With Ed Marynowitz in as the Eagles' vice president of player personnel and working in lock step with head coach Chip Kelly, the team can move through its offseason checklist and prepare for free agency and the draft. What are the tasks ahead? Plenty, and all of them are important …
The key dates to remember are March 10, when the NFL free agency period begins, and April 30-May 2, the NFL Draft weekend. We're at the end of January. The days pass quickly, and the Eagles have a lot of work ahead. Here are some of the things to watch as Kelly and Marynowitz map out their game plan for a successful prelude to the 2015 season.
The NFL's Scouting Combine
We're past the all-star games and the bowl games and it's time for NFL scouting departments to gather and narrow down their draft targets. This is the time of the year traditionally when the scouts finalize reports and discuss prospects. It's the first time that Kelly and Marynowitz, of course, will work the draft detail part of things together. What it means is that the Eagles want to get their list of players to interview and to really focus on when the Scouting Combine begins in Indianapolis on February 17, and then to consequently put together an invite list for visits to the NovaCare Complex.
Teams are permitted to interview up to 60 players at the Combine, and those interviews are extremely important insights into how a player presents himself to teams. The answers have been rehearsed, but the one-on-one time is still important.
Then teams can have as many as 30 players visit their facilities prior to the draft for a more in-depth opportunity to know the player.
Organizing the plan and identifying the players on the list is the priority now. Checking and double checking and triple checking scouting reports takes time and requires great skill in projection as to how that young man will fit in the NFL game.
Pre-Free Agency: Contracts To Consider?
The Eagles have seven players slated to become unrestricted free agents on March 10 – wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, safety Nate Allen, linebacker Casey Matthews, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, quarterback Mark Sanchez, linebacker Brandon Graham and wide receiver/special teamer Brad Smith. Additionally, running back Chris Polk and defensive end Cedric Thornton are scheduled to become restricted free agents and wide receiver Jeff Maehl will be an exclusive-rights free agent.
So there is some work to do in this department. The Eagles want to get their salary cap right and pick off some players, potentially, before free agency begins. Last year, if you recall, the Eagles signed wide receiver Riley Cooper to a long-term deal, signed Maclin to a one-year contract and then extended offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce prior to free agency. They were then able to move quickly into free agency to execute their plan and sign safety Malcolm Jenkins, retain punter Donnie Jones and add special-teams core players Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos.
This year? We'll see how it develops. The Eagles reportedly have some flexibility under the salary cap to execute their plan. We'll see out of the gates how the Eagles play the free-agent market and what needs they think they can address in free agency.
The NFL management council informed teams last month the 2015 cap is expected to be $138.6 million to $141.8 million and the players' union will present its own estimation within the next month. A lot of teams, then, could have some significantly money to keep players or to be aggressive in the market. The competition for the players who actually do hit the streets could be very intense.
And what about the quarterback picture? Nick Foles enters the final season of his rookie contract. Where do the Eagles go with Foles and the position (remember, Sanchez is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 10)? There is a lot to consider at the game's most important position.
Draft Prep And Roster Improvement
The object is to make the roster great. To take the Eagles from good to great. To improve every corner of the team and challenge every position. Kelly has that mindset, as he said at the conclusion of the 2014 season. He isn't focused on one or two or three positions. He wants to see the Eagles improve in every possible way.
Clearly, though, some needs are more obvious than others. But if, say, the Eagles identify inside linebacker as a big need because they aren't sure about DeMeco Ryans and his recovery from the Achilles tendon injury, that doesn't mean inside linebacker becomes the first position they address. Nobody knows at this point what kind of talent will be available at that position in free agency, or even in the draft.
It's an ongoing process, just as the salary cap is a fluid situation. The Eagles have their eyes open now and will continue to do so throughout the offseason and the regular season to make the roster better. There are so many Pro Days to attend and draft prospects to hone in on and draft strategies and scenarios to consider as free agency moves along concurrently.
It's all well underway with Kelly and Marynowitz fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of an Eagles team coming off back-to-back 10-6 seasons.