The idea was to retain the core of a changing roster and to point this franchise in the right direction. So once Howie Roseman put his focus into cleaning up the salary cap and working with his staff and the coaches to identify players to build around, everything fell into place in an offseason that set the stage for the future of the Philadelphia Eagles.
It wasn't easy, and it was very costly in terms of the cash outlay. But the mission was clear: Get ahead of what would be a rising salary-cap market – the cap jumped this offseason from the $155 million limit in 2016 to $168 million in 2017 – and lock in some young veterans and some older, steady hands, and do as much as possible to keep the nucleus of the roster together.
By the end of the 2016 campaign, the Eagles signed 10 players to contract extensions, although to be fair defensive end Vinny Curry and quarterback Sam Bradford were signed to multi-year deals rather than test the market in free agent. Bradford, of course, was traded for a 2017 first-round draft pick just prior to the start of the 2016 season as the Eagles cleared the way for rookie Carson Wentz. Six of those players were signed in the preseason, and later in the year the team got deals done with punter Donnie Jones, long-snapper Jon Dorenbos and special-teams standout Chris Maragos.
Roseman and the Eagles used bold vision and a win-win negotiating stance to get the deals done. As a result, the Eagles were able to enter 2016 as a competitive team under new head coach Doug Pederson and, one year later, look for that core to continue to form a team that expects to be right there in the NFC East in 2017.
"It was definitely important for us to do what we did," Roseman said. "We're tighter than we usually are in this offseason, but we felt like we executed what we set out to do last offseason. It was a lot of work but it improved our standing as a football team.
In addition to Bradford and Curry – more on him in a moment – the Eagles signed tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, offensive tackle Lane Johnson, safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
The decision to retain Bradford ultimately landed the Eagles the first-round draft pick via the trade with Minnesota, a zig-zagging road that has been chronicled many times. Curry saw his production dip in 2016, but there are high hopes that Curry will rebound in his second season with a four-man front and a more clearly defined role in the defense.
By signing Ertz, Johnson and Cox, the Eagles were able to lock up three of their young, rising standouts and, in the process, doing so before the market exploded. Retaining Celek helps in the locker room, of course, but he's also a top-notch blocker and a tough guy who plays with a style that resonates with this team. And Jenkins is one of the premiere safeties in the game, and he and Rodney McLeod – added in last year's free agency – teamed up to become one of the NFL's top tandems last season.
and Torrey Smith to the team, along with offensive lineman Chance Warmack and quarterback Nick Foles.
After a disappointing end to the 2014 season and then a desultory 2015, the Eagles are right back in the game with an optimistic view on the present and the future.
"We're moving in the right direction," Roseman said, as he's done so much in the last month or so, "but we also know that the roster isn't there yet. We have a lot more work to do. It's exciting to build this thing, and having the opportunity to get so many guys that mean so much to us last year was critical to the plan."