In two weeks when free agency begins the Eagles will … And that's where it ends. We're all guessing at everything right now. There are some items on the table for the team to consider, some business to handle, and then all heck breaks loose on March 10 …
- The immediate priority is to manage the salary cap, something the Eagles addressed last week by releasing tight end James Casey and reportedly saving $4 million in cap room for 2015. Are there contracts that can be re-worked between now and March 10 to clear more cap room? Are there players who might face the same fate as Casey, who is now free to sign with any NFL team? The Eagles have some players with big contracts for 2015 and part of the offseason work is to eye every contract critically and see how many dollars can be made available for free agency, trades, the waiver wire and the draft and post-draft period.
- There are seven players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, including wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, linebacker Brandon Graham, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, quarterback Mark Sanchez and safety Nate Allen. All made significant contributions in 2014. There has been not a peep from the Eagles about their plans, about any conversations, or about what might happen before or after March 10.
- Don't minimize the importance of restricted free agent defensive end Cedric Thornton and running back Chris Polk. Should the Eagles give Polk a mid-level tender offer, it would cost them $2.1 million against the salary cap based on last year's numbers. The official tender amounts have not yet been announced, but they will likely be higher with an increase in the salary cap. A low-level tender offer counted for $1.4 million against the cap in 2014. Thornton is a starting defensive end, a strong two-gapping player who uses his hands well and plays physical football. He is someone the coaching staff has been very, very high on. Those two players will cost some dollars with an already-tight salary cap.
- What's the market going to look like at 4 p.m. on March 10? Should be interesting. Right now there are some prime names who might become unrestricted free agents, but we'll see in the week ahead what teams, back from the Combine after meeting with agents and now focused more on free agency, will get deals done. The market will be less appetizing than it appears to be right now. The challenge is that no matter how many quality players hit the streets, there are a lot of teams flush with room under a salary cap that is reportedly going to be between $140 million and $143 million. The Eagles may take care of some of their own players ready to become free agents and there always remains the possibility that they will extend a contract or two. Every dollar counts. Count me as one who has low expectations for free agency. I'm not sure I see a lot of huge moves out there.
- Chip Kelly isn't going to back away from any chance to improve his roster, and he isn't going to limit his focus. If he thinks the Eagles can, for example, improve a running back group that already includes LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, with Polk as a restricted free agent and young prospects Matthew Tucker and Kenjon Barner, he's going to do it. The point is this: Kelly wants to be better across the roster and not limit his focus on certain areas that have been discussed for months – the secondary, inside linebacker, etc.
- How much of the way the draft board stacks up will impact how the Eagles approach free agency? It could quite a bit, actually. If the Eagles, for example, love the cornerbacks at the top of the draft as much as the mock drafts say they do, is there any reason to dip an expensive toe into free agency? These are things to consider at every position. The draft is said to be loaded at wide receiver, at running back, with edge rushers and, at the top, at cornerback. Does it make sense to spend big dollars in free agency for any team interested in players at that position when the draft offers rookie contracts and long-term commitments? There are so many things to weigh out prior to March 10.
- Nobody has talked much about wide receiver, other than what happens with Maclin, but consider that Jeff Maehl is scheduled to be an exclusive-rights free agent and that Brad Smith is due to become an unrestricted free agent on March 10. Will both return to the team? Do the Eagles want to add depth? Does Kelly think that Josh Huff is ready to take a huge step and contend for a starting job outside? Is the plan to give Jordan Matthews a shot to start outside, or do the Eagles see him more as a valuable piece running routes out of the slot? I could see the Eagles adding a piece or two here to bolster depth. Green Bay's receiving corps is admirable in that they seem to add a young receiver to the mix every year and develop him and then keep adding to the competition. The result is that Green Bay goes 5-6 deep at wide receiver year after year. That's really the ideal scenario and one the Eagles, who want to play high-tempo football and exhaust defenses, want to pursue. The Eagles brought in Matthews and Huff last spring. Will they continue to add to the position?