ORLANDO, Fla. – The 2018 Eagles are far from a finished product, as Howie Roseman made abundantly clear during his first media availability since he made about a dozen moves and non-moves since the start of new NFL year nearly two weeks ago.
“It’s March 26 and we’re going to continue to find ways to improve this team,” Roseman said Monday, “and where we are now doesn’t necessarily mean where we’ll end up.”
A year ago this time, on the first full day of the annual league meetings, the Eagles had yet to sign or trade for seven players who would contribute extensively to an eventual Super Bowl victory. Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Graham were still unsigned free agents. Tim Jernigan, Ronald Darby and Jay Ajayi were still on other teams, yet to be dealt.
And the draft, of course, was still a month away.
While Roseman was active during this year’s early phase of free agency, particularly with trades, he couldn’t have possibly replaced all the players the Eagles would lose, either through free agency or by release, by this juncture. There are still notable holes to fill at tight end and running back, and positions that need depth.
And there are once again players on the roster who could be trade fodder. As Roseman showed the previous two years, he isn’t afraid of moving core pieces like a quarterback (Sam Bradford) or a wide receiver (Jordan Matthews) in August if the offer is right and he has an alternative option.
“What we’ve shown is that if there’s an opportunity, whether it’s today or in June or in August, or at the trade deadline, we’re going to try and be aggressive to do what’s right for our team,” Roseman said.
It would probably take a Teddy Bridgewater-like injury for the Eagles to get enough in compensation to consider moving backup quarterback Nick Foles. But linebacker Mychal Kendricks is likely expendable. Of course, the 27-year old was available last offseason and nothing ever came to fruition.
“Mychal Kendricks is under contract. He played well for us last year,” Roseman said. “These are questions that we go into every year, I feel like, with Mychal Kendricks. So nothing’s changed in regards to Mychal’s status.”
But the Eagles signed an obvious replacement at weakside linebacker should Kendricks leave – 25-year-old Corey Nelson.
They said goodbye to other players without having immediate stand-ins, most notably at tight end. Veteran Brent Celek was released and the multifaceted Trey Burton left via free agency. The Eagles still have Zach Ertz, of course, but Celek (as a blocker) and Burton (as a receiver) had significant roles for backups.
“We feel like we have a Pro Bowl player who’s a starter,” Roseman said of Ertz. “We’ve brought in some young players at that position – Billy Brown, Adam Zaruba. Josh Perkins is a guy who was on the Falcons’ roster. We have a long way to go before we play our first game.”
Coach Doug Pederson can highlight other players and positions if the Eagles are to go light at tight end, but with several free agents still on the market and a draft said to be deep at the position, it’s likely that further additions will be made.
The same could be said at running back. The Eagles lost Blount to the Lions in free agency and Darren Sproles, who is coming off an anterior cruciate ligament tear, remains unsigned and is unlikely to return. They have Ajayi and Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey are still on the roster, but reinforcements are expected.
Last month, Roseman said that difficult decisions would have to be made this offseason. Celek, who is still on the market, was a heart-and-soul Eagle. Defensive end Vinny Curry, who was released despite a $6 million salary-cap hit, was a cog for six years. And defensive tackle Beau Allen, who signed with the Buccaneers (as did Curry), contributed more with each season.
“Great character guys. Hard to lose those guys,” Roseman said of Curry and Allen. “Both of them were guys we were in talks about keeping.”
But Curry wouldn’t agree to a restructured contract, and Allen signed a three-year deal. Instead, the Eagles traded for defensive end Michael Bennett and signed defensive tackle Haloti Ngata – more prominent players who will make less and who are under contract for fewer years.
But Bennett is around three years older than Curry, and Ngata is seven years Allen’s senior. The Eagles traded 29-year-old Torrey Smith to the Panthers for 23-year-old cornerback Daryl Worley, but they essentially replaced the receiver with 31-year-old free agent Mike Wallace.
“All three of those guys are extremely productive when you put on the tape,” Roseman said of Bennett, Ngata and Wallace. “They also obviously have pedigree. They’ve won, and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to do is surround our team with guys who’ve won, and at the same time have this chip on their shoulder to try to win again.
“We talked about it when we were at the combine – we understand that it’s hard to repeat. You have to add some guys with the same chip on their shoulders that we brought in last year.”
Roseman once hardly ever signed or traded for players over the age of 30, but over the last two offseasons, he has acquired seven – five who had won Super Bowls.
“For some of those guys, it was an opportunity to maybe see what happens after they have another good year,” Roseman said.
Long — who turns 33 Wednesday — for instance, signed a contract extension earlier this month and will return. The Eagles tried to keep Robinson but walked away when the asking price increased. They did manage to retain linebacker Nigel Bradham, but he signed a five-year contract that has been viewed as team friendly by some.
“It’s hard to keep everyone,” Roseman said. “And for us, we’re trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle not only for this year but going forward.”
There are still missing pieces to be found.