Good start, with critical week ahead for Eagles

Don’t bother trying to read the tea leaves. What the Eagles have done to this point in the days leading into free agency aren’t necessarily a reflection of the path they’re going to take in a week’s time. The “legal tampering” period begins on Monday and the NFL’s new business year, free agency, starts on March 13 at 4 p.m. – and instead should be looked at for what they are: Smart moves. But just a start.

Let’s recap what the Eagles have accomplished to date:

  • Retaining defensive end Brandon Graham is a huge move, of course. It seemed inevitable that Graham would find his path to unrestricted free agency and a very vibrant market. But in an instance of both sides wanting a deal to work out, Graham and the Eagles came to terms on a contract that keeps him in Philadelphia through the 2021 season. It’s a win all the way around. Graham feels good about the deal and about the Eagles wanting him to remain here, and the Eagles clearly value Graham’s very significant contributions both on and off the field. Graham is still a high-level pass rusher off the edge, and he’s got the ability to slide inside and rush when the Eagles load up to defend the pass. Graham plays with the kind of energy and effort that will help lead the room under new defensive line coach Phillip Daniels.

The Eagles are going to continue to address the defensive line as we move along in this process. The NFL Draft is deep and talented, so there are going to be opportunities to add to the group. Some young players, specifically Josh Sweat and Daeshon Hall and Joe Ostman, are going to be given long looks in the spring and summer. Derek Barnett has to come all the way back after spending half of 2018 on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury. He’s got to get healthy and stay healthy. Having Graham in the fold gives the Eagles the anchor end they need to now move into free agency and the NFL Draft at their own pace and with their blueprint in place. They don’t need to reach for anyone. That’s how much keeping Graham means. He’s going to be healthy and at the top of his game in 2019.

  • Kelce is the NFL’s best center. Let’s just understand that. He’s had back-to-back first-team All-Pro seasons. He’s a blue-chip player. He’s also a leader and the “engine,” as coach Jeff Stoutland says, of the offensive line. And while Kelce came to his own determination that he was going to play in 2019 after some long, hard thinking the last couple of years weighing the pros and cons of the physical toll the game is taking on his body, it’s a terrific move to add another year to Kelce’s contract. Kelce is being paid as he should be paid – as the game’s best. The Eagles are in great hands at the center position. That’s a significant help to an offensive line that has other questions to answer.
  • Seumalo is just now coming into his own as a powerful, athletic left guard and it’s going to be fun watching him continue his development. Having a 320-pound body to the left of Kelce is a good thing to counter the mass the Eagles see from interior defensive linemen, and Seumalo now must continue to work on the nuances of his position. He’s a good football player. He has a chance to be quite a bit better than good. Remember that he’s a relative newbie at the position, having not played left guard in college and only just a bit as a rookie in 2016. Now he’s a full-time left guard. No questions asked. He can focus on the position and dedicate himself to improving there. The Eagles have been patient with Seumalo and they’re now seeing the rewards. He’s a young player on the rise. Of course, he has to have a great offseason and prepare to be the starter for a full season, but Seumalo has the makings of a player who is going to be a strong point of this offensive line for years to come.
  • With the moves, the Eagles retained a premier player in Graham, extended the contracts of two key offensive linemen, and no doubt created some wiggle room under the salary cap for free agency. That’s a very nice way to begin the month of March.

So, what’s ahead for the Eagles? They’ve got work to do to clear out some salary and they’ve got to be ready for the quick dive into free agency. What, exactly, the plan is, only a very few people in the NovaCare Complex know. Roseman always has an aggressive plan and a creative approach, and this year should be no different. I tend to keep my expectations low for free agency, and I can truthfully say I’m not certain what course the Eagles will take next week.

But this much is safe to say: The Eagles won’t be sitting out free agency. They’ve got a plan that they’re actively following. There are going to be a lot of zig-zags ahead, but that’s par for this time of the year. We’re a week out now. Things are going to move quickly. The Eagles, off to a strong start to their offseason roster plans, are going to be pushing the envelope in the days to come.

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