We're seeing the plan unfold, and as the Eagles prepare for the start of the NFL's 2021 business year that begins on Wednesday at 4 PM, they are going to do so with a familiar framework in place. Yes, the Eagles are in a "transition" period with the roster, as Chairman & CEO Jeffrey Lurie said back in January. But it's clear that the transition is going to include key veterans who are going to be part of the reboot.
Defensive end Brandon Graham is the latest player to provide some positive news, as the Eagles announced on Monday evening that Graham signed a contract extension through the 2022 season, and the Pro Bowl pass rusher couldn't be happier.
"At the end of the day," he said, "this is where I want to be. I love the energy and I know we're going to get things done around here."
Graham, the team's first-round draft pick in 2010, continues to play at a high level with his boundless energy and toughness and durability, leading the way for a defensive line that, yes, has some key pieces in place and a strong foundation on which to build. Graham's contract was set to expire following the 2021 campaign, so keeping Graham for his presence off the edge, his leadership, and his positive attitude is a win for Graham, of course, and it's a win for the Eagles who can add to the core they've retained.
It's been an interesting couple of months for a team that many on the outside pegged as one that had a lot of heavy lifting to do to comply with the league's $182.5 million salary cap limit. Would that mean, as observers speculated, that the Eagles would cut or trade half the roster just to clear cap space? Would it mean that this team was going into a major overhaul, top to bottom, for new Head Coach Nick Sirianni? The larger question seemed to be this: How could the Eagles get under the cap without ripping the roster to shreds?
It appears they've answered that question in a most positive way.
Some veterans have been released – notably and officially, wide receiver DeSean Jackson – but the Eagles have also been able to reportedly restructure some contracts to make space within the cap, and they've been boosted by the news that Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce would return for 2021. This doesn't mean that the Eagles are flush with cap space and that they're going to be aggressive in free agency – honestly, can anyone predict what is going to happen when the business year begins on Wednesday afternoon? – but the team has been able to give itself some flexibility to address some needs if the team wishes.
And, the truth is this: What Lurie really means when he talks about the "transition" is that the Eagles have a reported total of 18 picks to work with in the next two NFL Drafts, including 10 in 2021. The Eagles know they have to hit it big in the draft. They know they have to take advantage of the draft capital they finally have.
After a few seasons with only a fistful of selections – eight in 2017 and five each in 2018 and 2019, along with 10 last spring – the Eagles understand that the bulk of their roster reload must come from strong drafting followed by excellent player developing.
It sure helps, though, as Sirianni installs his schemes and introduces the culture he wants on a daily basis around One NovaCare Way that veterans like Kelce and Graham are part of the program. They are part of it because they want to be part of the action. They are Philadelphia Eagles. They want to win again. They want to win more.
"Winning is what it's about," Kelce said a couple of weeks ago when he announced he was returning for '21. "We have great energy in the building. I want to be part of that."
What happens next? The Eagles still have work to do. The roster is always "in progress." The Eagles aren't going to have a ton of breathing room under that $182.5 million mark, but they'll work the numbers and massage themselves some room. How active the Eagles will be in free agency remains to be seen. The focus really has to be the draft and upgrading this roster with young blood.
Having Graham and Kelce, among the other veterans who remain, is comforting and helpful. It means something to keep the leaders around.