Toughness. Competitiveness. A love of the game. Talent. Players willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. These are important characteristics to possess if you want to be part of Nick Sirianni's program, and they are prevalent in the players the Eagles have added and retained in the first week of the 2022 offseason.
The latest player to sign with the Eagles is defensive end Derek Barnett, whom the team announced on Thursday signed a two-year contract. Barnett, the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2017 and a tough-as-nails competitor who battles on every snap of the game, has 45 starts in 64 career games. By retaining Barnett, the Eagles bolster their depth off the edge and bring more options in the pass-rushing punch they covet so much.
The Eagles landed their top free-agent target, pass-rushing linebacker Haason Reddick last week, and now bring back Barnett to team with Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, second-year man Tarron Jackson, Cameron Malveaux, and Matt Leo. The team will always keep its eyes open for more power and speed off the edge going forward, but they now have more options and proven depth to provide Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon a deeper rotation in order to keep players fresh while chasing down the quarterback and setting the edge against the run.
Clearly, the Eagles are following a disciplined strategy in free agency. They landed Reddick, one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, as the 2022 League Year opened, and then aggressively kept tabs on a large handful of players on their list. Late last week, the team announced that they brought back defensive tackle Fletcher Cox on a new contract after he had been released, along with safety Anthony Harris and running back Boston Scott. Monday, they added wide receiver Zach Pascal, whose rise from a thrice-released player to a key contributor in Indianapolis was and is something that Sirianni admires and respects and wants on his football team.
The common thread is that all of those players fit the mold of what Sirianni wants in his players – love of the game, production, talent, toughness, and competitiveness. This, as we know, is just the start. The roster-building process has a long way to go and the Eagles have the opportunity to address the roster in a variety of ways. They have resisted overextending themselves with commitments, and the flexibility they have moving forward will be so vitally important as the Eagles enter the second week of free agency.
The Eagles have added to the roster with a clear vision and adaptability in their execution – Reddick was the prized target because of the way he can change games with his burst and relentless pursuit of the quarterback and the effort he puts forth against the run. Reddick outworks his man on every snap, and the Eagles' defense will feed off that energy and production. Gannon was able to adjust last season – remember how dominating the Eagles were in the opener at Atlanta and in the first half against San Francisco before Graham went down with a torn Achilles tendon? – and the defense allowed 18 or fewer points in 10 games, tied for most in the league.
After Reddick was on board, the Eagles certainly inquired about other available free agents, but as Howie Roseman said prior to free agency, the team was going to set limits and following through on that was important.
"We can't force what's not there and if you do force what's not there, then you've wasted one of these resources," Roseman told me. "As much as we may want this particular position, if it's not there we've got to let it go."
In some cases, then, the Eagles "let it go." And then they moved on to make sure Cox was back for another year, to make sure that Harris would return to build on the performance he had in 2021, to make sure Scott was on board as part of the enviable backfield depth that led the way for the No. 1-ranked rushing offense in the NFL last season, to bring in a player like Pascal who is expected to help a young wide receiver corps grow, and now, on Tuesday, to bring back Barnett as the Eagles envision waves of pass rushers staying fresh and attacking quarterbacks from multiple defensive locations.
Of course, the main course of the roster-building meal will be the NFL Draft, and the Eagles are going to enter that armed with 10 total draft picks, nine in the first five rounds, and, as we all know, picks 15, 16, and 19 in the first round. The goal here is not to win in the first quarter, it is to look at the roster in the post-Draft days and beam. What you're going to see from the Eagles all the way through is what you've seen in the first seven days – disciplined aggressiveness, flexibility, and the addition of players who fit the characteristics – toughness, competitiveness, talent, love of the game, unselfishness – Sirianni wants in his men.