WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Think for a moment what would have happened had the Eagles not been aggressive identifying young players on their roster during the 2021 season and approaching those players about new contracts. We're exploring the alternative NFL universe here, so play along ... How valuable would Jordan Mailata been as an unrestricted free agent left tackle? What about tight end Dallas Goedert as a do-everything offensive weapon? Josh Sweat as an emerging pass rusher? Given the nature of nickel cornerbacks, how much interest would Avonte Maddox have attracted on the open market?
These are questions Howie Roseman and the Eagles asked themselves through the course of the '21 campaign and then answered with an aggressive series of moves to sign all four of those players – Mailata, a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle whose best football is still to come; Goedert, now the team's No. 1 tight end and a player who is among the best in the game at his position; Sweat, who played in the Pro Bowl after a career-best season; and Maddox, a perfect fit at the nickel position who is coming off an outstanding year.
"I think the most important part of free agency is what we did during the season," Roseman said on Monday at the NFL's Annual Meeting, "in signing a left tackle who is 24 years old, in signing a tight end that we think is elite, in signing a pass rusher that is really important to us that's young. Including signing a slot corner who's got tremendous character who we feel is in a great position to succeed and then adding in two of the best players to ever play (center Jason Kelce, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox) for us at important positions that we view as part of this free agency.
"It was really important for us to get Haason (Reddick, linebacker) because it's something that we knew we had to improve on. As we talk about team building we always talk about that we want to have guys who can pressure the quarterback and get after the quarterback. We want to be really strong on the D-line and the O-line and we feel like it gives you a head start to your team. It's not the only thing, but it's a huge part of it."
Roseman reiterated that the Eagles are building and that by retaining important pieces of the foundation during the 2021 season, they've been able to move forward through the very early stages of the roster-building process. That's important to remember – how early we are into 2022 and how much the Eagles are planning for the NFL Draft in late April. Roseman acknowledged that the Eagles will go into the draft with an open mind and the idea that the players they select will have chances to earn playing time, rather than have reps blocked because of roster congestion.
In other words, anything goes – from this point forward through the trade deadline many months away.
"We would hate to draft three guys and go, 'Redshirt, redshirt, redshirt. You're blocked here, here, and here,' or get in a situation where we're saying, 'We have to have this position because the depth chart on my wall (at the NovaCare Complex) says that that spot is competitive right now for a starting spot. And you can't just go into free agency and say, 'Alright, we have a particular need at this position, let's just sign someone there to feel better about it,' if that guy's not good enough," Roseman said. "I do think having three first-round picks is a different dynamic and having three guys in the top 20 (15, 16, and 19, as it stands now) changes the necessity somewhat of free agency and forcing a veteran player."
The Eagles still have time and flexibility to "circle back" and address positions in free agency should they choose, and that's part of the evaluation process now. The goal is to head into the NFL Draft with clear intentions and confidence in what has been built to that point: Roseman doesn't want to force a position or a move.
"We don't go into a draft saying, 'Holy Cow if we don't get this position the team is going to fall apart this year," he said. "Again, we're building. We're not saying that we're putting all of our chips in the middle of the table for this year. We want to win. We want to have a really good team but we also want to do the right things."
Nothing has changed for the team at the quarterback position as Roseman said, "I don't know that we've ever wavered from the level of commitment that we've had in Jalen. When we say that he's our guy and that he's our starter and we believe in him and we've got to do whatever we can to help him and give him a chance to reach his potential, I don't think that's changed one bit. If anything, kind of talking and hearing his plan to improve and the things he wants to do, I mean this guy will explore every option to get better. He will do whatever it takes and so you know you're going to get as much as possible out of him as you can."
As Hurts improves on his end, the Eagles are doing their part and will continue to work on making things better around No. 1. A team that 12 months ago had so much uncertainty is heading in the right direction after a playoff season, after adding enviable draft assets, and after locking up key pieces of the young and building roster long before the official start to the 2022 season began.
"I think we're excited," Roseman said. "I think if you had asked us a year ago and where we are today, I feel like we're in a much, much better position and I'm excited about the jump."