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Lawlor: Building Roster A Balancing Act


The Eagles are trying to build a championship roster.

They want to surround Carson Wentz with as much young talent as possible. The idea is that as Wentz develops into a top-flight quarterback he will be part of a talented roster that can play at a high level for several years. The Eagles did this with Donovan McNabb and the team got to the Super Bowl after the 2004 season.

It is easy to think back to that era and focus on the 2004 team since they got over the hump and made it to the big game. The Eagles played in the NFC Championship Game the previous three years. The team in 2000 won 11 games and a Wild Card game. The Eagles focused on drafting well and adding young talent like Jon Runyan and Carlos Emmons in 2000 and Jevon Kearse in 2004. They also mixed in older players who they felt were good fits. Brian Mitchell, Dorsey Levens, and Antonio Freeman were veteran role players who came in and helped the team, on and off the field.

I bring this up because some fans were curious about the Eagles signing defensive end Chris Long and cornerback Patrick Robinson. Should the Eagles be adding older players when the focus is on long-term thinking? I think the team made a pair of very smart moves. Put simply, the Eagles are now a more talented and better team. In an ideal world, the Eagles would be able to load up on only young players. The reality is that sometimes the best available players are older guys.

The Falcons went 8-8 under new coach Dan Quinn in 2015. They used a strong draft to rebuild their defense and the team went 11-5 last year and should have won the Super Bowl. They used a great offseason to help them have a great season and playoff run.

Most people focus on the draft class when talking about the Falcons' changes, but they had some older help as well. Center Alex Mack was 30 years old when he was signed. Mack stabilized the offensive line and played a huge part in the Falcons' breakthrough season. The team added 36-year-old Dwight Freeney to be a situational pass rusher. He had three sacks and was regularly disruptive. The Falcons focused on young players, but didn't hesitate to add a couple of key veterans. The circumstances were right and the moves paid off in a big way.

Long makes a lot of sense for the Eagles. He played in a similar scheme for the Rams and had a lot of success. From 2010-13, Long averaged more than 10 sacks per season. He is a natural fit in the 4-3 and feels at home when allowed to line up out wide and fly off the edge. I would love to tell you Long will come in here and have another 10-sack season, but that's not likely. He can come in and compete for a starting job and playing time. Nothing will be given to him and that's just what Long wants. He will play as much as he deserves. He knows the Eagles have talented rushers in Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Marcus Smith, and Steven Means. Long played on a deep, talented line for the Rams and that helped bring out the best in him.

Beyond the fact that Long is a talented player, there is something to be said for having a quality veteran presence like him in the locker room. He just won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. He's also been part of some bad teams as well. Long has seen it all in his career. He can help teach the guys around him what it takes to win. He can also help show the defensive linemen how to excel in Jim Schwartz's scheme. Long hasn't played for Schwartz directly, but he did for Jeff Fisher, who was Schwartz's mentor. A lot of the principles are the same for the front four in the respective schemes.

One of the lessons that Long can bring to the Eagles is that youth can be overrated. The Rams have been the youngest team in the league for the past several years. They always seemed to be on the edge of breaking through and becoming a good team, but it never happened. One of the problems may have been that they were too young and didn't have the veteran leadership that a team needs, in the locker room and on the field.

Robinson isn't so much a scheme fit as much as he is a talented veteran at a position where the Eagles have a need. Cornerback is wide open right now. Robinson is a former first-round pick and has 49 career starts. He has the most talent and experience of any corner on the roster. That means Robinson has a good chance to win a starting job. As with Long, nothing will be given to him.

Both signings were about competition. The Eagles had a chance to add talented veterans who could come in and compete for jobs. Both players have good enough pedigrees that the Eagles expect them to perform at a certain level, but they will have to earn playing time. Veteran players usually understand the concept that the NFL is all about constant competition. They understand that pro football is a business and there will always be somebody younger and cheaper trying to take your job.

You never want a team to be too young or too old. You need the right balance of experience and youth. You can talk about loading up on veterans to make a push for the Super Bowl, but what happens if there are a couple of key injuries? Then you have an older team that is going to struggle.

You also don't want to ignore talent and focus on youth because you never know when things will come together for a team. How many people thought the Falcons would go from 8-8 to having a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl? Seattle was 7-9 in 2011. They drafted Russell Wilson the next April and have been a title contender ever since. There is no set schedule for teams so you need a mixture of young and veteran talent.

Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas, and Doug Pederson have done an excellent job of making the Eagles a better team so far this offseason. They are building the Eagles to be better in 2017 and down the road. Next up is the draft. The Eagles will probably be adding players to compete with Long and Robinson. That will be just fine with the veterans. They control how much they play by how they perform.

As for the rookies, if the Eagles can put together a strong draft class, that could accelerate how good the team is in 2017. Don't start making Super Bowl plans. The Eagles are still a bit removed from that level, but they can be a lot better than the 2016 team and hopefully can get back to the playoffs.

Go behind the scenes as the newest Eagles arrive at the NovaCare Complex, sign their contracts, and more.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of

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