ORLANDO – In a matter of two weeks, the Eagles attacked free agency in a way that few expected. They cleared space within the NFL's salary cap days after reports said the team was as much as $11 million over the limit of $177.2 million. They retained standout linebacker Nigel Bradham. They made two trades, acquiring defensive end Michael Bennett and cornerback Daryl Worley. They signed unrestricted free agents defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebacker Corey Nelson and wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Not a bad start to the offseason.
"We're always looking to add good players," executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Monday from the NFL's Annual Meeting at the Ritz Carlton. "We're not going to shy away from being aggressive. We want players who are going to be productive, who are competitive and who are going to be great teammates.
"If there's an opportunity to improve our team, we're going to look at it."
The thing about Roseman is, he doesn't ever stop looking at the roster. He and his personnel staff are thinking about 2018 and repeating as Super Bowl champions, and they're also looking down the road. The idea is here to challenge every part of the roster and at the same time not mortgage future flexibility. It's a dance the Eagles have done for many years, but what Roseman and the Eagles are doing now is different from past decades. This is more aggressive. This is more daring and, yes, riskier.
"Everything you do in this business carries some risk," Roseman said, "but we are not risk adverse."
What the Eagles have done here, really, is remarkable. Teams that win the Super Bowl maybe look at the roster and feel good enough to leave well enough alone. What we've shown is that whether it's today, or in June or in August or at the trade deadline we're going to try to be aggressive and do what's right for our team."
In no way have the Eagles finished their business. There are needs on this roster. There are contracts to fit into the puzzle. While the Eagles have a large core of players locked into long-term contracts, they understand the way this business works: Production speaks. The Eagles aren't paying for past performance. They are paying for 2018 and beyond.
What the Eagles, Roseman specifically, have done is to accurately judge the market. Roseman works meetings like the ones in Orlando, and the NFL Combine in Indianapolis earlier, to get a great pulse on what's happening around the league. It's an important step as deals are finalized.
So in these two weeks the Eagles have bolstered the defensive line by bringing in Bennett and Ngata. They've retained Bradham, who is just perfect in this defense. They've added speed at linebacker in Nelson, a young and hungry player who should help on special teams and by competing for playing time in the defense. Wallace is fast, faster, fastest and he brings "explosiveness," said Roseman, to the offense. Worley is another young cornerback to work into the mix there.
No question the Eagles wanted to retain all of their players, but defensive linemen Beau Allen and Vinny Curry had opportunities elsewhere. Tight end Trey Burton was in line for a big payday. Running back LeGarrette Blount found a home in Detroit and cornerback Patrick Robinson got a sweet deal from the Saints. You can't keep everybody. The Eagles were up front about that reality once the Super Bowl ended.
"We're always planning not just for this season but for the next 2-3 years," Roseman said. "Our guys do a great job of that we our models and how we look at the roster now and project for the next few seasons. It's a bit of a balancing act but we feel comfortable doing it the way we're doing it. We won the Super Bowl and everybody obviously feels great about it. But we want to keep winning and we want to stay aggressive to get that accomplished."
What's on the agenda for Roseman and the Eagles? They're going to continue to evaluate options in free agency, because let's be honest: History shows that there is a strong possibility that more moves can be made. More players can be added. The roster is far from complete. Also, the Eagles want to look for ways to add to the 2018 draft. At this time, the Eagles have six draft picks. In an ideal world, Roseman would probably want eight or nine draft picks.
In the way-back days of free agency, if you are old enough to remember the Norman Braman days as the Owner, the Eagles took a beating in free agency. They allowed stars Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons and Keith Jackson and Keith Byars to leave. Geez, before Jeffrey Lurie had a chance to do anything about it, Reggie White became a Green Bay Packer. Through the 1990 and deep into the 2000s the Eagles took a more measured approach in free agency and in things like contract restructuring and moving pieces on the roster. They were aggressive, just more measured.
Roseman has taken it to a new level, and that's a great thing. The Eagles just won the Super Bowl with the help of some nifty free-agent signings and trades and roster acquisitions that were on the unconventional side.
Clearly, that's going to continue. A team that was $11 million over the salary cap maximum just days before free agency began went out and had a terrific two weeks to improve the roster. And they're not done yet. This is a win-now-but-be-mindful-of-the-future approach, an NFL high-wire act that Roseman and the Eagles are balancing with the spectacular success of a Lombardi Trophy on display at the NovaCare Complex and the promise of an extremely competitive and hungry team lining up for the 2018 season.