Free agency frenzy: Eagles play NFL's game the right way

As the NBA’s free agency frenzy slows down just a tick after an insane Sunday, it’s worth noting the impact that period has on the game. In the NBA, as we’ve seen, teams can make over their starting roster in one free agency period. In the NFL, using the Eagles as an example, strategy and patience blend together to fill holes and add proven, star power.

We’ve seen the Eagles expand their free agency thinking over the years. Way back when, the Eagles were extremely judicious about jumping into the fray. They went in for players they felt were “difference-makers" – players like defensive end William Fuller, running back Ricky Watters, cornerback Troy Vincent, offensive tackle Jon Runyan, defensive end Jevon Kearse, and cornerback Asante Samuel immediately come to mind as top-shelf additions – and then they waited until the market slowed and added more “role player” pieces.

The strategy worked, to a degree.

And then Howie Roseman took over the head personnel position and brought forth a new model of creativity, a model that has evolved over the years. Each season, as Roseman meets the media ahead of the start of free agency – or even in the midst, as he addresses the media during the NFL’s Annual Meeting each year – he talks about being smart and aggressive and making sure that everyone understands that the salary cap “won’t hold us back” from signing players who can help the team.

The mantra with the Eagles is that the “foot is always on the gas pedal” and that’s been the case in free agency. As you look at the roster and the potential starting lineups, you see the impact the free agency period (signings and trades) has had on this team heading into 2019.

On offense, the Eagles have a fair amount of influence. Up front, left tackle Jason Peters was acquired in a trade 10 years ago from Buffalo. Right guard Brandon Brooks was a masterstroke addition in free agency, a player the Eagles identified as a rising player with Houston who would fit perfectly into this offensive line scheme. He’s done just that, becoming a Pro Bowl player with the Eagles.

At wide receiver, the Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery as an unrestricted free agent and then locked him up to a long-term deal. DeSean Jackson, unceremoniously dumped in the Chip Kelly era, was brought back in March in a trade with Tampa Bay.

In the backfield, the Eagles added Jordan Howard in a late-March trade with Chicago, giving the offense the potential of five starters added via trade or as unrestricted free agents. It’s a perfect blend. Free agency isn’t about making over a roster, as happens in the NBA, but it certainly can help add talent to “need” areas.

On defense, the mix is a good one, too. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod were signed as unrestricted free agents. Cornerback Ronald Darby came to the Eagles via a trade with Buffalo. Linebacker Nigel Bradham was picked off as an unrestricted free agent. Ditto for Zach Brown and L.J. Fort, who joined the Eagles this offseason.

Along the defensive line, the Eagles signed tackle Malik Jackson this past March after he was released by Jacksonville, bringing on board a piece to complement Fletcher Cox (first-round draft pick) and Tim Jernigan (re-signed as an unrestricted free agent this offseason; originally acquired in a trade with Baltimore).

The Eagles have a roster, then, that is an accumulation of every possible way to acquire players. They’ve drafted well, they’ve been smart in trades, they’ve been opportunistic with waiver-wire additions, and they’ve developed their young talent as well.

Add it all up and the Eagles have a competitive roster. You see all of these “roster rankings” in the NFL and the consensus is that the Eagles have one of the best in the league. We’ll see. It’s all about what happens on the field, not on paper. But, certainly, the Eagles feel good about where they are, what they have, and what could be this season.

In the NBA, free agency is a wham-bam kind of event. It happens so very quickly and then it’s basically over. The NFL’s free agency lasts a few weeks and there is good value the longer it lasts. The Eagles have taken full advantage of every drop of free agency, and that’s one of the reasons they’re here.

Take a look at this roster and note the impact free agency has had. The Eagles have played it well. They’ve made the headlines with big-time signings. They’ve added perfect role players as the market has dragged along. As a result, the 90 players here – in two months, the roster will be cut to 53 players – are a tidy example of using all avenues to acquire players.

The Eagles know how to work it. We’ll start to see the results when Training Camp opens in a few weeks.

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