This is an offseason of stages, and we are upon another: Starting Saturday NFL teams can start their sales pitches to the agents of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on March 10.
We take a pause from the recent spate of official roster adjustments - four veterans released and one veteran signed - and consider what is directly ahead for the Eagles.
The team released tight end James Casey, guard Todd Herremans, cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Trent Cole and signed linebacker Brad Jones. We've talked about those moves. We have a grasp of why those moves were made, and on both the benefits realized and the challenges accepted by the team.
The Eagles have created some obvious needs on the roster - by releasing Williams and, at this point, allowing Bradley Fletcher to enter free agency, the Eagles have to replace their two starting cornerbacks from 2014. Cole's venture into free agency could lead him to sign elsewhere and that, combined with Brandon Graham's scheduled free agency, would open a starting job at outside linebacker, the "Predator" role in the Bill Davis defense. Herremans ended 2014 season on Injured Reserve after such solid play for a decade and so the Eagles, at the moment, are turning to some less-experienced players on the current roster. Casey's role could very well be filled from within.
So, you know all of that. You know that the Eagles have some work to do. They have those starting jobs to upgrade and - we'll start here - they have a question or two about some other pending unrestricted free agents, notably wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The latest on Maclin? There has been not a peep since Maclin spoke last week at a Jefferson/Eagles Heart Healthy event when he characterized his perspective as hopeful. He wants to be an Eagle. The Eagles have said nothing but great things about Maclin.
At the same time, as Maclin said, he understands the business side of things. And the business is about to take an accelerated step when the pre-free agency negotiation period opens on Saturday afternoon. Maclin - and Graham and starting safety Nate Allen and backup quarterback Mark Sanchez and linebacker Casey Matthews and Fletcher and wide receiver Brad Smith - are free to talk to any team.
The Eagles, of course, are able to talk with the agents of any scheduled unrestricted free agents from the other 31 teams on Saturday, which makes for a lot of conference-room conversations and cell phone exchanges between the players, their agents and the teams on the inside, and rumors, rumors, rumors from the outside.
Let the fun begin. It's going to be an intense time for the Eagles, who have the means - created in large part by the recent releases of the four veteran players - to dictate their own course in free agency. How the Eagles build the roster within the salary cap with such ample wiggle room is what we're watching. Will the Eagles be big players in free agency? Are their deals to be had out there? Nobody knows. Head coach Chip Kelly and vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz are running the show and we're on the outside of the room banging on the windows trying to get a sense of the plan.
I know this, Kelly has his strategy and he and Marynowitz have been decisive in this pre-pre-free agency time. And they've got a great story to tell prospective free agents along with a very, very strong sell. A fantastic sell, in fact.
Who wouldn't want to play in Philadelphia for this team? The City and its fans love the team, live the Eagles and support the franchise every day. Players have told me over the years how much they appreciate the ferocity of the fans and the sports mentality of Philadelphia, as well as the daily-life advantages of the culture, the location and the good weather for a football season.
On the football side, the Eagles are on the rise. In his two years here, Kelly has established a progressive, player-positive program. There is always the conversation of "culture" and it's a buzzword when the media talk about the Eagles. Fair enough. Culture in this case means creating a lifestyle that the players know benefits them. Everything Kelly does is aimed at improving every player's performance, which in turn wins more football games.
The sports science program is constantly evolving as advancing technology is learned and provided to the players. These aren't gimmicks. These are part of the daily mission to make today better than yesterday. Everything from nutrition to lifestyle habits to teaching sessions in the classroom and training sessions on the field is aimed at making players the very best they can be.
I don't know how that sounds to you, but to me it sounds like an earnest pitch as part of the Eagles' recruiting plans for free agency. Come to Philadelphia and do something that's never been done.
The facilities are terrific, the Eagles are winners and they have a large (inter) national scope.
How many players do the Eagles want to sign? I don't know. None of us know. I just know that what's in place here, and what the vision is for the future, makes for an attractive landing place for every player.
The business side of it, the dollars and cents, remains a major part of the recruiting equation, but the Eagles have set themselves up to do as they wish. Saturday is the next key date, with a lot of importance in a window that lasts three days. Deals cannot be executed and made official until 4 p.m. on March 10. Between now and then, when the new league year begins and free agency starts and trades can be made, a foundation of great importance will be put in place.