The 2017 offseason is officially underway and the Eagles got off to a great start. They upgraded the wide receiver position by signing free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. They bolstered the offensive line by re-signing Stefen Wisniewski and adding guard Chance Warmack. The Eagles also re-signed Najee Goode, a key special teams performer.
Howie Roseman has talked about the need to help Carson Wentz this offseason. They want to surround him with good players. The new receivers give Wentz a pair of valuable targets. Smith has the speed to stretch the field. Jeffery is a big, physical receiver who you can feed the ball to in critical situations. The blockers give the Eagles arguably the deepest offensive line in the NFL. A quarterback is only going to be as good as his protection. When Lane Johnson was in the lineup last year, Wentz and the Eagles were 5-1. With the depth the Eagles have now, they are better suited to give Wentz the protection he needs even if there are injuries.
While the Eagles made strong moves in the opening days of free agency, there is still a long time until the 2017 season starts. That means there is still plenty of work to be done. Roseman, Joe Douglas, and the rest of the front office know the roster still needs work. Remember what the goal is here. The Eagles don't want to just plug some holes and find a way to get back to 10-6. Roseman is trying to build a title contender.
The Eagles released Connor Barwin on Thursday and that opened up a spot on the defensive line. There are some in-house candidates. Marcus Smith and Steven Means combined for 3.5 sacks last year. Both are young players who still have upside. Alex McCalister was a seventh-round pick last year. He showed potential in the preseason.
The defensive line is critical in Jim Schwartz's scheme. He will want the team to add another edge rusher. The Eagles have a lot of money in Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, so the team is more likely to go for a draft pick at this spot. The Eagles don't need to force a move at end. They have a pair of good starters and this is a deep draft with edge rushers. The Eagles can afford to be selective and only go for a player who they really like.
There aren't a lot of options in free agency. It is possible that a veteran like Chris Long or Mario Williams would be interested in a role as a pass rusher in Schwartz's scheme. Williams played for him in Buffalo in 2014. Long played in a similar system when he was with the Rams. If the Eagles want a cheaper, younger option, they could go for Devin Taylor or Ryan Davis. Taylor is the big guy at 6-7, while Davis is built more like Graham.
Defensive tackle is a mystery spot right now. Bennie Logan is a free agent. The Eagles are staying in touch with him, but there are no guarantees he will be back. If Logan leaves, there will be a hole in the starting lineup. Beau Allen started when Logan was hurt for several games in 2016 and did a solid job. I'm just not sure Allen is the kind of athletic, disruptive player Schwartz wants as a starter. The Eagles like Destiny Vaeao, but going from the No. 4 defensive tackle to a starter would be a big jump.
There are some interesting free agent tackles still on the market. Johnathan Hankins is the player who makes the most sense. He started 25 games over the last three years for the Giants. Hankins is a stout run defender, but also had 10 sacks in that period. He can make plays. He's also young and those are the kind of free agents you would love to sign. Ideally, you want guys in the prime of their career. The only issue with Hankins could be cost. He might want more than the Eagles are willing to spend. Jared Odrick has played end and tackle in his career. He has the kind of size Schwartz loves in a defensive tackle at 6-5 and 301 pounds. Kendall Reyes and Sen'Derrick Marks are veteran players who have good athleticism and experience, but should come at a cheaper price.
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The Eagles need to add a running back to the mix. There aren't great choices in free agency, but there is a great group of backs in the draft class. I think the team will focus its attention on adding a runner in the draft. The Eagles could also use a quarterback. They could go draft or free agency to fill this spot. I have always thought Austin Davis had the potential to be a good backup.
Cornerback is a spot where I expect the Eagles to make a move. Both starters from last season are gone. Jalen Mills started a few games and could be a starter this year, but the team has to add some resources to the cornerback spot.
There are a lot of choices here. Kayvon Webster played for defensive backs coach Cory Undlin in Denver for a year. He is also a great special teams player. Webster would make a lot of sense. I think veterans Alterraun Verner and Sterling Moore would be good fits for Schwartz's defense. Patrick Robinson is a former first-round pick who has 49 career starts. I expect the Eagles to add a corner or two in the draft, but they will want a veteran competing for a job as well.
The Eagles could add some more depth at linebacker. Joe Walker was projected to be the backup in the middle last year, but got hurt and missed the season. The Eagles still like him, but might want competition for him. They also could add another outside linebacker.
The Eagles got better by making the moves they did in the first few days of free agency. Those moves also help down the road. The team can now go into the draft and focus on adding the best players available. They don't have to add a receiver or offensive linemen or a linebacker.
The easy part of free agency is over. Good teams are able to find key players beyond the first week of splashy moves. This is where the personnel department and coaching staff have to really be on the same page. If they are, the Eagles can find good role players or even a starter in the coming weeks.
As you try to build a team into a title contender, you can't be satisfied. You always have to be looking to get better. The first week was great, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.