Two weeks before the NFL Draft is here and the defining weekend of 2022 envelopes every team in this league. Between now and then, Top 30 visits are being completed, draft boards are fine-tuned, and an updated push for veteran free agents on the streets continues. It's that time of the year again ... the relative calm before the storm of the three-day league extravaganza hits Las Vegas. Some Eagles news and notes:
1. Chatted with Head Coach Nick Sirianni at the NFL Annual Meeting about character, something that is obviously very important to him for his players to have. A great answer: "You want him (a player) to love football and you want him to be a high-character guy in the sense that he's going to be all-in for football, right? That he's going to be all-in for the job that he's paid to do. Those guys maximize their potential.
"And with the parity being so tight in this league you want as many guys on your team like that as you can possibly have so they just continue to get better and better and better. A lot of guys on our football team last year were exactly like that. What happens there? When some teams plateau – they start off 5-2, then they plateau. I felt like we just continued to get better. We started off 2-5 and we just continued to get better because of the type of guys we had on this football team and that can propel you until late in a season."
2. Rules changes ... they are coming in 2022 in the NFL, as you know. The most significant is the postseason overtime rule which was a joint proposal from the Eagles and the Colts – amended from both the regular season and the postseason to just the postseason – and was passed and now gives both offenses a chance to have a possession in the extra period before the game is decided.
"You win the coin toss and you can choose to receive the ball, you can kick the ball, or you can choose which end zone to defend," said Jon Ferrari, the Eagles' vice president of football operations and compliance. "It's essentially the same as the start of the game. It's interesting; it presents a lot of strategy options. If you receive the ball first and score a touchdown and then Team B gets the ball and goes down and scores a touchdown and the game is tied after those possessions, you can get the ball back and win the game on a field goal on that third possession. So, there's an advantage there. There is also an advantage to kicking off and getting the ball second and knowing what you have to get ... then there's weather and maybe defending the goal becomes the most important thing because of the weather, wind, other considerations."
Interestingly, the Eagles and Colts initially proposed to have the rule included in the regular season as well, and the analytics suggested it wouldn't be a player safety issue, as the approximation was that it would add only 30 or so plays to a year-long snap count of about 41,000, but for now it's just part of the NFL's postseason. We'll see how it goes in 2022. That was the major rules change for the season – the onsides kick rule where fewer players in the setup zone for the receiving team could line up increased the kicking team's recovery rate for onsides kicks to 13 percent, up from 7 percent, has been made permanent, and a punter who double-kicks the ball (as happened with Seattle last year) has to be entirely across the line of scrimmage to be a penalty. And that's it.
3. Two weeks before the NFL Draft and what is a draft prospect feeling? "I felt like I was waiting for Christmas," said Eagles Hall of Famer Mike Quick, the team's first-round pick in 1982. "We didn't have all the visits they have today. Instead, we did camps ... BLESTO, United, those camps. I knew I had done well. I was just waiting and I was excited. Fortunately, I landed in the perfect place." These days, draft prospects travel from team to team for the Top 30 visits and spend an entire day with a team meeting the coaching staff, undergoing a medical evaluation, and connecting with key personnel. There are no on-field workouts or football work at all. But it's an exhausting time for players who don't have a chance to work out as they normally would and train for the season ahead.
4. If you're wondering what kind of "Eagles flavor" you will see as you watch the NFL Draft on television, note this: Each team has an opportunity to host 17 Season Ticket Members in what is being termed the "Inner Circle," so that group, in addition to any fans who happen to score tickets, will no doubt capture the attention of the cameras when the Eagles make their picks.
5. Roster stability is a plus for the Eagles as they prepare for Sirianni's second season and, for the most part, the offense returns intact and key pieces of the defense will as well. One significant area that won't be the same: The defensive secondary. With safety Rodney McLeod signing in Indianapolis and cornerback Steven Nelson joining the Texans, the Eagles will have new starters there. At safety, the Eagles brought back Anthony Harris on a 1-year deal and the coaching staff expressed confidence in Marcus Epps, who had a career-high 56 tackles last season and has started eight games over the past two years. There is a slew of options at cornerback with the team bringing in several rookies last season, led by fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson. So intriguing as we look ahead and wonder what the Eagles will do to further deepen their talent pool.
6. Sirianni talked to me about what wide receiver Zach Pascal brings to this team and he discussed the "connection" he forged with Pascal when the two were in Indianapolis.
"To me, we live our core values and our first core value is connecting. It's not just something I wanted to do as a head coach, it's something I strived to do as a position coach, it's something I strived to do as a coordinator. That's one of the reasons you get into coaching," Sirianni said. "So to hear about that from a player I've had a past relationship with, that means a lot. I'm super excited that Zach is on this team and we can continue to grow our relationship and he can continue to make plays for our organization."