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Lawlor: How The Eagles Have Gained An Edge Using Free Agency

  • Dwayne Joseph is the director of pro scouting for the Eagles, but he stays somewhat under the radar.

Howie Roseman was the NFL Executive of the Year in 2017. He did a magnificent job in putting together a championship roster. The whole world is aware of what a great job he did. Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl are key figures when it comes to the draft. They get a lot of attention when late April rolls around.

Dwayne Joseph is the director of pro scouting for the Eagles, but he stays somewhat under the radar. If there is a big trade or free agent signing, Roseman receives most of the focus. None of those moves happen without the scouting reports of Joseph and his staff. I don't think enough people appreciate how vital Joseph is.

College scouts have a tough challenge as they try to figure out if players from Alabama and Appalachian State are going to transition to the NFL. At the same time, those scouts have months and months to do their work. They also have the Combine, all-star games, and Pro Days to use as evaluation tools.

Pro scouts have a different challenge. They write reports on everyone in the NFL and other leagues such as the CFL. You never know when a player will become available. Think back to last August. The Eagles traded for cornerback Ronald Darby and signed veteran safety Corey Graham. Joseph and his staff had to have good reports on both players for the Eagles to make those moves.

Darby was a starting player for the Buffalo Bills. That's not a guy you think is going to come available during the preseason. Graham was a free agent and had been for several months. You had to wonder if a player of his age (32 at the time) was worth bringing in. Both players ended up helping the Eagles win the Super Bowl.

Go back to March 2017. The Eagles were desperate for help at receiver. They were going to go after a star free agent aggressively. There were some attractive options.

Terrelle Pryor had just had the best season of his career and looked like a player on the rise. DeSean Jackson was getting older but remains one of the most explosive players in the league. Pierre Garcon was the kind of veteran workhorse who made some sense for the Eagles.

There was also Alshon Jeffery. He was going to have a steep price tag. Jeffery was coming off a season that was cut short by injury and a suspension. Was he a true No. 1 receiver who was worth big money?

The Eagles signed Jeffery and he became a key weapon for the offense, especially in the postseason. The other free agent receivers had disappointing seasons. Joseph and his staff made the right call in having the Eagles focus on Jeffery.

Pro scouts can have their world turned upside down by injury. Caleb Sturgis got hurt last September, and suddenly the Eagles had to find a kicker. They got all the reports to special teams coordinator Dave Fipp and figured out who to sign. That ended up being Jake Elliott, another player who became a hero for the Eagles.

Not every move is about finding a starter. The Eagles believe adding talented pieces whenever and wherever they can discover them. Cutdown day is a big event for the pro scouting staff each September. The other 31 teams flood the streets with players, and the Eagles have a chance to pursue those who could improve the roster.

The Eagles signed quarterback Nate Sudfeld after Washington cut him last year. The Eagles had a terrific pair of quarterbacks in Carson Wentz and Nick Foles but wanted another young player to develop for the future.

The Eagles had good reports on Sudfeld coming out of college and liked what they had seen of him from his time in Washington. Sudfeld was signed to the practice squad and then added to the 53-man roster later in the season. The Eagles are very high on Sudfeld and think he's got a bright future. I doubt casual fans gave him a second thought when they saw his name on the transaction wire when he got cut. Joseph and his pro scouts can be incredibly crucial when it comes to moves like that.

This isn't simply a matter of finding good players. There are a couple of key factors for pro scouts to focus on beyond talent. They need to find players who are a good scheme fit, and they must find players who fit the budget.

The Eagles hit a home run when they signed Chris Long in March 2017. Some might have seen him as a veteran in steep decline. Joseph and his staff saw a player who was an ideal fit for the Wide-9 front the Eagles run. They also saw a player who was available at the right price.

Pro scouts have to be able to study tape and identify players who might be underperforming due to scheme or injury. If you find the right guy, he's worth the gamble.

The Eagles signed Patrick Robinson to a veteran minimum deal last offseason. Joseph and his staff saw a player who could play in the slot or outside. They saw flashes of potential but also knew there were issues to work through.

Robinson struggled for the Eagles last spring, but things started to click for him in August and he ended up being one of the best nickel corners in the entire league. He got a big contract this past spring because of how well he played. Robinson was a smart risk. Not all moves are going to work that well.

The Eagles are taking chances on some players this year as well. Running back Matt Jones, linebacker Corey Nelson, and receiver Markus Wheaton have all had success in the past. They are all coming off down seasons. If just one of them works out, Joseph and his staff will have done a good job.

The Eagles had their share of free agent misses in the past. Joseph arrived in May 2015 and he's helped in identifying the right players. The Eagles struck gold on stars like Brandon Brooks and Jeffery. They've succeeded on mid-level players like Nigel Bradham. They also have hit on quite a few guys who turned out to be major bargains.

You can't buy a championship, but you can use free agency wisely and it can help you to build a great roster. The Eagles, with the help of Joseph, have done just that.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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