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A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith have caught everything thrown their way … except for the curse that once afflicted the Eagles’ receivers room.
The Eagles began the 2019 season with the top-ranked corps of receivers in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus, and ended it with declining veterans Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson on the shelf, draft pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside not developing and only the trio of Greg Ward, Deontay Burnett and Robert Davis available in the playoffs.
If possible, the situation only worsened in 2020, when Ward, Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor and John Hightower led Eagles receivers in snaps.
Not one wideout reached 540 yards in a forced running-back and tight-end heavy offense during either of those two seasons. Of those 10 aforementioned receivers — none of whom remains on the 2022 NFC champions’ roster — seven haven’t scored an NFL touchdown since leaving Philadelphia. Simply put, the Eagles were trying to compete in the current NFL airshow with paper airplanes — before trades for Brown and Smith brought in a pair of F-35s.
“They don’t believe in Batman and Robin,’ ” analyst DeAngelo Hall, a former Pro Bowl cornerback, said on “NFL Total Access.” “It’s Batman 1 and Batman 2. They’re coming for you.”
The two trades that changed everything created an offense that produced an NFC-best 28.1 points per game and can beat the Chiefs at their own game if Super Bowl LVII becomes a shootout.
“This was always the expectation when I got here,” Brown said. “My first postgame speech, I told them I don’t want to put any pressure on them, but this is the goal. We’re not playing for individual awards. We’re playing the game to be the best and hold that trophy up at the end. We’re at the door.”
The Eagles struck a rare deal with a division foe, the Cowboys, during the first round of the 2021 draft, shipping the No. 12 and No. 84 picks to Dallas for No. 10 in order to jump over the Giants, who had let it spill that they coveted Smith.
The Eagles stole Smith. The Cowboys wound up with All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons. And the Giants traded down from No. 11, coming away with bust receiver Kadarius Toney (dumped to the Chiefs for third-round and sixth-round picks without ever scoring a touchdown in New York), the future first that became right tackle Evan Neal and some mid-round picks.
The Eagles’ trade with the Cowboys highlighted the shrewdness of general manager Howie Roseman, who first traded down from No. 6 to No. 12 to bank an extra first-round pick, and still landed Smith four picks later than he otherwise might have taken him. A vertical threat due to his speed, Smith has become a master of the difficult catch.
“What’s so amazing about it is he’s doing it in all these different ways,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said. “He made some unbelievable catches, and he continues to do so throughout the last two years we’ve been there.”
One day shy of a full year after acquiring Smith, the Eagles struck another draft-day deal, sending the No. 19-overall pick and a third-rounder to the Titans for Brown. The Eagles decided giving an immediate four-year, $100 million extension for the proven Brown (who had two 1,000-yard seasons and 24 touchdowns in 43 games for Tennessee) was a better win-now move than drafting Treylon Burks. This past season, Burks had 33 catches for 444 yards and one touchdown as the rookie who replaced Brown with the Titans.
Smith set the Eagles’ franchise record for catches by a wideout (95) and the physical “goon” (Hall’s description) Brown set the record for receiving yards (1,496) in their first season together. They combined for 18 touchdowns and 41 gains of 20-plus yards, launching quarterback Jalen Hurts — a longtime close friend of Brown’s and a college teammate of Smith’s at Alabama — toward MVP candidacy.
“All I needed to know was, ‘Who is going to be my quarterback?” Brown said, “and that told me everything I needed to know. He made it a lot easier to make the trade happen. I was crying, but as soon as he called me we got to laughing, and that’s when the tears went away.”