Philadelphia Eagles News

Lawlor: Players show they want to come to Philly

The first week of offseason activity is in the books and the Eagles are off to a good start. They were able to keep some good players around and add some impact players from other teams. The Eagles are better now than they were a week ago.

The Eagles believe in focusing on the line of scrimmage and we saw that with the moves they made. First up was re-signing Brandon Graham, one of the top pass rushers in the league. Graham didn't even test free agency. He decided to re-sign before he could talk to other teams.

Graham is a key player, with his ability to play the run and get after the quarterback. He's also versatile, with the ability to play on the left side or the right side, as well as sliding to defensive tackle in some sets.

The Eagles signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson to help bring more pressure up the middle. Jackson, who is 6-5 and 290 pounds, is an outstanding athlete and disruptive player. He excels at getting into the backfield and causing havoc.

Jackson has averaged six sacks and nine tackles for loss over the last three seasons. The Eagles are taking a player with that kind of talent and putting him beside Fletcher Cox. Those two could be quite the lethal duo.

If offensive lines double-team Cox, Jackson has the ability to make plays. That was somewhat lacking in the last couple of years. Tim Jernigan was a better run defender than playmaker. In 18 starts over the past two seasons, Jernigan totaled 2.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.

Jim Schwartz's scheme is at its best when the defensive line is making plays in the backfield. Being disruptive is good, but getting sacks and tackles for loss are even better. Those plays can be drive-killers. Jackson is an upgrade over the other players who have been alongside Cox in recent years.

Not everything is about defense, of course. The Eagles kept Jason Peters around for one more season. The veteran left tackle signed a new contract that will keep the offensive line intact for 2019. Peters was able to get his first playoff win in 2018, but he wanted to stick around to make a run at a Super Bowl. He was injured in 2017 and didn't get to play against the Patriots.

The Eagles gave Peters a new weapon to buy time for when they traded for DeSean Jackson. This move generated a lot of buzz with both fans and players, alike. Jackson might be 32, but he remains one of the most explosive players in the league. He led the NFL last year with 18.9 yards per reception.

The Eagles' offense needed to add speed. There just weren't enough big plays in 2018. Alshon Jeffery averaged 13 yards per reception. Nelson Agholor was at 11.5. Jackson is the perfect complement for them. He can stretch defenses vertically and open up the middle of the field for the other receivers.

One other reason that Jackson is such a great fit is that he's not a volume receiver. He doesn't need 80 or 90 catches a year. Jackson can catch 50 passes and still deliver big plays. That's exactly what the Eagles need. Jackson will affect a defense whether the ball is thrown his way or not. When the ball does come his way, he delivers big plays. Those can be game-changing moments.

The Eagles were able to re-sign cornerback Ronald Darby. He is coming off a torn ACL and I'm sure that had a lot to do with his decision to return. Darby knows the scheme, the coaches, and his teammates. He knows how he fits in and what he can do. If he can get healthy and have a big year, Darby can look for a long-term deal a year from now.

Darby gives the Eagles a lot of depth a cornerback. That gives them the freedom to move someone to safety if they want to do that. They can also let the corners battle it out to see who wins the starting jobs. There will be serious competition.

Having depth at corner is important, as the Eagles saw last year. Nine different cornerbacks started a game last year. There were a ton of injuries and that is an unusually high number, but it doesn't mean it can't happen again. The Eagles now have the kind of experience and depth at corner where they can deal with injuries.

Speaking of depth, the Eagles added a player to help on defense and special teams when they signed linebacker L.J. Fort. He is coming off a career-best year in 2018. Fort has good cover skills. He can play in the middle or outside. He is the kind of versatile linebacker you want these days.

I think you have to give Howie Roseman a lot of credit for adding an impact player to the offense and defense. Too often people think of teams that make the most moves as being those who win in the offseason. That's wrong. You want to make smart, selective moves. The Eagles have done just that.

One thing that really stood out to me is that players wanted to be here. Graham didn't even talk to other teams. He wanted to stay with the Eagles. Malik Jackson wants to play in an attacking scheme and for a winning team. DeSean Jackson has talked a lot over the years about wanting a chance to return to Philly.

Some free agents chase the money. That's understandable. NFL players have short careers. They need to try to maximize their earnings. But that kind of thinking can lead to some real problems.

In order to build the best team and to get the most out of players, you need them to really buy in. You need them to want to be there. The Eagles made smart moves and got the right kind of players.

This is a terrific start to the offseason for the Eagles. The key phrase there is "start to the offseason." Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas are just getting started. There will be more pro personnel moves. The draft is still six weeks away. The Eagles will continue to add talent and fill roster holes.

If there is one thing we know for sure about Roseman, it is that he's always looking for more talent. That mentality helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl in 2017 and has them off to a good start this offseason.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. You can also find his work at IgglesBlitz.com where he is the site's editor.

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