Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman knows the drill better than most.
As the steward of a team with one of the most passionate fan bases in the NFL, a big name becoming available can quickly develop into a feeding frenzy when it comes to the local pundits. From there the portion of the fan base that isn’t exactly realistic when it comes to roster building is exacerbated.
When the big name happens to be a five-time All-Pro who just mentioned that he’d love to play with your $250 million quarterback in an off-the-cuff fashion, well get ready for a news cycle built on the foundation of half-baked assumptions.
In this case, the 30-year-old DeAndre Hopkins, who was recently cut by Arizona, is willing to sacrifice money, ego, and traffic to ring chase like Ndamukong Suh and Linvan Joseph did with the Eagles last season.
Once you realize the reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs – with the quarterback everyone wants to play with in Patrick Mahomes – have already been sniffing around Hopkins with the offer of more money and a more significant role in their high-octane offense, the subject should be declared dead on arrival by an independent board that governs dumb football subjects.
Alas, such a paradise does not exist.
The Buffalo Bills, a significant contender on the AFC side, also possess a quarterback Hopkins specifically singled out and the opportunity for a bigger role. And you probably will have teams reaching double digits that offer Hopkins a path to more production and more money than the Eagles.
In the Philadelphia fantasy world, however, Hopkins is the content WR3 on the Eagles’ explosive offense, OK with a Quez Watkins-level workload because no one complains in fantasy football or in the latest Madden video game.
To be fair, some take into account real-world issues and quickly brush them away with Hopkins having down seasons in 2021 and 2022 due to injuries and coming to grips with his football mortality.
Others just want the insurance and believe you should pay role players whatever they need in case A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith are injured. It’s the type of debate that makes Roseman turn off the radio and head to the car dealer to darken the tint on his car.
The Eagles’ real answer at WR3 is about the role, not the player.
The speedy Watkins is a natural outside receiver but spent most of his time in the slot where 533 of his 787 offensive snaps came from. His numbers (33 receptions for 354 yards and three touchdowns) weren’t terrible considering all the traffic that has to go to Brown, Smith, and tight end Dallas Goedert.
The average yards-per-catch of 10.7, however, tells you that Watkins wasn’t being used as the deep threat too often and his route-running and failure to fight for the football in close quarters hurt him as an intermediate receiver. As a whole, Watkins was graded No. 108 of 113 receivers by PFF last season so he needs to be better.
The Eagles believe Watkins can and will have a bounce-back season in 2023 and perhaps the best way to do that is getting him out of the slot.
Enter Olamide Zaccheaus, the South Jersey native who starred at Philadelphia’s St. Joe’s Prep in high school. Zaccheus, who was graded No. 74 of 113 after a 40-533-3 season in Atlanta, is a more natural slot option, something that could allow Nick Sirianni to give a lot of that work to Zaccheus and place Watkins as the top backup at the Z and X spots outside.
Brown and Smith, meanwhile, are so good that they can toggle back and forth between all three receiver roles.
The WR3 and WR4 labels could be interchangeable depending on the matchups and what you need to exploit each week.
It’s not as sexy as signing Hopkins to a market-value deal and convincing him to stand behind the glass in case of emergency but it’s a lot more realistic.