Bucs reeling from injury to Chris Godwin, and what Eagles missed by not drafting him in '17

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It's possible that the Eagles had Chris Godwin in mind when they drafted wide receivers J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the second round in 2019 and Jalen Reagor in the first round in 2020.

As in, two players who, combined, could be what Godwin is by himself.

In Arcega-Whiteside, the Eagles saw a receiver who could come down with 50-50 balls and was a willing blocker for his position. In Reagor, the Eagles saw a speed receiver who could also play in the slot and run the jet sweeps.

Godwin, who grew up in Middletown, Delaware, then starred at Penn State, has done all of that ever since the Bucs picked him in the third round of the 2017 draft.

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Go back to the NFC Championship game last January, when Godwin outran and outleaped Packers safety Darnell Savage, the Caravel Academy star, and hauled in a 52-yard pass from Tom Brady to set up a touchdown.

Godwin then clinched the Bucs' upset win by gaining 6 yards on a jet sweep on third-and-5 with less than a minute left. That enabled the Bucs to run out the clock and prevent Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from getting a chance to lead a comeback victory.

Or when Godwin laid a punishing block earlier this season on a Dolphins defender that enabled running back Leonard Fournette to score a touchdown.

Middletown High School graduate Chris Godwin plays with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 12, 2021, in Tampa, Florida.
Middletown High School graduate Chris Godwin plays with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 12, 2021, in Tampa, Florida.

"Stuff like that, I get juiced up about because that’s me directly contributing towards a win," Godwin told Delaware Online/The News Journal in October about his block. "It’s not something that will show up in the stat sheet or anything like that. It’s just me doing my job to the best of my ability and helping the team."

The Eagles won't see Godwin when they face the Buccaneers in the wildcard round of the NFC playoffs on Sunday. That's because Godwin tore his ACL on Dec. 19 against the New Orleans Saints. He had surgery on Jan. 3.

"It’s a big loss," Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton said. "Everyone knows how good Godwin is, and what he was able to do for them. We’re obviously not going to have to prepare for him, which is kind of nice for us."

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The Bucs' offensive juggernaut hasn't been the same without Godwin. Sure, the Bucs still have a prolific offense led by quarterback Tom Brady. Tampa Bay ranks first in passing yards, averaging 308 per game, and second in scoring at 30.1 points per game.

And they still have top receivers in Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady, at age 44, threw for 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns this season.

Or as Eagles coach Nick Sirianni put it: "It's the same guy pulling the trigger back there."

But Brady has not been as dominant over the last four games, beginning with Godwin's injury and followed a few weeks later by Antonio Brown leaving the team, then getting released.

Brady has completed 64.9% of his passes during that span, a good deal below his season mark of 67.5%. And his passer rating over the four games is 95.1, also off from his season rating of 102.1.

"He’s a great player," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said about Godwin in a conference call. "You talk about an All-Pro player who’s had a career season. He does so much for us. And he’s a unique player.

"We don’t try to ask other guys to be him. Byron (Leftwich, the Bucs' offensive coordinator) has done a great job taking the guys that he has each week – it’s been a bunch of different ones – and putting them in position to where they can be successful.

"But none of them are Chris Godwin."

Passing on Godwin in draft

Neither are Arcega-Whiteside and Reagor.

That's why the Eagles will most certainly spend the offseason searching, whether in free agency or via trade, for a wide receiver like Godwin.

Heck, it could end up being Godwin himself.

Godwin will be eligible for free agency after signing the franchise tag last spring. The good thing about the franchise tag is Godwin was guaranteed $15.98 million for this season.

The bad thing: It's a one-year contract when Godwin most assuredly would have wanted a long-term deal. Now he has a knee injury to rehab that could affect his next contract.

The Giants, for example, signed Kenny Golladay last spring to a four-year free-agent deal worth as much as $72 million, with $40 million guaranteed. Golladay had only 37 catches for 521 yards and zero TDs.

That would be a good starting point for what Godwin could have gotten before his injury.

Godwin had 98 catches for 1,103 yards in 14 games this season. Both numbers still led the Buccaneers. In 2019, Godwin had 1,333 yards receiving and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Combined, Arcega-Whiteside and Reagor have 60 catches for 985 yards – in their careers.

Of course, if the Eagles do go after Godwin, they will likely have to wait at least into the early part of next season before he would be ready to play.

And it's possible the Bucs could decide to place the franchise tag on him again or sign him to a long-term deal before the start of the new league year.

But if the Eagles do get Godwin, they would be righting a wrong by not drafting him in the first place.

Yes, that could have happened in 2017.

The Eagles originally had the 74th overall pick in the third round. In the second round, they chose cornerback Sidney Jones, who was going to miss most or all of his rookie season after tearing his Achilles during his pre-draft Pro Day.

The Eagles likely figured that they needed to draft another cornerback who could play that season, so they traded back from No. 74 to No. 99 and picked Rasul Douglas.

The Bucs took Godwin at No. 84.

The Eagles released both Jones and Douglas after the 2019 season. Both players have bounced around the NFL since, but both became starters this season – Jones with the Seattle Seahawks and Douglas with the Packers.

Douglas, it should be noted, was plucked off Arizona's practice squad earlier this season because Green Bay was decimated by injuries at cornerback. He ended up starting, intercepting five passes, and was named a Pro Bowl alternate.

Eagles WR situation in '17

But there's more when it comes to how the Eagles botched not drafting Godwin.

On the one hand, it seemed like the Eagles were set at wide receiver in 2017. They had just signed veteran Alshon Jeffery as a free agent, and they had Nelson Agholor, their first-round pick in 2015, along with Torrey Smith.

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After two disappointing seasons, Agholor lived up to his billing in 2017 when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. And Jeffery was also a top receiver that season.

On the other hand, the Eagles were looking for a pipeline of young wide receivers, so they drafted Mack Hollins in the fourth round and Shelton Gibson in the fifth round.

Neither panned out, although Hollins has managed to carve out a role with the Dolphins. Gibson has never played in an NFL game after leaving the Eagles.

The injuries and age caught up to Jeffery after that Super Bowl season. Agholor never duplicated his 2017 season. And DeSean Jackson, Godwin's teammate his first two seasons in Tampa Bay, kept breaking down with injuries after the Eagles traded for him in the spring of 2019.

That left the Eagles in desperate need of a wide receiver in the 2019 draft.

So they took Arcega-Whiteside in the second round. When he struggled as a rookie, the Eagles took Reagor in the first round in 2020.

Sure, the Eagles could have fixed their wide receiver issues with either D.K. Metcalf in 2019 (he went seven picks after Arcega-Whiteside) and/or Justin Jefferson in 2020 (he went right after Reagor).

The Eagles then picked DeVonta Smith in the first round last spring. Smith broke Jackson's franchise rookie receiving record with 916 yards. Jackson had 912 yards in 2008.

But the Eagles clearly need another proven wide receiver to pair with Smith, and that could come either in free agency or via trade. As a free agent, Godwin would be a perfect fit as someone who could get open both deep and underneath, run the jet sweep and block.

Chances are, if Brady returns for another season, he would want Godwin to return, too. Certainly, the Bucs would make that happen to keep Brady happy.

Brady has often made it clear how much he admires Godwin and enjoys playing with him.

Before the Super Bowl, Brady was asked what it meant to him for Godwin to switch from No. 12 to No. 14 to accommodate Brady when he signed with Tampa Bay in the spring of 2020:

"I just love my experience with Chris," Brady said. "He’s a stud, no matter what number he’s wearing. He’s a baller."

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Tom Brady, Buccaneers miss Chris Godwin; could he end up with Eagles?

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