PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles started to move on Saturday.
One day after wide receiver Jordan Matthews was traded to Buffalo, the team went about its business with a rigorous practice at the NovaCare Complex.
The Eagles endured their longest workout of training camp at 2 hours, 40 minutes and featured plenty of hitting. It possibly was done in an effort to take the players’ minds off the trade, which sent Matthews and a third-round pick in the 2018 draft to the Bills in exchange for cornerback Ronald Darby.
“I had a good relationship with (Matthews), but this business is a difficult one and you have to make some tough choices from time to time,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “We’re moving forward. It’s business as usual.”
Some of the players were clearly still shaken by the trade move, however. In addition to being the Eagles’ most productive receiver with 225 catches over the last three seasons, Matthews was also one of the more popular players off the field.
He was especially close with tight end Zach Ertz and quarterback Carson Wentz. According to Ertz, they were among “five or six guys” who went out to dinner with Matthews after the trade was announced Friday afternoon.
“You can’t quantify with numbers what he meant to this team and to me, personally,” Ertz said Saturday. “Jordan played a huge role in helping me develop as a player and as a man. He’s a brother for life.”
Wentz had also bonded with Matthews on the field and away from football.
Last season, Matthews caught 73 passes from Wentz — Ertz led the team with 78 receptions — for 804 yards and three touchdowns. Matthews sat out much of the recent offseason minicamps and organized team activities (OTAs) with knee tendonitis, but still accompanied the other wide receivers to North Dakota for a series of informal workouts with Wentz last month.
After the dinner Friday, Wentz drove Matthews to Philadelphia International Airport for him to catch a flight to Buffalo.
“On the personal side, it’s tough,” Wentz said Saturday. “This is my first time experiencing this with someone who is one of my best friends. Seeing him (Friday), it was tough on him, too. Kind of out of the blue.”
The Eagles made the trade out of a desperate need to upgrade their defense as cornerback.
Darby, the Bills’ second-round draft pick in 2015, will be a starter as soon as he gets comfortable with the Eagles’ defense.
He watched Saturday’s practice on the field, frequently chatting with fellow cornerback Ron Brooks, who was also his teammate in Buffalo.
“I was a little surprised at the trade because everything happened so fast,” Darby said Saturday. “But at the end of the day, it’s a blessing. I think this defense is a great match for my skill set, and I’m excited to get out there.”
Darby, 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, is known for his blazing speed, which allows him to play aggressive, man-to-man defense without fear of getting beat deep.
He will be paired at cornerback with some combination of Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, rookie Rasul Douglas and Brooks, once he recovers from a strained hamstring.
“(Darby) has speed, he’s versatile, he’s a playmaker, he’s smart and he’s got great instincts and ball skills,” said Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham, who was Darby’s teammate in Buffalo in 2015. “He’s going to be a great asset to our defense.”
Matthews became expendable because of the depth the Eagles have at wide receiver.
Nelson Agholor, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 2015, will have the first shot at replacing Matthews in the slot with outside receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson and others are also vying for playing time.
“We all have a lot of respect for Jordan, and he’s a friend,” Agholor said. “My only worry now is with myself. I have a job to do and that’s to keep working hard and making plays to help this team win football games.”
The Eagles will not have to wait long to have a reunion with Matthews.
They play their preseason opener at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday against the Bills.
“It’s going to be really weird seeing him on the other team,” Wentz said. “It’s not going to fun, I’ll tell you that.”