The Countdown to the 2021 NFL Draft is on as we're inside three weeks away from the most pivotal weekend of the offseason calendar and it's very much unclear how the top of the first round will play out. The Eagles sit at No. 12 in Round 1. We know – no, expect – that quarterbacks will dominate the first three or four picks and that after that, it's a crapshoot. Rumors are flying. Excitement is building.
What are the Eagles' intentions?
We don't know the plan as the Eagles come down the homestretch with their draft preparation, but we know that they have 11 draft picks – four in the first two days – and they've got an arsenal of selections over the next two years that gives them every available option. If Howie Roseman sees something intriguing in the top 10 of this draft, he has the draft capital to go up. If he wants to move further down from No. 12 overall, he can do that. Staying at No. 12 is obviously an option. This is a good place to be for a team that knows it has an opportunity to revamp the roster very quickly with successful draft weekend decisions.
So, with that, let's tackle a few items in this News and Notes segment with free agency still rumbling and the NFL Draft coming into an early focus …
1. The unusual nature of the NFL's 2021 salary cap, which dropped eight percent from 2020 to the $182.5 million limit this year, has changed the way the game is played a bit for those on the market. It could be why veterans like safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson ended up joining on one-year contracts with the Eagles, a team that understood the landscape and onboarded all five of its additions – along with safety Andrew Adams, quarterback Joe Flacco, and running back Jordan Howard – with one-year deals.
There just wasn't as much money out there for players as in past offseasons, so finding a spot where they could thrive for a season and improve their profile for 2022 and beyond was important. In the cases of Harris and Wilson, familiarity with Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon's system – a disciple of Minnesota Head Coach Mike Zimmer, where both players were last season – was important. Both Harris and Wilson have a chance to hit the ground running in the scheme, and both will have a path toward significant playing time. Harris played under the franchise tag last season and has been considered one of the game's top safeties the last three years. Wilson emerged as a leader and top tackler with Minnesota in 2020 and many felt he would have a sizeable audience in free agency. Both are here on one-year deals. The Eagles, tight against the salary cap limit, played the market smartly.
2. Let's take a look at the running back picture, which is subject to change, of course. Miles Sanders has made strides in each of his last two seasons and even playing behind an ever-changing and injury-riddled offensive line last season, he was an explosive running back. Sanders has averaged 4.9 yards on his 343 career carries, fourth best in the NFL from 2019-20, and Sanders' four runs of 60-plus yards lead the league. We'll see how much he is featured in Nick Sirianni's offense. Boston Scott is a solid change-of-pace back and he's been productive. Jason Huntley is a speed back who has to take the next step, as do young players Elijah Holyfield and Adrian Killins. Howard had a rough 2020 after signing with Miami in free agency, so he needs to get back to where he was in the first half of the 2019 campaign when he and Sanders teamed up as a strong 1-2 punch in the Eagles' backfield. Howard brings some thump in the running game.
3. I had the chance to talk with right tackle Lane Johnson this week on a Zoom call for the Spotlight Series, powered by AAA, with Eagles fans in the audience and Johnson says he will be ready for 2021 after ankle surgery and knee problems impaired his 2020 play.
"I'll be on two feet this year and I'm excited about that and I think everything else will take care of itself," Johnson said. "Feeling good, so I should be cleared here in the next month or so, fully cleared, so all good."
The idea of having Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks back together and healthy is exciting and it will make a huge difference for the right side of the offensive line this season.
4. Coaches are not yet permitted to talk football with the players at this stage of the offseason, but they are around to say hello to the guys, and cornerback Avonte Maddox swung by the NovaCare Complex recently before he went to Florida to train and he was impressed by Gannon in their brief time together.
"He's a great guy, a lot of energy. I'm excited to work with him," Maddox said. "He's a motor guy and he told me he's excited to be here and he can't wait to get the guys in and teach us as much as he can. I'm willing to learn as much as I possibly can. I can't dive into his defense yet – coaches can't coach us yet – so I'm looking forward to getting in there and I'm excited about this defense – it's going to be fun and I know it's been a great defense wherever he's been in the past."
5. How about the wide receiver position? The Eagles have a slew of young ones who stand to benefit from the return of Aaron Moorehead as the position coach. In a receiver-rich NFL Draft, will the Eagles dip into the market? The real questions are how much the Eagles think they're going to get in Year 2 from Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins; what can J.J. Arcega-Whiteside bring to the offense in his third year; and, maybe the most vexing question, if they believe that Travis Fulgham is on the right path as he was for those four magical weeks in the 2020 regular season. Greg Ward is a proven commodity in the slot, but the Eagles are likely going to challenge him there. So … many questions for the position, one that Eagles fans always have an intense fascination following.