Eagles bulk up on lines in offseason

If you’re ever interested in trying to “unlock” the footballspeak that comes from around the league in these roster-building periods of time, just follow history. Understand the motive. At a time when most teams blow smoke and at times are intentionally deceptive, Howie Roseman tells it like it is.

The Eagles have their way of crafting a roster, and they’re sticking to it.

Finding a quarterback is the first priority. And we all saw the efforts the Eagles made prior to the 2016 NFL Draft, as Roseman pulled of two extraordinary trades to move the Eagles from the 13th overall pick to No. 2 in the draft order, giving them a chance to select North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.

Wentz’s arrival changed the entire complexion of a football franchise that had drifted, very quickly, in the wrong direction in the Chip Kelly tenure. Once the Franchise Quarterback walked into the NovaCare Complex, “married,” if you will, with new head coach Doug Pederson, everything changed. Wentz directly helped raise the profile of the football program, and everyone followed his lead.

The matter of building and restocking the offensive and defensive lines has been an ongoing Roseman theme, developed from his time working when Andy Reid was the head coach, and reiterated in this offseason.

“In a lot of ways, we’re boring,” Roseman told me at the NFL Annual Meeting in late March. “We’re kind of predictable. It’s going to be about the O-line; it’s going to be about the D line and then we build out from there.”

His actions speak just as loud as those words.

The Eagles devoted considerable resources to the line of scrimmage in the last couple of months with the intention of having an offensive line and a defensive line that dominate. Some examples:

  • Signing defensive end Brandon Graham prior to free agency was the first move, and it was a huge one. Graham would have been a highly sought-after player had he hit free agency, but he and the Eagles worked out a deal and Graham is a happy man. And the Eagles are thrilled to have him, totally healthy with a lot of football still in that high-octane tank.
  • As free agency neared, the Eagles extended the contract of center Jason Kelce through 2021, signed guard Isaac Seumalo through 2022, and brought back left tackle Jason Peters for the 2019 season.
  • Seeing that veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson was released by Jacksonville on a Friday, the Eagles and Jackson went to work and agreed to terms on a contract three days later. Jackson is eyed as a great partner inside defensively with All-Pro Fletcher Cox.
  • In the first few days of free agency, after trading defensive end Michael Bennett to New England, the Eagles brought defensive end Vinny Curry back to Philadelphia after his single season in Tampa Bay. Curry brings toughness, strong play against the run, versatility, and pass-rush skills to the projected rotation at defensive end.
  • On the morning of the first round of the draft, the Eagles announced the re-signing of defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, who tested free agency and opted to return to Philadelphia. Healthy after missing much of last season recovering from surgery, Jernigan figures to work in with Cox and Jackson to give the Eagles maybe the best three-man defensive tackle rotation they’ve ever had. This is, suddenly, a dynamic group that is going to give offensive blocking schemes fits with its high energy and point-of-impact strength.
  • In the first round of the draft, it was time to address the offensive line in a big way. The Eagles moved up from No. 25 overall to No. 22 in the draft to select Washington State left tackle Andre Dillard, an All-American player who started the final 39 games of his career in college. Dillard, whom the Eagles called a “top 10 player” in this draft, figures to work in behind Peters to open 2019. But, let’s be honest here: There is no depth chart. Everyone is going to get a lot of practice reps and looks in the preseason. Nobody really knows how it’s going to play out, but the Eagles are excited that Dillard brings his talent to a tackle room that includes Peters, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer; Lane Johnson, an All-Pro on the right side of the line; Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has played well when the Eagles have needed him; and prospect Jordan Mailata, who is in his second year of football.
  • In the fourth round of the NFL Draft, the Eagles selected defensive end Shareef Miller, who adds to the depth at that position. They then traded their seventh-round draft pick to Indianapolis for defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, adding to the incredible depth at the tackle spot.

The Eagles feel like they have stocked up at the line of scrimmage, just as Roseman laid out the plan prior to the draft and, if you really want to dig back in the archives, as he’s said is an organizational priority every season.

“I think the first order of business was to bring back (DE Brandon Graham),” Roseman said at his post-draft press conference on Saturday at the NovaCare Complex. “What BG brings to us on and off the field was such a huge move for our football team. Bringing back Vinny at defensive end and then Daeshon Hall is a guy we got last year who was a third-round pick and he's really taken a step in the offseason here, just with his body. Obviously, we can't see him out on the field. Josh Sweat, we knew that him having a full offseason and coming back was something that he really needed to continue to develop. Joe Ostman is a guy that, again, when you look at the transition he's made with his body just in the offseason, I know a lot of the coaching staff is excited to see him in his second year.

“So you get those guys at defensive end, and then you add the guy we get today (in Miller) and it's a good mix of veterans and young players and obviously (Derek Barnett) coming back, our first-round pick (in 2017), we're really excited about.

“Then you come into defensive tackle and maybe a week ago, looking at that position, and having some concern, quite frankly, about that position and the depth. You know, obviously we're really excited about Malik and you see his leadership and what he's going to add to the team with Fletch and Treyvon (Hester) taking a step up and hopefully Bruce (Hector), but just bringing Timmy back, and what Timmy means to our team and he looks good. Hopefully, we'll have a really good healthy year out of Timmy, and then adding Hassan and then we have a couple of guys hopefully after the draft that can add to that depth.

“We like our defensive line and that's going to be the start of something. Actually, before we came up here, we were looking at our depth chart and looking at our O-line and D-line and going, 'Hey, those are good spots.'"

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