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Why Eagles give up Matthews in trade

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles made yet another bold attempt to improve their cornerback situation Friday, trading the team's most productive pass-catcher, slot receiver Jordan Matthews, and a 2018 conditional third-round pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Ronald Darby.

Darby, 23, was the NFL's defensive rookie of the year in 2015 and gives the Eagles a corner who can match up against the NFC East's top wideouts, including the Cowboys' Dez Bryant and the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. He joins a young position group that includes two players the Eagles selected in the April draft - 21-year-old second-round pick Sidney Jones and 23-year-old third-round pick Rasul Douglas.

But Jones is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and won't be able to play until midseason, if then. And the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Douglas is a project.

In addition, veteran Patrick Robinson, who the Eagles signed in March, has underperformed in training camp.

"We felt as we were building this, there are a lot of priorities that go into building a team that consistently competes for championships," Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. "Having a defensive back, a cornerback position that is young and can grow together, this fits the description."

As a rookie for the Bills in 2015, Darby had two interceptions and 21 pass breakups. But he slipped last year. Didn't have any interceptions and just 12 pass breakups.

"You look around the league, it's a corner-deficient league," Roseman said. "It's hard to find those guys. Teams that have them aren't really ready to move them."

Matthews was the Eagles' most productive pass-catcher since the team took him in the second round of the 2014 draft. He caught 225 passes and 19 touchdowns in his first three pro seasons. He is one of only five players in NFL history with 65-plus catches and 800-plus receiving yards in each of their respective first three seasons.

It's not easy to wave bye-bye to a guy who gave that kind of consistent production, even if the return is one of the league's more highly-regarded young corners. So, why do it?

Matthews' fate with the Eagles probably was sealed as early as last spring when new head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich experimented with him on the outside during OTAs and quickly concluded he was strictly a slot receiver.

A really, really good slot receiver. But a guy that essentially could only play inside.

Matthews is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Roseman said Friday after the trade that the decision to move Matthews "never came down to (him) asking for too much money."

That is because the Eagles never had any substantive negotiations with Matthews' agent, Bus Cook.

But if Matthews had another productive season, which is a pretty good bet, his market value will be very high.

And the Eagles weren't willing to break the bank for a guy who, despite being one of the league's best slot receivers, doesn't have the inside-outside versatility they want in their wideouts.

"Jordan's niche in the style of offense I brought (to the Eagles) was a slot receiver," Pederson said Saturday. "He felt comfortable in there. It just worked out that he became and worked extremely well for us in that position."

But Pederson is trying to build an offense based on versatility. He has a pair of running backs - Darren Sproles and rookie Donnel Pumphrey - that can line up all over the formation. During Saturday's practice, Pumphrey frequently lined up in the slot and out wide as well as in the backfield.

He has three veteran tight ends - Zach Ertz, Trey Burton and Brent Celek -- that he also can line up all over the formation.

"The slot position, we move so many guys around in that position that it's (based) kind of by the design of the offense, by the scheme of the offense," Pederson said.

"With the versatility of some of the running backs we have, like Sproles and Pumphrey, they can utilize that position and create some matchups against the defense. So, the versatility of the (slot) position and flexibility we have personnel-wise as far as who we can put in that spot, benefits us offensively."

Notes. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who didn't play in the Eagles' first preseason game, participated in individual drills and 7-on-7 work Saturday, but not 11-on-11 work. Pederson said he is leaning toward keeping Jeffery out of 11-on-11 work for the remainder of training camp. ... Quarterback Nick Foles, sidelined for two-plus weeks with an injured throwing elbow, threw lightly Saturday. Pederson said he may return to practice in a couple of days. ... Right guard Brandon Brooks, who sat out Thursday's preseason game against Green Bay with a severe ankle strain, didn't practice Saturday and probably won't play Thursday against Buffalo. ... Wide receiver Bryce Treggs, who had seven catches for 91 yards against Green Bay, didn't practice Saturday due to a sore calf. ... Cornerback Ronald Darby, acquired in a trade for Jordan Matthews Friday, was unable to practice Saturday because Matthews had not yet taken his physical with the Bills.

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