out any day now, but having a legitimate receiving threat on the outside could make life a living hell on opposing team’s safeties. Right now, they are sitting on the routes Ertz runs over the middle because they don’t have to cheat to the outside to cover Agholor, Huff or DGB. With Jeffery  on the field they could no longer do that. That extra space over the middle should make life easier for Errtz (I hope).

Two final thoughts on his injury history and the expected opportunity cost. Lots of people are complaining that Jeffery is an injury prone receiver. And while I cannot totally dismiss those concerns, I do want to provide a dose of perspective:

  • Jeffery has played in 58 of 71 possible games, which amounts to an 81.69% play rate.
  • Julio Jones has played in 72/87, which is 82.75%.
  • And Dez Bryant has played in 87/103, which is 84.4% of possible games.

I wouldn’t put Jeffery on their level as a receiver (although he’s arguably not far off Dez). But this was more to show you that a receiver can still help a team even if they are missing approximately 1/5th of their potential games.

Lastly, I would be less bullish on this move if the Eagles were offering a 1st round pick. That changes the calculation entirely. But I feel much more confident trading a mid-round pick for a potential top-10 receiver just entering his prime. As I’ve explored before, the expected start rate (i.e., amount of games a pick from a specific round has started on a historical basis) for a third round pick is 34.8% of the possible games. That number drops to 23.4% for a 4th round pick, and 17.5% for a 5th. Those aren’t great odds. So if that’s all it costs to obtain a potential top-10 reciever entering his prime? Sign me up.

 

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