The Eagles emerged from the NFL draft as a team that has chosen two paths to the 2017 season and beyond, one that takes a straight line to improving the roster right away, even if incrementally, and the other that meanders through the woods a bit, with a higher potential reward down the road, but less certainty of success.
Whether the team will be competitive this season, and to what extent, is really not that important. It isn't going to win the Super Bowl, and if that is the real, and not just stated, goal, the Eagles have done just enough to create a professional environment for 2017 in which hope can triumph even if the team doesn't all that often. The organization's focus is on a more distant horizon, and given the reality of their division and their own stage of development, that is exactly as it should be.
The question is whether they are doing the right things during this time of growth: signing and drafting the right players, having the right coaching staff and schemes, employing the best and brightest scouting and player-personnel staff. Unfortunately, without getting an early peek at the 2020 NFL standings, there's no way to answer that one right now. The gap between organization and disorganization becomes apparent only over time. It could be that the troika of Howie Roseman-Joe Douglas-Doug Pederson will be considered a brilliant combination in retrospect. Of course, maybe not.
In any case, the Eagles have kept the ball in the fairway during the build for 2017. They used the free-agent market for the present and the draft for the future. There is no more traditional way to approach the project. If both aspects of the strategy lacked splash, that's fine, too. It was apparent that the team wanted to rent starters in free agency and grow them through the draft. That might not have made for wild celebration on the Parkway - or wilder, if you prefer - but it kept the Eagles from overreaching for this player or expending too much capital for that one.
Right now, the potential starters who arrived as free agents are receivers Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Chris Long, cornerback Patrick Robinson, and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. We can argue as to whether Long will be ahead of first-round pick Derek Barnett, or Jernigan ahead of Beau Allen, or whether re-signed Stefen Wisniewski will be added at center if the Eagles move past Jason Kelce, but it's a reasonable list. Should there be injuries on the offensive line, guard Chance Warmack is in the mix as well. (I'd mention Nick Foles, too, but the circumstances that would require his presence in the starting lineup would cause such a civic aneurysm that we'll ignore it for now.)
That's not a bad haul, and a judicious one, since the moves addressed three areas - receiver, cornerback, defensive line - of significant need. That is, again, what free agency is supposed to do, as opposed to the draft. Sign for need, draft for best talent, regardless of position.
The criticism, if there is one, of Roseman's moves is that he did precisely what he said wouldn't be done, and that is to use "Band-Aids" for the short term. Almost all of the free-agent signings are either one-year contracts or ones that are structured for the team to escape them with minimum financial damage after one season.
Roseman probably looked at the roster and the patient approach that would be employed in the draft and decided that the Eagles were risking a deflating season if he didn't put a little air in the balloon. Without those signings, what was really a 6-10 finish in 2016 would probably be replicated and perhaps be even worse in 2017. The schedule is difficult, 10th hardest in the league, which is unusually cruel for a team that finished last in its division.
The Eagles open with two difficult road games, come home for a division rival, then travel cross-country. That's a wearing start and they don't get to the bye week until Nov. 12. Making decisions for only the upcoming season wasn't the plan, but perhaps the only way to avoid what could have been a disaster that set back the overall process.
What the draft gives them right away is likely limited. Barnett is compared to Brandon Graham, but which one? The 2010 Graham or the 2016 one? Sidney Jones, the cornerback with the torn Achilles, probably won't play until 2018, and anyone who knows for sure how he will return from the injury actually doesn't. Beyond those two, both of whom are 20 years old, the Eagles got an interesting collection of maybes, all of whom have potential and pitfall in equal measure.
Every team in the league has to sacrifice to the twin gods of Now and Later, but the Eagles - because of where they are in their development, where Chip Kelly left them in terms of talent, where Roseman left them in terms of cap room with a spate of big contracts a year ago - are visiting both altars more than most of the other teams.
The philosophy is one of necessity, with the hope it can provide one that is more of their own choosing in the future. For the moment, regardless of what anyone says, the present had to be attended to first.