News and notes to start a busy Eagles week

PHOENIX – The Eagles have joined the entire NFL in Arizona at the Annual Meeting to kick off the league's 100th season and, well, we’re going to learn a thing or two or three about …

1. The blueprint the Eagles put together prior to the offseason and how closely the team has been able to follow it through the major wave of free agency.

2. Just what Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, and Doug Pederson think about the roster as it’s presently constituted.

3. If there are any more signings imminent for the team. Just a couple of years ago, the Eagles kind of matter-of-factly signed cornerback Patrick Robinson and defensive end Chris Long and those two had a major impact on the team’s Super Bowl LII victory, and, finally ...

4. Just what the NFL has in mind with regard to any rules changes for the 2019 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the league’s owners, general managers, head coaches, and front-office executives on Sunday night and said, “The NFL has never been in better shape,” as he cited statistics noting that quarterback injuries dropped 50 percent in 2018, with quarterback performance league-wide rising just as much, and that concussions dropped 29 percent in 2018 from 2017. What’s next? On the docket are proposals to modify the replay system as well as other discussions on how to make the game even safer.

Stay tuned. We’ll hear from the Eagles starting with Roseman on Monday. In other news and notes …

Former Eagle Jeremy Maclin calls it a career

Jeremy Maclin retires. An Eagles first-round draft pick in 2009, Maclin had some terrific seasons with the Eagles, particularly 2014 when Maclin caught 85 passes for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns. It was remarkable considering Maclin had missed the entire 2013 season after suffering a torn ACL in Training Camp. The Eagles thought they had Maclin signed for 2015 and behind – it was so, so close – but he chose to sign with Kansas City and delivered 87 receptions for 1,088 yards and eight scores. Injuries then started to mount for Maclin, who played just one more season in Kansas City and then part of 2017 in Baltimore. Maclin did not play last season. Maclin’s 343 catches and 4,771 yards each rank 10th in Eagles history, and his 37 touchdowns rank seventh. Good receiver, great guy and teammate, and a player who had much more in him had injuries not brought down his ability to perform. Maclin and DeSean Jackson formed as potent a 1-2 receiving duo as any the Eagles have had and both players were complete professionals about sharing the opportunities and making the most of their chances.

How Rob Gronkowski's retirement impacts Eagles

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement on Sunday, stunning the NFL world. Like him or not, Gronk changed games and his absence will challenge New England’s passing game. How, exactly, we don’t quite know at this point. A huge target, great after the catch and with the toughness that separated him in the red zone, Gronkowski was just too much to handle for smaller defensive backs and slower linebackers. The Eagles play New England this season, so Jim Schwartz doesn’t have to worry about Gronkowski.

It’s also interesting to view it from the perspective of what the Eagles are trying to do at tight end with Zach Ertz the lead man and second-year player Dallas Goedert an ascending standout. We’re expecting to see just how creative Doug Pederson can be moving those two playmaking pieces around the formation to create favorable matchups. Gronkowski helped change the game for tight ends, a position that has evolved as much as any in the last several decades as tight ends went from in-line blockers to dynamic threats in the receiving game who also have to get down and dirty in the trenches.

Who will be ready in the spring?

Health check. What kind of progress have the injured Eagles made in this offseason? We’ll get some kind of update during the week – Pederson meets the media for an hour on Tuesday at the NFC Coaches’ Breakfast, so he’ll be sure to touch on every subject under the sun. A bunch of key Eagles – offensive guard Brandon Brooks, running back Corey Clement, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, quarterback Carson Wentz – are among those Eagles coming back from season-ending injuries. It’s still early in the offseason, but maybe it's not that early: The team’s offseason conditioning program begins in a few weeks.

Which side of the ball improved more in free agency?

Where have the Eagles improved the most in free agency to date? It’s probably safe to say that the vertical passing game gained a huge asset when DeSean Jackson was acquired in a trade, and he’s going to have a deep impact on everything the Eagles do offensively. I think Pederson is going to have a lot different in his arsenal this season because of what Jackson’s deep speed means for every level of the offense. But I’m going to go with defensive tackle here because of what Malik Jackson offers to Fletcher Cox. Jackson frees up Cox to eat, and Cox is going to have more breathing room. Plus, Vinny Curry’s presence adds another versatile player who can slide inside and can allow Brandon Graham to get good snaps with Curry on the edge, and I think that, more than anyone else to date, Cox benefits the most from the Eagles’ offseason adds. But it’s still early. So much more can happen ahead.

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