How can Eagles have a winning NFL draft? Here are 5 steps, including a Zach Ertz trade

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

The Eagles would be wise to follow the blueprint of their 2018 draft in devising a strategy for this week.

But on a much larger scale.

Back then, the Eagles had only five picks, and they succeeded on all five, showing what a team can hope for in a draft.

They found an impact player in tight end Dallas Goedert (second round), a solid contributor in cornerback Avonte Maddox (fourth round), two more who developed in defensive end Josh Sweat (fourth round) and offensive tackle Jordan Mailata (seventh round), and a dependable backup in offensive lineman Matt Pryor (sixth round).

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This time, the Eagles have more than twice as many picks (11) and seemingly more than twice as many needs. 

So at a minimum, the Eagles should come out of this 2021 NFL draft with at least two immediate starters, two others who can work in on a regular basis and at least another two or three who can become starters over the next two years.

Here's how the Eagles can make sure that happens:

Philadelphia Eagles' Howie Roseman walks the field before an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

1. End the dysfunction

It was clear in the last few drafts that the Eagles' brass didn't see eye to eye on certain picks, most notably with wide receiver Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the first round last year, and wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf in 2019.

Those disagreements were featured in offseason reports by the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Athletic. The reports detailed a disconnect among the scouting department, the coaching staff and Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, who might have relied too much on analytics.

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Roseman didn't deny that when he was asked last week about the Eagles not staying true to their draft board last year in the first two rounds when the Eagles picked Reagor and quarterback Jalen Hurts as opposed to Jefferson and perhaps safety Jeremy Chinn.

"I think that it's been a really good process (this year)," Roseman said. "We're really excited about the conversations we've had, the difficult conversations that we've had, and having open dialogue about some of the disagreements, and how the fit is."

Andy Weidl, the Eagles vice president of player personnel, said the scouting department has met extensively with the new coaching staff led by head coach Nick Sirianni to identify the players who would best fit his systems on offense and defense.

"The main thing is just getting on the same page, and I think we did that," Weidl said.

That would be a good start.

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith catches a touchdown pass in front of Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade during the first half of an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

2. Get immediate starters at WR and CB

The situation for the Eagles is dire at both positions.

They haven't had a wide receiver with 1,000 yards in a season since Jeremy Maclin in 2014. They haven't had one with as much as 550 yards in each of the last two seasons, which is practically unheard of in today's NFL.

At corner, the Eagles don't have an established starter opposite of Darius Slay, something opponents exploited last season whether it was Maddox, Jalen Mills, Nickell Robey-Coleman or Michael Jacquet.

It doesn't matter if the Eagles go wide receiver/cornerback in Rounds 1-2 or vice versa, as long as they get immediate starters at both spots. 

So if it's either Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle at pick No. 12, then the Eagles can use their second-round pick to get a cornerback like Kentucky's Kelvin Joseph, or Georgia's Tyson Campbell, or even Florida State's Asante Samuel Jr.

Or the Eagles could go corner in Round 1 with either Alabama's Patrick Surtain or South Carolina's Jaycee Horn, then take a receiver like Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, Mississippi's Elijah Moore or Florida's Kadarius Toney in Round 2.

Eagles' Derek Barnett (96) looks for a way around Dallas' Tyron Smith Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Cowboys 17-9.

3. Add depth to defensive line

By this time next year, starting defensive end Brandon Graham will be 34 years old, and the other starter, Derek Barnett, could be on another team as he's on the final year of his rookie deal.

At defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox will be entering his 11th season in 2022, while Javon Hargrave, the Eagles' big free-agent signing in 2020, will be entering his third and final season of his $39 million deal.

So the Eagles will need to address both end and tackle in this draft with the likelihood that the player can rotate in this season and possibly start next season.

A good spot to address those needs could be in Rounds 3 and 4, when the Eagles have two third-round picks and a fourth-rounder. 

4. Be active in late rounds

As much as people criticize Roseman for his recent draft misses, and there have been many, he has done well with late-round picks.

There's Mailata, the seventh-round pick in 2018; Mills, a seventh-round pick in 2016; and perhaps one of the best late-round picks in Eagles history in Jason Kelce in the sixth round in 2010.

This year, the Eagles have six picks in the final three rounds – one in the fifth, three in the sixth and two in the seventh. 

There's no way the Eagles should make all six of those picks. But they could make four while packaging the other two, perhaps with a player (see below), for a mid-round pick in 2022.

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The 2022 draft is already considered a much better draft than this one. The Eagles currently have nine picks for 2022, including four in the top two rounds. Using draft capital this year to get an extra pick or two next year will only help.

Plus, they would still have enough late-round picks this year to find the next Mailata, Mills or Kelce.

"We're still looking to try to find guys who can be role players or even develop into starters in those (late) rounds," Roseman said. "We're not trying to draft backups."

Eagles' Zach Ertz warms up before facing the Seahawks Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

5. Use Zach Ertz in a trade

Zach Ertz has been on his way out ever since last summer when the trade rumors began in earnest. And yet, Ertz is still on the roster.

The Eagles have already fit his $12.7 million salary cap hit into their books for this season. Sure, Ertz can come back for the final year of his contract, but that seems unlikely judging by his unhappiness last year.

One suggestion is to use Ertz and one of the Eagles' two third-round picks to get an extra second-round pick Friday. 

If the Eagles can't trade Ertz, they should release him and move on. They already did him wrong by not releasing him before free agency.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.