When the NFL scouting combine convenes Wednesday in Indianapolis, the Eagles will embark on a new era, as the defending Super Bowl champions.
Feel free to repeat that last clause to yourself, slowly, out loud. Even if a lot of other people are around, they won’t mind. Unless you happen to be reading this in New England. Those people might mind. But you know what advice Jason Kelce would have for them.
The Eagles brass won’t be able to walk into any of Indianapolis’ fine dining and drinking establishments without being congratulated, by rivals whose handshakes and back slaps will be delivered with varying degrees of sincerity. But they’ll also start interviewing draft prospects, knowing that their first selection this spring will come 32nd and last in the first round, and that they don’t have a second- or third-round selection. And they’ll sit down with agents representing some of their players, who are looking for more money, now that they’ve helped the franchise win its first Super Bowl. Some of those players are slated to become free agents next month. Others just think they are due a raise. (And if you’re Brandon Graham, you certainly are.)
This view from the top is uncharted territory for Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas, and Doug Pederson – the quartet who will make personnel decisions. How they navigate that territory will determine whether the Eagles have a chance to become the first Super Bowl champs to defend their crown successfully since the New England Patriots vanquished the Eagles 13 years ago.
In the wake of such a momentous accomplishment, the impulse is to want everyone to live happily ever after, to make no changes. (Move on from so-and-so? He made a crucial tackle in the third quarter of the greatest victory in the history of the franchise! His face is tattooed on my cousin’s butt cheek!)
But of course, in that way lies madness, or the risk of becoming the 2013-17 Phillies, anyway.
Yes, Lurie and Pederson want Jason Peters to anchor the left side forever, but back when the 2017 season began, just about the only thing that kept the 2018 salary-cap situation from being described as an epic, looming crisis was the supposition that with Peters turning 36 in January, his $10.666 million 2018 cap charge would be coming off the books. Now, it seems Peters probably will be offered a chance to return – but surely, they’ll want that deal redone to lessen the cap hit.
In fact, going off Spotrac.com’s cap numbers, I can see several deals that might get reworked – add a year or two, guarantee more cash, knock the current cap charge down. Lane Johnson weighs in this year at $12,484, 375; Brandon Brooks, at $11,136,397; Vinny Curry, at $11 mil. And of course, the big hit is Fletcher Cox, at $17.9 million this year, but that deal is less than two years old and stretches through 2022, so I doubt it’s possible to do anything there.
The Eagles are projected to be about $10 million over the 2018 cap, so the work will begin in Indianapolis to get them to the point where they have at least a little wiggle room when free agency officially begins March 14 (although it actually begins in restaurants and hotel suites at the combine., if it hasn’t begun already).
It has to be a challenge, interviewing first-round prospects when you’re drafting 32nd, but maybe it also is freeing – you can spend a little less time with players you’re sure will be gone by then, and, backed by a roster that just won the Super Bowl, you can let the draft come to you. The player the Eagles select 32nd overall in the first round almost certainly will not be expected to start right away, regardless of position.
The closest thing the Eagles have to a dire situation right now is at linebacker. Nigel Bradham is due to become a free agent. This will leave a huge void, if Roseman can’t work out something with agent Drew Rosenhaus. There is also the always unsettled nature of the team’s relationship with Mychal Kendricks, and the injury factor that has to become part of evaluating Jordan Hicks, who has missed significant time in two of his three NFL seasons. The Eagles have no up-and-coming, starting-quality young linebackers behind them. They ended the season with used-up rental Dannell Ellerbe as their middle linebacker in base, then carefully played only three snaps in base during the Super Bowl.
So, you’ll want to be watching the linebackers at the combine. Also the offensive tackles, with Peters coming off a serious knee injury at 36. Safety, like linebacker, is one of those areas where the incumbents are really good but there isn’t an up-and-coming youngster. Malcolm Jenkins is 30; Corey Graham will turn 33 as training camp starts in July.
And of course, one of the things that happens when you win the Super Bowl is that other teams overpay your free agents, hoping to add a sprinkling of “Philly Special” magic dust. Patrick Robinson, Trey Burton, LeGarrette Blount, Beau Allen – one or more of these guys is going to be offered a contract the Eagles probably won’t be in a position to match. If/ that happens, a roster need arises, for a team that owns only six draft picks. (If the Eagles feel confident about the future of Sidney Jones, they might not think that losing Robinson would open up much of a need at corner, despite Robinson’s excellent season.)
The Eagles’ brain trust is scheduled to speak to reporters in Indianapolis, for the first time since the parade. There really hasn’t been a chance yet to ask about the offseason and the landscape ahead. Normally at least some of this ground is covered during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., near the end of January, but the Eagles were still playing then, and the traditional meeting with Roseman behind the Ladd-Peebles Stadium bleachers did not occur.
There is a lot to talk about, beyond what happened on that glorious Sunday evening in Minneapolis. This is a team with a new offensive coordinator (Mike Groh) and a new quarterbacks coach (Press Taylor). Does running backs coach Duce Staley’s new title of assistant head coach mean he will have more input into game-planning? In the coming days, it seems likely the team will name a wide receivers coach to replace Groh.
Maybe it seems like only yesterday you were yelling at Cris Collinsworth through your TV, trying to get him to understand the concept of Zach Ertz’s having become a runner after catching that final TD pass, but the Eagles are already about to embark on the road to next season, which starts in Indianapolis.