This is the egg-before-the-chicken offseason for the NFL, with uncharted travels at every turn. After a draft dominated in the first round by quarterbacks and defensive linemen, it was pretty much business as usual for personnel men around the league.
It won't be that way the rest of the offseason.
The Eagles spent the week evaluating their roster and preparing their scenarios for the post-draft signing of non-drafted rookies and for the free-agency period when veterans can be signed and traded. Whenever that time arrives, the Eagles are going to be prepared to put their plan in place.
Certainly, the new format offers some intriguing questions. Will teams be more aggressive or less aggressive in free agency? What will the financial landscape offer? Will teams' offseason actions be more weighted toward free agency or the draft?
Are teams going to feel more pressure to be active in free agency when normally they would hang their hats on the success they had in the draft?
Of course, we have to wait until we know the rules around free agency. Are players going to be unrestricted free agents after four years or after six years or will there be another option? Is there going to be a salary cap?
All of that will sort itself out, but this much is certain: There are going to be some quality players available to sign. The Eagles have positions that we can point to and say, "Yeah, they need to get better there." But our perception of needs and the Eagles' list of areas they want to improve in free agency are likely to be different.
How much, for example, did the Eagles evaluate their situation at defensive end and think, "Why should be use a draft pick on an end when we used three of them last year" when they selected Brandon Graham, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Ricky Sapp? How much different did the depth chart look at cornerback with third-round draft pick Curtis Marsh there now, a player described by many draft experts as a rookie with "as much upside" as any cornerback taken in the draft?
Isn't it difficult to project needs at linebacker not knowing if Stewart Bradley -- four years in the NFL -- will be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent?
The Eagles were very well prepared for the draft, and they illustrated their intentions by staying put in the early rounds and selecting potentially immediate-impact rookies in offensive guard Danny Watkins and safety Jaiquawn Jarrett. A couple of rounds later, the team picked kicker Alex Henery, who poses an instant challenge to the kicking game as we have known it for more than a decade.
Expect the same prepared, measured approach when free agency begins. Some teams will sit back and watch the proceedings, content with their rosters. The Eagles very much like what they have, but they also have a chance to get better from one end of the roster to the other with a few impact moves.
I don't know the plan, but I know the Eagles have considered all of their options, weighed their assets, evaluated their players and they are going to move forward with confidence.
After it's over and we can see the roster, full and lined up, we can judge how much of an impact having the draft first had on this team's offseason approach. Had free agency happened before the draft, for example, what would be different? Would quarterback Kevin Kolb still be an Eagle? Would the Eagles have gone offensive line first?
We will never know. The plan for the near future is in place, with a different deck of cards ready to be played once the NFL's labor picture is clear and the teams can put the finishing touches on their 2011 rosters.