It isn't just Carson Wentz, although he's a huge part of the future for the Eagles. Wentz is the centerpiece of a roster that has some building blocks already in place. As the Eagles cleaned out their NovaCare Complex lockers on Monday, they did so believing the future is bright.
"The foundation is in place," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "This year was about establishing that and we accomplished that part of it. Everybody is excited as we look ahead."
Just how the Eagles add to the foundation is the next step, and we're months away from seeing the plan unfold. For now, the Eagles think they've got some solid pieces in place, starting with, but not limited to, Wentz.
A 3-4 inside linebacker as a rookie, Jordan Hicks made the transition to the middle of the 4-3 scheme and turned in a heck of a second NFL season. Hicks started all 16 games, an accomplishment after missing half of 2015 with a torn pectoral muscle. Hicks was around the football all year with five interceptions and he was solid against the run. Hicks did an outstanding job lining up the defense. He showed maturity and leadership. Hicks is now healthy going into the offseason for the first time and he said his goal is to build up his strength to help shed blockers and win at the football. Hicks has a chance to be a really, really strong player in the middle of this Eagles defense and he credited his connection with Nigel Bradham as a reason for his success.
MALCOLM JENKINS AND RODNEY McLEOD
A team that hasn't had stability since the 2008 season at the safety spots - after which Brian Dawkins left to sign with Denver in free agency - can look forward to stability with Jenkins and McLeod, signed in the free agency period last spring. The two hit it off immediately and played excellent football from the start of the season to the end. As the defense fills out, the Eagles can have a lot of flexibility with the skills that both players bring to the table. Jenkins moved into the slot when the Eagles lost cornerback Ron Brooks with a knee injury and Jaylen Watkins stepped in and helped his profile at the safety spot next to McLeod. The Eagles have a good thing going with Jenkins and McLeod.
It's not a coincidence that the Eagles went 5-1 with Lane Johnson on the field. He is a dominating right tackle and the Eagles sorely missed him during his 10-game suspension. During that span, they found out that rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a promising young player for the future, and they learned a lot of good things about rookie Isaac Seumalo. So, the Eagles have a good situation up front offensively. There are some questions, of course, and the Eagles will sort through them, but the picture is a strong one for the Eagles from tackle to tackle at the line of scrimmage offensively.
Yes, the numbers were down for Fletcher Cox playing in the four-man front after his breakthrough 2015 in the 3-4, but Cox is still a dominating defensive tackle who offensive blocking schemes much account for. Cox has a hugely bright future in front of him and the Eagles will continue to add and build around his many talents up front. Don't let the numbers fool you: Cox is a tremendous player who has the respect of everyone in the game. He changes football games up front.
"I missed too many sacks this season," Brandon Graham said on Monday. "That's something I need to do better with next year."
Maybe that's true, but Graham sure made an impact. He played with great energy off the edge and he played with force. Graham is in the prime of his career as he soon turns his attention toward 2017. Great defenses have threats off the edge and Graham commands double teams and constant attention.
After suffering a misplaced rib in the opening-day win against Cleveland, Zach Ertz missed two full games and took a few weeks to really get back into the groove in the offense. But since early November, Ertz was fantastic with 65 receptions in the final nine games of the season. Anybody waiting for Ertz to become a week-in and week-out focal point in the offense needs to wait no longer. Ertz and Wentz have a terrific connection and trust and Ertz really delivered in the second half of the season.
It wasn't just a "December thing." Instead, it was a half season of outstanding play from Ertz, who will remain a consistent part of the passing game moving forward.
The Eagles have smartly locked up the core of the kicking game, and they can look forward to more great punting from the ageless Donnie Jones, consistent play from kicker Caleb Sturgis, who nailed 35 of 41 of his field goals, and a consistent threat in return man Darren Sproles. Plus, long snapper Jon Dorenbos is signed, and expected to make a full recovery from his wrist injury.
Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp commands the respect of his room, and the players love the way he relates to them. There is every reason to think the Eagles should continue to win on special teams.