Trading Matthews ‘hard Trigger to Pull,' But Eagles Desperate to Stockpile Corners

Howie Roseman has spent a good portion of his two tenures as Eagles GM trying to find cornerbacks.

He's drafted guys. He's signed guys. And now he's traded for a guy.

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The morning after the Eagles' preseason opener, Roseman executed a blockbuster trade, acquiring third-year pro Ronald Darby - a 23-year-old former second-round pick - from the Bills in exchange for free-agent-to-be Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick.

"This was a hard trigger to pull, when you're talking about Jordan and a premium pick," Roseman said.

"But we're just trying to figure out the best way to build this team and be competitive - not only during the regular season but hopefully one day to win playoff games and get even further than that. 

"And when we look at this, the corner position is a huge priority for us and having the opportunity to get a young corner who can grow with our group, it was appealing."

Roseman, the Eagles' executive vice president of football operations, said the trade was the most difficult he's ever had to make.

"You have a knot in your stomach," he said.

But in the end, his desire to stock the cornerback spot with young talent convinced him to ship Matthews, whose 225 receptions are ninth-most in NFL history by a receiver in his first three seasons.

Darby, who played for current Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as a rookie second-round pick in 2015, started 29 games for the Bills the last two years. He had two interceptions with Buffalo - both in 2015 - but 33 pass knockdowns in 29 games.

"You know you're going to need a bunch of corners to play," Roseman said. "And so the more you can have at that position, the better set up you are. 

"It is a pass-driven league and throwing a bunch of three- and four-wide receiver packages is a part of (teams') game plan. And so when we looked at it and we looked at the teams that have tremendous success, they continue to throw resources at that position." 

The Eagles haven't won a playoff game since their cornerbacks were Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, a pair of high 2002 draft picks.

Since that duo left Philly - Sheppard after 2008, Brown after 2009 - the Eagles have stumbled with an ever-changing cast of overpaid free agents, failed draft picks, disinterested reclamation projects and fading veterans on their last legs.

The Eagles this offseason drafted Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas in the second and third rounds, signed veteran Patrick Robinson and brought back guys like Jalen Mills, Aaron Grymes, Ron Brooks and C.J. Smith.

"When you look at depth charts around the league, it's hard to find corners," Roseman said. "It's hard to find teams that have a lot of corners, and having all these guys who are 21, 22, 23 years old. I think that's the most exciting thing about this."

Because of the cost - a capable receiver and a third-round pick - Darby automatically becomes the centerpiece of this group.

"He's got rare speed," Roseman said. "His production on the ball, he doesn't have a high interception number but his (passes defensed) number is incredibly high. 

"He's played a variety of coverages. He won a national championship at (Florida State). You see him go against the players that we go against in our division. The Bills in 2015 played the NFC East. So you have that look. 

"When you go into the draft, a lot of those things are unknown. So you have a lot of known qualities in him. We have people in the building who have been around him and that's an important part as well. 

"There's no insurance on these things. We do what we think is in the best interest of the team. And then when you pull the trigger on anything like this, you think about the player you're giving up and the draft pick. But we felt like this was the right decision for us."

The Eagles now have a nucleus of corners who are 23 or younger: Mills, Jones, Douglas and Darby. C.J. Smith, who has had a promising camp, is 24. 

"We spent a lot of time going over this because this is obviously a big trade for our football team," he said. "You look around the league, and it is a corner-deficient league. It's hard to find those guys. It's hard to find guys who have been solid starters in this league and can play at a high level. And teams that have them aren't really ready to move them. 

"So it's something that we felt - as well as the quarterback position, the offensive line, defensive line - you can never have enough of those guys."

Before the trade, Mills and Robinson were the projected starters, with Brooks the top slot guy. Douglas and Jones - out indefinitely while rehabbing an Achilles injury - presumably are the long-term future starters. 

Where does Darby fit in? 

"All those are good problems to have," Roseman said. "They'll all be sorted out through competition, through this process. 

"Our coaches will put the best guys out on the field and in the best positions. Jalen certainly has done a great job. Big jump from Year 1 to Year 2, he's really taken it and run with it."

How bad have the Eagles' cornerbacks been?

The Eagles have allowed 25 or more touchdown passes in eight straight seasons, the longest streak in NFL history.

The last time they didn't? That was 2008, the last time they won a playoff game.

"There are a lot of priorities that go into building a team that consistently competes for championships," Roseman said. "And having a defensive back, corner position that was young and could grow together, this fits with that description. 

"Ronald's got two years left on his contract. He's played in the National Football League for two years. You have the tape of watching him go against the guys we go against. Doesn't make it any easier. We wish Jordan all the best, but we did what we thought was best for our team going forward."

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