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In The Two Most Critical Months ...

Consider this a wish list, of sorts. No names will be offered, necessarily. The Eagles have their plan in place and, honestly, I am not included in the discussions. Attempts to convince Andy Reid to allow me to have input in the personnel have, well, never been discussed. That's not my business, not my area of expertise.

I'm just excited that it is March, and that we are in a two-month window during which we find out about the roster. The Eagles have talent here, and they need more. They have an opportunity with a bit of room under the salary cap to add a player or two and keep some of their own, and then the Eagles have three picks among the top 51 in April's draft.

Precision is the key.

With that, here are some things I'm looking for in these two months that have -- yeah! - arrived ...

  • DeSean Jackson's contract situation is front and center, obviously. The Eagles, it appears, want to retain Jackson and have done nothing but say nice things and speak optimistically about the situation. Now we are nearing the deadline (Monday) for teams to use their franchise tag on players. Will the Eagles tag Jackson? Will they instead work toward a longer-term arrangement? Will they move in another direction? The prediction here is that Jackson remains an Eagle. I'm not ruling out a multi-year contract, either. (NOTE: The Eagles announced on Thursday that they have placed the franchise tag on Jackson. More to come later.)
  • The Eagles have some other potential unrestricted free agents, including left guard Evan Mathis, defensive tackles Trevor Laws and Derek Landri, and defensive end Juqua Parker. Mathis is a definite priority. After signing a one-year contract last summer, Mathis can't sign a new deal until March 13, the start of free agency. He could get some play on the market, but let's be honest: Philadelphia is the best fit for Mathis. He thrived under line coach Howard Mudd. For anyone who doesn't believe that the right coaching, the right scheme and "putting players in the right position" to play well isn't important, I present the case of Evan Mathis. He stays. I believe that. Laws is also likely to remain with a new contract as defensive line coach Jim Washburn gets a second year to bring out the most in Laws. Not sure about Landri and Parker. My sense is that both will have a chance to become unrestricted free agents.
  • As far as the strategy once free agency begins, I don't know the plans. But the level of expectation here is moderate. I think the Eagles could sign one or two players who project as starters, but who can possibly know at this point who will actually hit the market? Yeah, it could be a linebacker. It could be a defensive back. Heck, it could be a backup running back. Free agency will be nothing like last year, so brace yourselves. Be realistic. The Eagles don't have a ton of cap room. They know they need to improve, but they also like the roster in place now. Expect minimal fireworks in free agency.
  • There are a couple of players with significant contracts who bear watching. Cornerback Asante Samuel has been the subject of trade rumors for quite a while and we are in the vortex now, right? It is far from a slam dunk that Samuel is moved. He is a premier talent, a terrific playmaker and someone the Eagles value in the secondary. You can't deny the logjam of talent at cornerback, something new coach Todd Bowles has to work through, but in a pass-first league it is much better to have a surplus of talent, rather than a dearth of talent.

The other player to think about from a salary-cap standpoint is tackle Winston Justice, who has a high price tag for a player projected as a reserve. He is a valuable talent, but can the Eagles work his number into their salary structure?

  • As for the draft, we've got a long, long way to go before having a feel for what the Eagles are thinking. They need to make the defense better in every phase. Don't forget about the offense, though. The Eagles have room to improve on that side of the ball, too, and that includes the kick-return game. Special teams need a boost.
  • Figuring out just how much cap room the Eagles have is tricky business. The salary cap is expected to be flat from last year. There have been estimates that the team will have as much as $20-plus million to spend, including taking care of their own players. That strategy, no matter how much cap room the Eagles really have, is going to gobble up most of the cap room. It is going to be a test to see how the Eagles maneuver and create some dollars and some wiggle room.
  • While a lot of players have made their way into the NovaCare Complex to get their workouts in, the official start of the offseason conditioning program doesn't come until mid-April, about two weeks before the draft. Other than the personnel side, with so much of that work now done behind closed doors, the NovaCare Complex is relatively quiet, waiting for free-agent visitors and college prospects to come by and wake up the hallways.
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