Monthly Archives: February 2017

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Crunch time is coming. In a matter of a few weeks we’re going to see the Eagles’ free agency plan unfold – they have their plan in place, says executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman – and then all attention turns to the draft.

It’s a critical time as the Eagles look to improve all corners of the roster for now and the long term. And it’s a challenging time as Roseman and his staff balance a limited amount of dollars they can spend in free agency with the needs they have as well as the eight draft picks they currently own to use in late April.

Fun stuff. While it’s grass-growing-like slow at the moment, it’s going to change soon. The Eagles have a lot to do in a short period of time. Here is a look at the upcoming events that will set the table for 2017.

NFL Scouting Combine: February 28-March 6

It’s beyond a spectacle at this point. It’s maybe even a phenomenon. The Scouting Combine is a chance for NFL personnel evaluators to compare athletes in an apples-to-apples athletic environment, and the performances of players are extremely important. What the draft prospects do on the field is one thing. How they handle themselves in interviews and among their peers and in their interviews with the mass of media assembled all factor into the grading system.

As much as the Scouting Combine has become a must-see event for the hardcore NFL fan, it’s a vital time for teams to look at players in face-to-face situations, to get to know them, and narrow down the list of draftable players.

Something else really important is going to happen in Indianapolis: The Vikings and the Colts will have a coin flip to determine who has the No. 14 and 15 picks in the first round of the draft. The Eagles, of course, own the Vikings’ top draft choice. That’s all it is – a coin flip. And it means a spot difference in the first round on April 27. Big deal.

Beyond the obvious, the Scouting Combine is a time to get some deals discussed with the 31 other NFL teams. Nothing becomes official at that time, of course, but ideas are hatched and advanced a short time later. Let’s be honest: When you have 32 teams in one location, there is going to be a lot of chatter and a ton of innuendo.

Free Agency: March 9

A lot of this work is well underway, as the Eagles have been evaluating the players they project to become restricted and unrestricted free agents. They’ve evaluated their own players. They’re projected their salary cap situation, which is more restrictive than in past years. The Eagles, no question about it, have some very tough decisions to make in the coming weeks. They already cleared some room within the salary cap by releasing cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Who knows what’s going to happen ahead?

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The idea here is to not fall in love with any players. The Eagles have to do what is right for the roster. They have to project some of their young players on the roster who they expect to make a big leap forward with some veterans who haven’t been as productive as hoped. They have to weigh the possibilities of signing some of the unrestricted free-agents-to-be like defensive tackle Bennie Logan, cornerback Nolan Carroll, and special teams ace Bryan Braman.

Offseason Conditioning Program: April 17

Any players at the NovaCare Complex now to work out are there coming back from injury, like linebacker Joe Walker who missed his rookie season with a torn ACL, players who had offseason surgeries, or players who simply want to get a workout on their own. There is no contact with coaches, no football work, and nothing structured as a team.

It all begins on April 17, when Phase 1 of the offseason conditioning program begins. And it’s a great time to see the locker room fill up and the players getting together after four-plus months away from the facility.

NFL Draft: April 27-29

This is the money weekend, held in Philadelphia for the first time since 1961. And it is so incredibly vital to the Eagles and every NFL team. The Eagles currently have eight draft picks, subject to moves. They’re drafting either 14th or 15th in the first round. The needs on this team are well defined and perhaps more expansive than many think. Sure, the Eagles want to add playmakers to the offense, and they need to improve the cornerback spots on defense, but can this team turn down a difference-making talent at any position, other than the quarterback position where Carson Wentz is entrenched?

The agenda is defined, and it is vital. We know the Eagles have to be really, really good with their personnel evaluations and decisions. We’re in a “lull” period at the moment, but that’s going to change in a matter of weeks. Then the flurry of fun of the offseason begins and we will see how the roster takes shape.

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Think back to a year ago.

There was a lot of mystery with the Eagles. Doug Pederson was the new head coach, but no one knew what to make of him. Howie Roseman was back in charge of personnel. He had spent a year away from that role and fans were not sure what to expect from him.

There were some rosters questions as well.

The Eagles had no quarterback. Sam Bradford was a free agent. So was Chase Daniel. Carson Wentzwas a draft prospect. The Eagles didn’t have a top-10 pick in the draft. Fletcher Cox and the team were talking about an extension, but weren’t close on terms. The overall roster was in a state of flux in the transition from the Chip Kelly era. There were going to be major scheme changes on both offense and defense.

Overall, there was a lot of uncertainty.

Things definitely look a lot better now. Pederson led the team to a 7-9 record. That doesn’t sound impressive on the surface, but when you take into account injuries, suspensions, starting a rookie quarterback, and facing the league’s toughest schedule, the record looks better.

You also judge a new coach on how he does with laying the foundation for the future. Pederson kept the locker room together in times of adversity. There was an ugly half of football against the Bengals, but aside from that the team was very competitive all year long. The Eagles were a handful of plays away from being a playoff team. This happened all while playing plenty of rookies and other young players. Pederson did an excellent job of balancing the need to win now with also keeping an eye on the future.

Roseman went from a mystery to a strength very quickly. He traded away linebacker Kiko Alonso, cornerback Byron Maxwell, and running back DeMarco Murray. The Eagles were able to move into the top 10 of the draft. Roseman then went further, making a bold move by trading up for the second overall pick. The Eagles paid a high price, but Roseman felt the Eagles had to go get a franchise quarterback. Wentz is the player that he and Pederson targeted. Roseman put the Eagles into position and when the Rams chose Jared Goff, Wentz became an Eagle.

Roseman signed key free agents in guard Brandon Brooks and safety Rodney McLeod. He added a trio of defenders who had experience with Jim Schwartz, with Nigel Bradham proving to be an excellent signing. Roseman traded for Dorial Green-Beckham in August to give the receiving corps a boost. He claimed Kamu Grugier-Hill off waivers and he proved to be a good special teams player as a rookie. Roseman pulled off a major deal just before the season began, dealing Bradford to the Vikings and getting a first-round pick in return. That balanced out the cost the Eagles had paid in moving up to get Wentz. You could say the Eagles traded Sam Bradford for Carson Wentz. That’s a deal anyone would be excited about.
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The team showed a lot of promise in 2016. Schwartz brought in his attacking 4-3 defense and the Eagles ranked in the top five of all defenses for part of the season. Injuries hurt them in the second half of the season and the defense fell to 12th in points allowed and 13th in yards allowed. That was still a major improvement from the year before.

The defense showed great potential at times. They held the high-powered Steelers to just three points. The NFC Champion Falcons had the best overall offense in the NFL this year. The Eagles limited them to just 15 points, their lowest total of the season. The Falcons also had season lows in rushing yards and total yards in that game. Atlanta scored at least 23 points in every other game. When things clicked for the Eagles, you could really see their potential.

Defensive end Brandon Graham played the best football of his career. He was a force off the edge all year. Cox got his contract extension in June and had another outstanding season. Jordan Hicks had five interceptions, a crazy total for a middle linebacker. Safety Malcolm Jenkins had another strong season, making plays all over the place.

The offense was outstanding at times, but also inconsistent. Wentz started all 16 games and set some team and league rookie passing records. He proved to be a good leader and a good quarterback. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz were his key targets and you could see good chemistry with the rookie quarterback. Running backs Wendell Smallwood and Byron Marshall showed a lot of potential. The Eagles were 5-1 with Lane Johnson at right tackle, showing his value to the team. The Eagles failed to add young pieces to the offensive line in the past few drafts, but that changed last year. Rookies Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai each started multiple games and looked like they could be good starters in the future.

There was some question about how the special teams would perform. Chip Kelly devoted a lot of time and resources to that unit and got great results. Would the same be true under Pederson? Yes. He wisely kept Dave Fipp as the special teams coordinator and the Eagles ranked No. 1 in overall special teams play for the 2016 season. The Eagles were outstanding when it came to kicking, punting, covering, and returning. There is every reason to believe this group will continue to perform at a high level in the future.

Stop and think big picture for a second.

The Eagles had one of the best defenses in the league at times. They boasted the best special teams in the league. The offense was middle of the pack, but that was with a rookie quarterback starting all year and an offensive line that was constantly being shuffled around. It’s hard not to feel good about that.

A lot has changed in the past year. Not every question was answered, but the key issues were solved. The Eagles have stability in the front office and on the coaching staff. They have established schemes on offense and defense. Biggest of all, they have a franchise quarterback to build around. There are really a lot of reasons to feel good about the future. Let’s hope the next year is as exciting as the past 12 months proved to be.