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Gearing Up For A Marathon Of An Off-Season

There are so many things happening, and then there is nothing at all happening. Another day has gone by, and all we know is that the Eagles tendered restricted free agents Hank Baskett and Nick Cole, and tendered exclusive-rights free agent Tank Daniels as well. Otherwise, to the fans out there, it was a quiet, teeth-gnashing day.

Free agency is, as I write this, just hours away. The pickings are slim on the open market, as every NFL observer agrees. One or two teams will make an atomic-sized headline this weekend and the rest will monitor and evaluate and look for openings to make a move and add a player.

The Eagles? Good question. Don't know. As the free-agent market prepared to open, Eagles President Joe Banner talked about the feeling he has about what's ahead.

"Free agency is always one of those times of the year that is exciting as teams try to get better," said Banner late on Thursday afternoon. "There is a lot of excitement around it. It's going to be interesting to see what happens with a limited number of players hitting the market. There will be probably be three or four days where you see a high number of players move. I'm looking forward to seeing what we're able to do, what we're able to accomplish against teams that we are competing against."

With the high number of franchise tags placed on players last week, a soft market became even mushier. The Eagles anticipated this, said Banner, so even though the team has ample cap room, there may not be a lot from which to choose.

"We saw that coming. Some of the deals that were done were bigger than I expected and the market is made up of a bunch of teams that have no room and a bunch of teams that have a ridiculously large amount of room, and when you combine that with a small quantity of players, it is an unusual market," said Banner. "I think the same thing will happen as in past years: There will be a number of very, very large deals, very aggressive deals done early and then you will see players after that who are not big names, who are not star names, but they will help teams. That market will be more challenging from a player's side in terms of the dollars."

From where Banner sits, the Eagles are in good shape. They have cap room. They have a lot to work with in the draft. They know the league and they like their roster and, well, just how much can they can done in the next several weeks?

That's the key, of course. Don't judge the Eagles by what might happen this weekend. They have some very definite holes to fill. They are realistic about their needs. They know they need some help to get back into the playoffs and get over the hump this season.

At the same time, the road is paved with opportunity.

"I think the general perception out there is true. We have a lot of cap room -- I wish there were more players out there to potentially use it on -- and we have 10 draft picks, including two first-round draft picks," said Banner. "I think it's clear we have a quality team. The opportunity to get even better between now and the time we report to training camp -- it may happen on Day 1, it may happen on Day 30, it may happen on the day we report to training camp -- but the opportunities will certainly be there.

"I think we're positioned to take advantage of it."

Banner said last year prior to free agency that he believed there would be "more" trades than usual for an NFL off-season and he believes his expectation came true. This time around, with so many teams having so much cap room, that may not be the case.

"I don't think that will be the case this year," said Banner. "I think there will be some, but I think the NFL will go back to what's normal, a smaller number of trades."

The Eagles have a list of six veterans who become unrestricted free agents at 12:01 a.m. -- running back Correll Buckhalter, safety Sean Considine, safety Brian Dawkins, offensive tackle Jon Runyan, tight end L.J. Smith and offensive tackle Tra Thomas -- and at that time those players are free to sign with any team. As is always the case, scenarios change and dialogues continue and anything can happen at any time.

Most of this team's needs are on the offensive side of the ball, but the Eagles could always add to the defense. The team has identified what it wants to do, what areas it wants to target. What to expect tonight? Well, 12:01 a.m. is a make-believe witching hour. The Eagles have been aggressive out of the gates in previous years -- Asante Samuel last free agency, for example -- but this time around there is such a cloak of secrecy that truly only a few men know what to expect on Friday in the wee hours of the day.

This off-season is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. There simply isn't enough talent to change the fortunes of a team in one weekend, or even in the span of three or four days. Judge the team in May, and then in August when the Eagles are in pads at Lehigh University.

What is coming at the opening bell? Mystery, excitement and the question of what the Eagles have in mind to win a Super Bowl this season.

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