Good morning, Eagles fans. Most of the top free agents are off the market, and rosters around the NFL are beginning to take shape. There will still be a handful of signings during the next few days before coaches, executives, and owners head to Orlando next week for the annual league meetings. After the meetings, most of the attention shifts to April's draft.
This is an offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come every Wednesday for the next few months. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
The Eagles added four players: Michael Bennett, Daryl Worley, Haloti Ngata, and Corey Nelson. They've traded two players and seen six players sign elsewhere. The biggest move they made was retaining Nigel Bradham, which was their offseason priority and was more important than anything else they could have done this month. They also kept No. 2 quarterback Nick Foles.
Bennett and Worley came in trades, and Ngata and Nelson came on one-year deals that were not burdensome. This was expected entering the offseason, when Howie Roseman vowed to be creative in upgrading the roster. It came with the understanding that the Eagles were tighter on salary-cap space than in past years, had fewer starting spots to fill, and were hoping to receive compensatory picks in 2019. Those picks will likely come considering the contracts the outgoing Eagles signed.
It's clear that the Eagles recognize the window is still open to win with their core of players, which is why they added two high-profile, aging defensive linemen. However, they've preserved flexibility beyond 2018 — even the contracts they restructured were with players who will likely remain with the Eagles through or near the end of their deals.
The Eagles aren't finished yet, and an evaluation is best made after looking at all the moves in context. But so far, the moves make sense with the current state of the team.
The Eagles have not yet added to the offense. That should come with value shopping in free agency and in the draft. They have six skill-position spots open from last year's roster at running back, wide receiver, and tight end. (Torrey Smith and Marcus Johnson were traded, Trey Burton and LeGarrette Blount left, Brent Celek was released, and Kenjon Barner is unsigned.) The Eagles also need to figure out what to do about their third safety, which is a notable role on defense. But my guess is offense is more of a focus for the remainder of the offseason.
The Eagles have six draft picks and will likely be active seeking undrafted free agents. There are also practice-squad players from last year who could take on a role, such as tight end Billy Brown. But I'd be surprised if the Eagles use four wide receiver/tight end spots on first-year players. That's why I think they'll still search for a free-agent wide receiver and/or tight end. Even if it's a one-year, low-risk signing, it would make sense to see what's there. The next few weeks leading up to the draft are a good time to do so.
Roseman must also determine what to do about Mychal Kendricks. He's a clear trade candidate after bringing back Bradham and adding Nelson. Kendricks would be an expensive third linebacker if Jordan Hicks returns healthy, and Nelson gives them flexibility of a potential starting option in Kendricks' spot.
So I don't think the Eagles will be quiet leading up to the draft. They weren't last season, and they added key players such as Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, and Tim Jernigan between the initial wave of free agency and the draft.
With a few exceptions, the free-agent market at this point is usually in-their-prime players who couldn't land the money they desired or aging players trying to get another contract. The Eagles can find value from both groups if they identify the right players. The Eagles hit on those low-risk deals last year, but they've had seasons when they saw the other end of it. (Remember in 2016 when they signed Chris Givens and Rueben Randle at wide receiver?)
Let's look at wide receivers and tight ends, because those are two areas in which the Eagles could sign a veteran. Two former Eagles are on the market — Jordan Matthews and Jeremy Maclin. Both have experience in this offense. Matthews, 25, is coming off an injury-plagued season in Buffalo. Before that, he was productive for the Eagles, although almost entirely in the slot. I'm more bullish on Matthews than most, but this coaching staff didn't seem interested in playing him on the outside. The offense was better when they had Nelson Agholor in the slot. I think they can do far worse than Matthews and you know he'd fit in the locker room, but the Eagles gave him away last August.
Maclin will be 30 next season and only had 40 catches for 440 yards in 12 games with the Ravens last season. That followed a subpar year in Kansas City in 2016. However, the Eagles aren't looking for a No.1 wide receiver. They're looking for a player who would be, at best, the fourth option. If Maclin is healthy and he'd play at the Eagles' price, a good argument could be made for a reunion.
Allen Hurns was released by Jacksonville this week, is still 26, and has good size and talent, but he could likely find more money elsewhere. Terrelle Pryor's one-year deal in Washington didn't work out last season, and he is on the market again. So far, the Eagles haven't been linked to him. Chicago's Cameron Meredith missed all of last season with an injury, but the restricted free agent only received an original-round tender from the Bears.
There's a school of thought that the Eagles need a deep threat to replace Smith. I can understand that, although Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson are both options for that role. Mike Wallace will be 32 next season, but he's been a deep threat throughout his career. Dallas' Brice Butler isn't a big name, but he averaged 21.1 yards on 15 catches last season.
At tight end, the Eagles could reunite the Bennett brothers if they signed Martellus Bennett. The 31-year-old Bennett was injured for most of last season, although he's not far removed from notable production in New England and Chicago. He can help as both a receiver and a blocker. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh is familiar with him from the Bears, too. From 2014 to 2016, Bennett averaged 66 catches for 704 yards and five touchdowns per season.
Julius Thomas was once a prized free agent, although he's going to be 30 and hasn't had a 500-yard season since 2013. Levine Toilolo is Ertz's former tight end partner at Stanford, and the 26-year old can help as a blocker.
It's also worth noting that the safety market still isn't settled. Kenny Vacarro and Eric Reid are two intriguing players who have not yet found teams.
I'd give Howie Roseman favorable odds to acquire another pick. If we're setting the over/under for Eagles draft picks at six, I'm going over. The easiest way for the Eagles to do it would be to trade out of the first round. It all depends who's on the board, but without a Day 2 pick, the Eagles would be well-served to see what they could get in a trade-back situation. The other way to get more picks would be by trading players — Mychal Kendricks remains an obvious trade candidate, and they could deal from their cornerback depth. But I don't think Roseman will sit out Day 2 of the draft.
You're right, it is a need. There are some internal options they could develop (Shelton Gibson, Nelson Agholor, and Corey Clement on kickoffs, for example), but I think it's a position they'll address this offseason. My guess is they add a running back and maybe a wide receiver in the draft, and he could have return potential. They can also look at the undrafted market. That's why you'll hear the Eagles linked to Texas A&M's Christian Kirk and Washington's Dante Pettis in this receiver draft. Maryland's D.J. Moore is another intriguing wide receiver with return potential. San Diego State's Rashaad Penny and North Carolina State's Nyheim Hines are running backs who can help in the return game. If they signed a veteran free agent, Baltimore's Michael Campanaro had 10.8 yards per punt return last season and is still on the market.