Eagles offseason overview: Stacked roster returning, but fewer resources for upgrades

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Eagles vice president Howie Roseman, left, and head coach Doug Pederson, right, celebrating on the victory platform with the Lombardi Trophy at the Super Bowl, in Minneapolis.

Speaker after speaker at the Eagles’ victory parade Thursday echoed variations of the same hopeful thoughts. Team owner Jeffrey Lurie said the Eagles “are just beginning.” Coach Doug Pederson called playing into February the “new norm.” Top executive Howie Roseman told fans to “get used to” parades, as did quarterback Carson Wentz.

That’s the type of optimism to be expected when the Eagles win a Super Bowl with 19 of 22 starters from that game under contract for next season. Plus, the Eagles did it with their franchise quarterback on the sideline and will have other key players returning from injury next season.

But it’s a challenge to repeat championships. Roseman aced last offseason, hitting on his free-agent acquisitions big and small and making shrewd trades to fill the roster. The Eagles found the right formula for on-field and off-field chemistry, combining to form a team that Lurie called his most special during his 24 years owning the Eagles.

“It’s going to be unique to this football team,” Pederson said. “I can’t tell you what the 2018 team is going to look like because as you know, free agency is a big part of that and the draft. People come and go. So 2018 will be a lot different, but I think the messaging can be very consistent and stay along those same lines.”

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The Eagles will now pivot to the offseason, and it will be up to Roseman and the front office to continue stocking a stacked roster. The Eagles had 23 players on their Super Bowl roster who were not in the organization last season. There will be turnover again in 2018. Here’s an overview of what to expect:

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Resources

It’s good that the Eagles have so many starters returning, because as of now they don’t have the normal amount of resources to improve the team.

Start with the draft. The Eagles will have the No. 32 overall pick in the first round, and they don’t have a second- or third-round pick because of the trades for Carson Wentz and Ronald Darby. It’s not out of the question that Roseman will acquire a Day 2 pick – he’s the NFL’s most active trader – but they have  never had this few resources entering an offseason under Roseman.

The Eagles will be busy on the draft’s third day. They have two fourth-round draft picks, two fifth-round draft picks, and a sixth-round pick.

However, it should be remembered that cornerback Sidney Jones, the Eagles’ second-round pick last year, wasn’t drafted with 2017 in mind. He missed most of the year and can be viewed almost like a bonus draft pick next season.

The Eagles are also tight on salary-cap space. They are projected to be over the salary cap in 2018, with little money to carry over from 2017. There will inevitably be roster maneuvering to free up cap space, and they can renegotiate contracts to defer money to future years. One of Roseman’s strengths has been salary-cap management, so the Eagles have planned for this predicament. But it’s unlikely the Eagles will be in position to be big free-agent spenders unless they can open significant cap space.

Pending free agents

The Eagles have 14 players set to become free agents. Linebacker Nigel Bradham and running back Darren Sproles are the most notable players in that group. It also includes tight end Trey Burton, defensive tackle Beau Allen, cornerback Patrick Robinson, running back LeGarrette Blount, safety Corey Graham, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, linebacker Najee Goode, linebacker Bryan Braman, running back Kenjon Barner, kicker Caleb Sturgis, and tackle Will Beatty. Defensive back Jaylen Watkins is a restricted free agent.

Bradham, 28, will likely be the Eagles’ top priority. He’s a key player in the defense and a favorite of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. But the Eagles won’t be able to sign him for the discounted price they did in 2016. With tight cap space, it might be difficult to sign him, but he’s one the Eagles must find a way to keep.

Sproles will be 35 next season and considered retiring before a torn ACL halted his 2017 campaign. He’s a respected veteran who has been one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, although the emergence of Corey Clement as a third-down running back might make the Eagles consider allocating money to other needs. The Clement-Jay Ajayi combination could also lead the Eagles to move on from Blount unless there’s another team-friendly deal.

Burton and Allen were key reserves who could seek starting spots elsewhere. Burton should have a market after his development during the last four seasons, and Allen can be a reliable run-stuffer in multiple defensive schemes.

Robinson was one of the key players in the defense, and they could use his stability in the slot, although a healthy Jones combined with Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Rasul Douglas gives the Eagles uncommon depth at cornerback. Graham had a role as a third safety, but the Eagles might look for a younger option. They could do worse than bringing him back, though.

With Jake Elliott’s emergence, Strugis is expected to move on. All the other pending free agents would not appear to be priority free agents, although some could return on low-cost deals.

Roster decisions

In addition to pending free agents, there will be other tough  decisions to make.

None  will be bigger than what they do about quarterback Nick Foles. With Carson Wentz recovering from a torn ACL and LCL and the value the Eagles place on the No. 2 quarterback, the easiest decision would be to keep Foles. He might even need to begin next season as the starter if Wentz doesn’t return in time for the opener. But Foles’ postseason has boosted his stock, and if Roseman can find a high draft pick to add to the Eagles’ depleted inventory, he must at least consider the offers.

It sounds as if left tackle Jason Peters will return – Pederson said that if he needed to say now, he’d call Peters his left tackle next season. The potential Hall of Famer is coming off a torn ACL and MCL and will count $10.667 million against the salary cap next season, so maybe there’s a salary adjustment. But doubt Peters at your own risk; he’s perhaps the most respected player in the locker room.

Brent Celek is the Eagles’ longest-tenured player and has spent his entire career in Philadelphia, but he’ll count $5 million against the salary cap next season and the Eagles would open $4 million by releasing him. There’s also been speculation that Celek might retire after this season, and there wouldn’t be a better way for an 11-year veteran to leave than with the Eagles’ first Super Bowl parade.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith started all season, although they can open $5 million by releasing him and not absorb any dead money. With 2016 fourth-round pick Mack Hollins behind him and Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor returning as key players, the Eagles have options at wide receiver.

The Eagles resisted trading Mychal Kendricks last offseason, and it proved to be the right move. Jordan Hicks suffered a season-ending injury, and Kendricks became a full-time linebacker. But if the Eagles re-sign Bradham and if Hicks returns to full health, can the Eagles commit $7.6 million of cap space to a linebacker who plays only base downs? They would save more than $4 million by trading him this offseason.

Chris Long was a valuable rotational defensive end who has a big role in the locker room. Long must decide if he wants to continue playing – he said he won’t think about football for the next month – and the Eagles might have a roster decision to make with him, too.

Then there are players who could be in the market for new contracts. Brandon Graham could be due for a raise. Agholor is eligible for a contract extension. And after a Super Bowl victory, it’s common for players to want their contracts adjusted. Pederson pointed out that this is one of the byproducts of success.

Team needs

At this time last season, it was clear the Eagles needed to address wide receiver, cornerback, and running back during the offseason. The Eagles don’t have those types of pressing needs this winter.

The roster moves could change what they need, but they could field a competitive starting lineup with just their returning players. The questions will be depth, which is what draft picks and mid- to low-tier free agents will provide.

The Eagles must continue adding young offensive linemen. If Peters starts at left tackle, the Eagles’ youngest starting lineman will be 28. They could look for a tackle early in the draft – Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, a Penn Charter alumnus, will be a popular name if he slips that far in the draft.

Tight-end depth will be a priority if Celek and Burton aren’t here next season. The Eagles would need to rebuild their depth behind Zach Ertz. They can use young backups on the defensive line, too, considering Allen could depart and both starting defensive ends will be 30 next season.

But when depth is the biggest need entering the offseason, it’s a sign that a team is in a good situation. That’s because after winning the Super Bowl, the Eagles are as well-positioned entering the offseason as they have ever been.