Philadelphia Eagles News

New Landscape Means Altered Approach

We wondered what it would be like, with teams allowed to spend without any limits in an off-season with a sawed-off class of free agents. And with free agency all but dead, save some moves here and there, none of them exactly inspiring dramatic headlines, the results are in: The NFL is taking a cautious approach to free agency, and is instead focusing its efforts toward April's draft.

The Eagles have done in these first 10 days of free agency what most teams have done. They have waded in with reserve, not interested in paying crazy money to older players. Signing Marlin Jackson and Hank Baskett, and hosting Justin Fargas, represents the moves the Eagles have made in personnel acquisition during this normally-busy period of time. Instead, the Eagles have invested in their own, signing fullback Leonard Weaver and wide receiver Jason Avant to long-term contracts.

Other than Chicago, which went bonkers for three veteran free agents in the first few hours of the spending spree, the NFL has been pretty quiet about its business. A small wave of players gained the large contracts, and most of those players were at or over the not-so-magic age of 30. There have been some significant trades, and perhaps there will be more on the way.

But, by and large, the limited activity around the league -- and certainly with the Eagles -- makes me wonder if things will be fairly dormant until the days before April 22, when the draft opens. Those are the days when, historically, more trades are made and more personnel activity happens as teams scramble to get their rosters in order prior to the seven rounds that define the long-term success of a franchise.

While the Eagles are actively looking to improve their roster every day, and while they are certain to arrange some transactions in the next few weeks -- what they have going on behind the scenes, I don't know -- the clear thrust of the off-season is going to revolve around the draft.

So you're reading this and you're wondering how in the world the Eagles, a team that lost twice badly at Dallas to end the 2009 season, can possibly take such an approach as they look to gain their footing and win back the NFC East. It's a fair question, and the reality is that things can certainly change with a signing or two or a trade or three. Such moves are certainly not beyond the realm of reality as the team continues to shape its roster.

The Eagles have some work to do, particularly on the defensive side of the football. And all they have done there is jettison Will Witherspoon, a starting linebacker last year after he was acquired in a trade last season, and sign Jackson, who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament and who may or may not make it all the way back before September.

How, then, does the dense improve between now and September? Having a healthier linebacker corps is going to help, but is that enough? Maybe not. The Eagles could benefit from another playmaker or two, but how do the Eagles acquire those players? Let's be realistic here: The team has to be really creative working out a trade, which is possible, and they have to have a great draft.

Maybe the team doesn't need instant starters from the draft class, but the Eagles -- at this point and from this perspective -- need to get immediate help from their rookies.

That's got to be the focus, then. I know that general manager Howie Roseman is working every day to find a way to make the team better in every way possible, but he knows more than anybody that the draft is where it's at in the NFL. It's that way every year, but this off-season the emphasis is even greater given the truncated options in free agency.

It wouldn't surprise me that once I finish writing this the Eagles will make some blockbuster move. Such is the unpredictable nature of the off-season. Nobody, for example, saw the Jason Peters trade coming last year, and it ended up working out very well for the Eagles. There are a lot of things happening behind the scenes that may or may not come to fruition.

With each passing day, though, and with the number of even serviceable players in free agency dwindling, the clear truth is that the roster, which no doubt needs to be improved, is going to have its most dramatic facelift on draft weekend.

That may not serve well to those who expected the Eagles to go out and sign every free agent on the streets. But that is the way things are for the Eagles and for most teams in the league.

Chicago and Detroit set the pace in free agency, and we will all keep track of how those moves work. Most of the NFL has responded to the unlimited spending opportunity by pulling in the reins and channeling efforts on a draft that is said to be loaded with players, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Who is right and who is wrong is to be determined. The draft is where it's at, though, and for the Eagles to improve and get back to the top of the division, first and foremost, they have to strike it big in April.

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