Rich Hofmann: Panthers' latest moves put Eagles at a Gross loss

Posted: February 20, 2009

SITTING HERE . . . waiting for the Carolina Panthers to help the Eagles . . . waiting . . . waiting . . .

On draft day last year, the

Panthers handed the Eagles a gift that most of their fans thought was a moldy fruitcake. But it really was a gift: By every available measure, all of the draft value charts, all of that, the Eagles got the considerably better part of the bargain when they swapped their first-round pick last year for the Panthers' first-round pick this year plus second- and fourth-round picks in 2008.

And ever since then, the Panthers have been annoyingly proficient at screwing this up.

It isn't just that they played so well last season, turning a hoped-for great pick into the 28th pick in the first round. Even there, the value charts said the Eagles did very, very well. But people have known about that for months, watching the Panthers win and win last year, watching the pick grow less and less valuable.

The Eagles really are an average drafting team, especially when you compare them to the other teams who routinely pick at the back end of the first round, as they do. What made this trade so intriguing was the prospect of getting a pick closer to the top of the round. So it went from really intriguing to simply smart, solid value in the exchange; really, not moldy fruitcake.

But that isn't even it.

It's Jordan Gross. That's the real knife in the heart.

The Panthers turned Gross into a left tackle last year and he played really well. He was going to be a free agent next week. And while it is sometimes hard to imagine one guy in another system - and you have to remember that almost nobody in the business has to pass block as much as the left tackle of the Philadelphia Eagles - Gross looked like a guy who could fit here and grow here, an accomplished, young tackle, the very definition of the young, ascending player whom this franchise routinely covets.

He really looked like he could be it, the kind of player whom the Eagles would overwhelm with a big bag of cash on the first day of free-agency. Now, nobody over there said that out loud, or even under their breath, but it had to be discussed. It just made too much sense.

And then came the word, made official in the afternoon but first reported yesterday morning in a blog at charlotte.com:

"The Carolina Panthers are close to a record-setting agreement with Jordan Gross that would allow them to place their franchise tag on defensive end Julius Peppers. According to sources, the Panthers and Gross' representatives are close to finalizing a frontloaded, 6-year agreement with Gross that would pay him $30.5 million over the first 3 years of the deal - the biggest 3-year payout ever to an offensive lineman. Provided that deal gets completed, the Panthers are expected to put their franchise tag on defensive end Julius Peppers later today."

The Peppers-to-Philadelphia thing was never going to happen. He is very talented but very erratic, a trait that generally tends to scare the Eagles. Peppers also is on record as saying he wants to play in a 3-4 defense, which the Eagles don't play. That one just never seemed like a natural fit.

Gross, though, just made a ton of sense. If there was a feeling over on NovaCare Way that the offensive tackles (Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan) last year weren't physical enough anymore, this would have been half of the solution. It would have cost a ton, but it would have short-circuited the development process and papered over the fact that 2006 second-rounder Winston Justice hasn't shown he can do it.

Good tackles never become free agents because their teams always lock them up. The Peppers thing was a complication, though, and maybe Gross could have slipped free.

Now the Eagles are either going to have to re-sign Thomas, which would qualify as treading water at best, or they are going to have to draft a kid and hope he doesn't get schooled too badly during his schooling. And you wonder: Do you really want a kid left tackle guarding the blind side of a 32-year-old quarterback seeking a contract extension?

So many questions.

If only the Panthers had cooperated. *

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com, or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich. For recent columns go tohttp://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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