One week down, with a long way to go in the NFL’s roster-building portion of the offseason, the Eagles have done what they set out to do. They’ve added impact players from the outside and they’ve kept players to extend continuity and, in the long-range picture, they’ve created flexibility within the current salary cap and, looking down the line, have added draft picks in trades and potential compensatory picks in NFL Drafts to come.
I know most fans want to know what’s next – and this is a particularly juicy week as some of the best finds in free agency happen after the first week with players’ prices falling – but before the Eagles march forward, it’s important to understand the scope of what they’ve done to date.
The Eagles tried all kinds of things up front defensively to give All-Pro tackle Fletcher Cox some breathing room. He moved spots, the Eagles brought Brandon Graham and Michael Bennett inside in pass-rushing situations, and a host of tackles had reps – Destiny Vaeao, Haloti Ngata, Treyvon Hester, Bruce Hector, Tim Jernigan, even T.Y. McGill.
Cox, because he’s so dominating, still had a terrific season, but the goal entering the offseason was to bring in somebody who would take some of the pressure away from Cox. Enter Malik Jackson, a veteran released by the Jacksonville Jaguars who is at his best as a penetrating, one-on-one tackle. The Eagles needed somebody who will win against single-man blocking and Jackson certainly fits that profile. Jackson is going to have to be physical and strong against the run and he’s going to have to play with an edge.
Jackson is an impact addition for the defensive line. Judge him by the way the entire defensive line plays, not necessarily by his individual numbers. Jackson needs to be durable and energetic and physical and nasty and he’ll be a great contributor to the Eagles' defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, DeSean Jackson brings impact. His numbers – 60 touchdown receptions of 40-plus yards, an NFL best – speak for themselves and Jackson clearly has the speed. He’s going to be part of a very strong corps of pass catchers and Jackson’s speed and the way defenses respect it will affect what quarterback Carson Wentz sees when he looks over the defensive alignment prior to taking a snap. Can defenses double-team wide receiver Alshon Jeffery or tight end Zach Ertz? Does having the deep secondary showing respect to Jackson’s speed give the Eagles more options for the running game? Stay tuned for the ripple impact with Jackson’s presence on the field.
Jackson understands his role here. He’s not the savior for the offense. He’s a salivating complementary piece who gives Wentz the chance to air it out and let Jackson chase down deep throws. The Eagles have a legitimate vertical passing game with Jackson on the field, and concurrently are going to see how much of the middle of the field opens with so much attention directed toward Jackson.
File Graham in this category. How many of you thought the Eagles would be able to retain Graham, who was set to find an impressive set of suitors in free agency? The Eagles got it done, and that’s huge. Graham is healthy after battling his pre-Super Bowl ankle injury and he’s got a lot left in his game. Keeping Graham set the tone for the offseason.
Signing cornerback Ronald Darby for 2019 is also a potential impact move from the current roster, based almost exclusively on his recovery from a torn ACL suffered in November. The Eagles are clearly pleased with the progress Darby has made and they’ve invested in his return, which makes for what is going to be an extremely interesting roster battle in the cornerback room.
RETAINING THE CORE
There were a lot of questions about the 2019 plans for left tackle Jason Peters, and those questions were resolved when Peters signed a new deal to play this season. Having Peters allows the Eagles to keep working with Halapoulivaati Vaitai and to develop second-year man Jordan Mailata and it keeps great continuity along the offensive line. The Eagles also extended the contracts for center Jason Kelce and left guard Isaac Seumalo, creating some room within the salary cap and locking up key members of the offensive line.
And let’s not forget how critical it is that the Eagles were able to get a new deal done with safety Rodney McLeod for the season ahead. McLeod was injured early in the 2018 campaign and his loss was a big one for the secondary.
BOLSTERING DEPTH, CREATING COMPETITION
Two under-the-radar moves help add to the linebacker competition. The Eagles re-signed Paul Worrilow before free agency started and then added L.J. Fort from the Steelers. How do they fit in? Are they anything more than “depth” signings? We’ll see about that. Both are experienced and they can play across the board at linebacker. The Eagles think they’re going to have a top, top, top defensive line, which is going to help the linebackers flow freely to the football. Worrilow and Fort are both going to have opportunities to earn substantial playing time.
DRAFT PICKS ON THE WAY
The Eagles currently have seven draft picks for 2019, including No. 25 overall and three picks in the first 57 selections. As always, the Eagles are on the lookout to upgrade their roster and improve their draft capital, so who knows what Howie Roseman is going before and during the draft? Next year, the Eagles already have an extra fifth-round draft pick (from the Michael Bennett trade to New England) and an extra seventh-round draft pick (from the DeSean Jackson deal with Tampa Bay).
It’s also likely the Eagles will get compensatory picks from quarterback Nick Foles signing in Jacksonville (reportedly, a third-round pick), wide receiver Golden Tate signing in New York (reportedly a fourth-round pick), and linebacker Jordan Hicks signing in Arizona (reportedly a fourth-round pick).
As Roseman has said, the Eagles look at the roster-building process in the now, the next year, and even as far as two and three years down the road. The team is well-stocked in all three phases, with more adding ahead.