Former Eagles Paving The Way In AFC


by Chris Boyle

In the Philadelphia Eagles’ desperation to shed salary, distance themselves from Chip Kelly’s front-office blunders and ascend the draft board in order to select Carson Wentz, they’ve inadvertently assisted two AFC teams’ playoff pursuits.

Both the Tennessee Titans and the Miami Dolphins scored massive wins on Sunday, and did so thanks to Philadelphia castoffs acquired simply for swapping draft slots.

Titans running back DeMarco Murray gashed the Packers’ top-ranked run defense for 123 yards and a touchdown, and threw a second score to tight end Delanie Walker. Hours later, Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso jumped a Philip Rivers throw and returned it 60 yards for an eventual game-winning touchdown in San Diego.

What appeared to be fairly innocuous April deals have instead turned into potentially franchise-altering thefts.

Let’s start with Murray, the AFC’s leading rusher with 930 yards – already 228 more than his entire Eagles tenure.

Rumors of Murray’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. A terrible fit in Kelly’s spread offense, the 28-year-old has been reborn in Tennessee’s power running scheme. He’s averaging an astonishing 7 yards per carry, adding 37 receptions out of the backfield to ease the pressure off rapidly improving second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota.

No Titans running back topped 600 rushing yards for the entire 2015 season. Antonio Andrews, the team’s leading rusher, averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Dexter McCluster, Bishop Sankey and David Cobb all tried their hand as well, with very little success.

The cost to acquire Murray, you ask? Swapping fourth-round picks.

That’s it.

Sure, Murray costs Tennessee $6 million against the cap (roughly 4 percent of the Titans’ space), per Spotrac. And yes, running backs are viewed as expendable parts in the modern-day NFL, particularly when operating behind one of the league’s best offensive lines.

But it’s impossible to argue the Titans aren’t getting value beyond their wildest dreams.

Both teams later jettisoned those picks – Nos. 100 and 113, respectively. Oakland traded up to grab quarterback Connor Cook, and Chicago moved up to pick linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski.

Earlier in March, the Eagles parted with Alonso and high-priced cornerback Byron Maxwell, sending both players to Miami in exchange for a first-round pick swap. While neither player can match Murray’s star power, they have added depth to a Dolphins defense which ranked 25th last year.

Alonso, who missed 21 games the past two seasons with knee injuries, leads the Dolphins with 71 tackles. Maxwell has largely been a liability in coverage and was benched earlier in the season, but he turned in one of his better performances against the Chargers, making five solo tackles, defending two passes and snaring his first interception of the year.

Not to mention, Miami moved down from No. 8 to No. 13 and grabbed starting guard Laremy Tunsil after a surprising draft-night plummet.

As for the Eagles, it’s easy to nitpick and lambaste the trades. But they’re 5-4 and well within contention for a playoff spot of their own. Doug Pederson’s shaping the team in his image, largely resembling that of his mentor Andy Reid’s. For Philly, the deal can’t be evaluated until we know exactly how good Wentz turns out to be.

If Wentz develops into a franchise passer, there’s no price too steep. If he doesn’t and continues to rely upon completing short throws and managing the game, it will be viewed as a huge failure.

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