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The 2021 offseason's theme: Adding young talent

Free agency marches on and the Eagles are keeping tabs on who is where and what might be available to a team with not a whole lot of wiggle room, and at the same time they are lining up their Pro Day visits in preparation for the NFL Draft, in which Philadelphia has 11 draft picks and the intention of adding some young, rising talent to the roster.

This is the nature of the offseason, one that is different for an Eagles team that has made some splashes in past free agent markets – trading for cornerback Darius Slay and signing defensive tackle Javon Hargrave last spring, trading for wide receiver DeSean Jackson and signing defensive tackle Malik Jackson in 2019, trading for defensive end Michael Bennett in 2018, and, of course, adding quarterback Nick Foles, wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and nailing the late-signing market by bringing defensive end Chris Long and cornerback Patrick Robinson on board to help the team win Super Bowl LII in the 2017 season.

The Eagles dipped into the market on Thursday, adding safety Andrew Adams from Tampa Bay, a partial starter and full-time special teams standout in his five years in the NFL (he also played with the Giants) to add depth and competition in the secondary, and re-signing defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who fits in nicely – when healthy, which hasn't been much in the two seasons he's been an Eagle, playing in just 14 games – with the defensive tackle group. Those are the kinds of signings the Eagles are in the market for right now, given their tight cap situation.

This team may not add "splash" players in free agency, but smart moves can certainly help a roster that needs depth and competition across the board.

"In terms of the next couple days and next couple weeks, every day we're meeting about the players that are available, we're talking about the players who are available with our personnel staff, with our front office staff, with our coaching staff," Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman said during a Thursday afternoon press conference at which he discussed the trade of Carson Wentz and other topics with Philadelphia media. "We're looking to see what the fits will be. We're looking for guys that we think fit our scheme, that we think fit our culture, and we think have an opportunity to be here as we kind of build this thing back. If there's an opportunity to improve our team, we're going to look at that. We're continuing to do that. I would say if the fit's right, we'll do it.

"Now, we're not in the same position that we've been in years past with our cap situation, but we're hopeful that this is just a short period of time that we're like that, and we move on and going forward, that we'll have the flexibility back to be able to do that. We are excited about the amount of draft picks we have (11 in 2021, eight in 2022), not only to draft players but also because they give you capital, to go out and be aggressive if you want to be, and give you options."

The theme, then, of this offseason, is to build up the roster with young talent, supplement with veterans – having center Jason Kelce return and extending defensive end Brandon Graham's contract are two excellent examples of creating that strong youth/experience mix – and meld the players with Nick Sirianni and his coaching staff's schemes. Don't get caught up in the why-aren't-the-Eagles players-in-free-agency? question. This season, and probably this season only, the Eagles just don't have the assets.

Instead, they are keeping their eyes open on who is on the streets, who might be available in a trade, and preparing for the April 29 NFL Draft. Young players from the 2020 NFL Draft and from this spring's draft are going to have opportunities to gain playing time and contribute – right now.

"After meeting with our coaching staff and getting their evaluations of our players, and some of our young players, I mean, it's clear that some of our young players are going to play right away, whether it's from last year's draft class, the year before, or players that we draft this year," Roseman said. "I think when we look at the situation that we're in in this country, and the pandemic, getting the right guys for us and our scheme and who have the right character and temperament, as well as talent, like Coach just talked about, is even more important this year than ever.

"There will be opportunities to play. When you have a new coaching staff, they talk all the time about competition. The rookies will know right away that there's opportunities here, opportunities to play right away. At the same time, we do feel like we have a group of veteran players on this team who are here and are going to really lead and set the charge for us. We're excited about having them back, too."

Said Sirianni: "I think to see the young talent on this team, I think Howie and his staff have done such a good job of getting young talent in here. What's exciting is to be able to work with the guys that are currently on this roster, the guys that are currently on these rosters, these are the guys I fell in love with a couple years ago in the draft or last year in the draft. In the draft, you don't get to recruit the guys. It's like, 'Oh, shoot the Eagles took them.' I get a chance to work with them now. How exciting is that? I think Howie and his staff have done such a good job, again, of getting the good, young talent in here."

That's what it's about – building the roster. Adding talent. In the case of the Philadelphia Eagles for this spring of 2021, that talent is going to come mostly in the form of youth. There is your 2021 theme. Free agency? Maybe the Eagles will buffet the roster with experience – in the case, for example, of adding a veteran quarterback to the mix – but for the most part, this roster is making another turn toward young.

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