This is the second in a series of 2023 pre-draft explorations, looking across the NFL to see what offseason moves worked - and which didn’t - in an attempt get a better handle on effective roster building.
On the first day of the 2022 NFL Draft, April 28th, the Tennessee Titans - who had been in contract discussions for months with their young, star wide receiver, A.J. Brown - created a stir by sending him to the Philadelphia Eagles for two draft picks, #18(1st) and #101(3rd). Brown was entering the final year of his rookie contract, during an offseason where WRs were the hottest commodity on the market.
Despite having collected nearly 3,000 receiving yards and 25 TDs over his first three seasons, former Titans’ GM Jon Robinson made the “hard decision” to move Brown.
“At the end of the day, we have to make — I have to make — the hard decisions. And there’s a lot of things that impact those decisions. Certainly, the finances impact the decisions and trying to get value when we can. And that’s the decision we made today.”
Aftermath of the Trade
For the Philadelphia Eagles, the trade ended up being a match made in heaven. The Eagles had been in a relative WR wasteland for years, squandering high picks on Jalen Raegor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, before hitting on Devonta Smith in 2021.
To take the next step, Howie Roseman recognized they needed to get their young QB, Jalen Hurts, another weapon. Signed for 4 years, at $100M, Brown delivered more than they could have hoped for. This season, Brown had career highs in receptions (88), yardage (1,496), and tied a career high in TDs (11), and was the top weapon for Hurts on one of the league’s best offenses. Next week, he’ll be WR1 on the NFC’s delegation to the Super Bowl.
So far, the Titans have fared less well. They used their first round pick (#18) on Treylon Burks - ostensibly a Brown replacement - built in a similar mold, that of a big, physical possession receiver. Burks missed several games due to injury in 2022, and only started in 6 games during the course of the season. At least a couple of the games he did start coincided with his lead signal caller, Ryan Tannehill being sidelined as well. His overall production was an uninspiring 33 receptions for 444 yards and 1 TD. That said, he’s still young, and the Titans have at least 3 more years of inexpensive control to see if he can eventually approximate Brown.
The Titans second pick from the trade (#101) was combined as part of a package with their original first round pick (#26) and sent to the Jets for three picks (#35, #69, and #163). It’s impossible to isolate the effect of the #101 pick, as #26 is clearly doing the heavy lifting here, but let’s look at how #69 and #163 were used.
#69 - Nicholas Petit-Frere (OT)
The 3rd round pick, Petit-Frere actually had an important early impact on the Titans, starting 16 games for Tennessee at right tackle.
#163 - Kyle Phillips (WR)
The Titans went to the WR well once again and took Phillips, out of UCLA, in the 5th round. Phillips collected 8 receptions and 78 yards before going down with injury in Week 6 and being placed on season-ending IR.
At the end of the day, Tennessee’s injuries were too much, and the draft day compensation for A.J. Brown, not enough, to salvage the Titans’ 2022 season, where they ended up finishing 7-10. Oddly, the Titan’s fired their General Manager, Robinson, after a 35-10 loss to the Eagles in early December, when they were 7-5, and then proceeded to lose every game afterwards.
Alternatively, the Brown acquisition is one of several recent moves that have re-elevated Eagles’ GM Howie Roseman back into the NFL management stratosphere, as he stands on the cusp of potentially hoisting a second Lombardi trophy, in no small measure due to Brown’s contributions. Painfully, the Eagles also hold the #10 draft pick this April, gained through a trade with the lowly New Orleans Saints, in addition to their own first round pick (which will be #30 or #31 (The Dolphins were docked their first round pick this year)).
In the high stakes game of trading top end players for draft capital, the respective outcomes could hardly be more dramatic.
Do you think the Titans would have made the playoffs with AJ Brown this season?
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