This is the calm after the storm of the NFL Draft, a place where the coaches teach in the virtual world to a roster full of Eagles players who are learning the X's and O's of the schemes in a most unusual environment. It is, indeed, a brave new world for the Philadelphia Eagles and the rest of the league that is showing incredible resourcefulness and creativity to prepare for the 2020 season.
And what of that season, which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league plans to play, in its entirety. What if, defensive end Brandon Graham was asked on Monday in a Zoom conference call with Eagles Premium Ticket Members, there were no fans in the stands when the schedule – still due to be announced in early May – begins?
"With anything, you always adjust," Graham said, "but it is gonna be weird, like weird. You're gonna hear everybody on their sideline. It's going to be like we're playing against each other in practice, like when we had joint practices without the fans being there. It's going to take some time to adjust, but I do know that people are still gonna tailgate, even if it's not in the stadium area, it's going to be somewhere.
"We're going to hear the crowd. We're going to hear some people outside when we make a play, so I'm curious to see how this thing is going to go. The whole thing now is to be safe, so I'm sure we're going to adjust well. The whole goal is to win, so if you can't get motivated when another team comes into your house, or you're going into another stadium, then that's a problem. We aren't going to have that problem."
That's all down the line, and the NFL will make its plans accordingly. Barring any setback, the 2020 season is going to be played. And that leads us to …
- The Eagles exercised their fifth-year option on defensive end Derek Barnett, securing him through the 2021 campaign. Barnett has been a solid and high-motor contributor and when he's been healthy, he's played well. Last season, Barnett registered career highs in tackles (40), tackles for loss (11), sacks (6.5), forced fumbles (2), and QB pressures and hits (32, tied). He has to find a way to stay on the field for 16 games. The Eagles need him. And they need some of the young defensive ends – Josh Sweat, Genard Avery, Daeshon Hall, Joe Ostman, Shareef Miller, Casey Toohill – to come through and take the next step. Yes, the Eagles can move Malik Jackson to the edge and give some different looks and, yes, the Eagles should be dominant inside with Fletcher Cox, Jackson, and Javon Hargrave as their 1-2-3 punch, but depth on the edge is essential.
- Now that everyone has come to terms with the selection of Jalen Hurts in the second round of the NFL Draft, let's explore why he's here. He's extremely talented, a winner everywhere he's gone, and he will be a fast learner working with some coaches – Doug Pederson, Press Taylor, Rich Scangarello, Marty Mornhinweg – who have a successful track record of developing quarterbacks. A good NFL comparison might be Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott with the body type, the way he moves, and the kind of arm strength and delivery he has. The Eagles have a long-term backup to Carson Wentz and that's been missing for many seasons. Would the Eagles have defeated Seattle had they been in an improved situation at the No. 2 quarterback in last season's playoffs? No offense to Josh McCown, but the answer is probably yes.
- I haven't talked about the non-drafted rookie class and I acknowledge that it's going to really hard for these men to make an impression with the shortened on-field time they are going to have. Running back Michael Warren is a bull at 5-9, 226 pounds and he averaged 5.2 yards per carry at Cincinnati. The Eagles are set with Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, and at this point they've got Warren and Elijah Holyfield battling for the "power back" spot. Adrian Killins is a lightweight at 162 pounds but that didn't stop him from dominating at Central Florida. He's got quicks all day long. And keep an eye on Dante Olson, a linebacker from Montana who won the Buck Buchanan Award in 2019 as the FCS Defensive Player of the Year.
- The team opened its virtual offseason program on Monday with nearly 135 players, coaches, and football staff members taking part and, yes, Pederson understood he was in a different world addressing the team. "We started our offseason virtual program," Pederson said on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN on Monday. "I had my first team meeting and we had over 133 members – team, personnel staff – on that call this morning and got everything kicked off. We also just finished with the draft, so putting the finishing touches on that … We are excited to eventually get back together. It's a weird feeling. We use Microsoft Teams and I can only see four guys on the screen. I'm talking into the computer screen and hopefully my message is getting across to the 133 or so in that meeting."