One year ago, the NFL was in the midst of a work stoppage. Little did we know that shortly after the league and the players came together on terms for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that the Eagles would add so many key pieces to the roster in free agency.
Some analysts, at the time, believed the Eagles were building a one-and-done team, that free agency was the spree that would give the team all of these big names and strong collection of talent for 2011 alone.
That isn't the case at all. The Eagles significantly upgraded their roster late last July and early in August, and the impact is felt now.
With training camp less than two weeks from opening, the Eagles should have one of the most talented rosters they've ever had ready to go at Lehigh University. Certainly, there were some extremely talented teams in the early 2000s, and that 2004 roster was truly loaded, heads and shoulders above the rest of the NFC.
This roster isn't quite as much of a sure thing, but the prospects are promising. This roster contains a significant blend of players from the most recent couple of draft classes plus the sprinkling of players from free agency and the player-acquisition period of a year ago.
The starting cornerbacks are Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, both of whom joined the Eagles last summer. Two starting defensive linemen, tackle Cullen Jenkins and end Jason Babin, were signed as unrestricted free agents last year. Starting left guard Evan Mathis was an unheralded free-agent signing last summer.
It was a strong personnel coup for the Eagles, who can fully reap the rewards now.
The roster, then, has as interesting a mix as I can remember. The starting safeties, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, are draft picks. The starting cornerbacks are Asomugha, signed as a free agent, and Rodgers-Cromartie, acquired in a trade. Two of the starting linebackers are draft picks, Brian Rolle in 2011 and Mychal Kendricks in 2012. The third, DeMeco Ryans, was brought to Philadelphia in a trade in March.
Up front defensively, end Trent Cole and tackle Mike Patterson are members of the 2005 Draft Class, while Jenkins and Babin were part of last summer's headlines.
Offensively, the mix is every bit as interesting. Quarterback Michael Vick was, as we know, signed as a free agent after serving nearly two years in prison. Starting wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, along with halfback LeSean McCoy, are draft picks. Fullback Stanley Havili is a draft pick. Left tackle Demetress Bell was signed as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Mathis was added as an unrestricted free agent last year and then signed a five-year contract months ago. Center Jason Kelce (2011), right guard Danny Watkins (2011) and Todd Herremans (2005) are draft picks.
Even the kicking game has its unique look: Placekicker Alex Henery was a fourth-round draft pick in 2011 and punter Chas Henry was signed as a non-drafted rookie.
This roster is a blend of home-grown talent acquired in and after the draft, players added via the trade route, and some serious moves in free agency.
There are 90 players on the roster now, with the eventual whittling down to 53 players in time for the September 9 opener in Cleveland. General manager Howie Roseman and head coach Andy Reid are going to continue to working the mix, moving the pieces around, trying to find the perfect blend.
All of those moves in the summer last year? They still mean something for this team. The defense features four starters from that flurry of moves, and all four of them have the kind of Pro Bowl ceiling that an ultra-talented defense needs to make an impact.
It was never about "Win in 2011 or go home" for the Eagles. The front office signed players with gas in the tank, part of the goal of moving to the top of the NFC East and beyond in the season ahead.