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Next step for Eagles: Finding out how roster translates on the playing field

Alternating between wheeling, dealing, and staying pat and allowing the board to come to them, the Eagles emerged from three days of the NFL smorgasbord with five draft selections, one veteran defensive tackle, and an arsenal of post-weekend signings for a roster that they believe continues to grow and improve and positions them nicely to compete in the 2019 season.

Now comes the next phase – taking all of the on-paper talent and turning it into a great football team. With the offseason conditioning program in full swing and heading out of Phase 1, the coaching staff has had only a taste of what this team is all about.

That process is going to accelerate quickly in the weeks ahead.

"I can look at the roster and say, 'Oh yeah, this looks really, really good," head coach Doug Pederson said. "But you have to get out on the practice field, you have to put all the pieces together, and, especially on offense, you have to see how all the pieces are going to jell.

"The mood, the enthusiasm, it's been tremendous. There's been a commitment out of the players to be here, and that's what it takes. To be successful, we have to have the commitment from the players. They have to want to be here and be a part of this offseason program and we've had that. We start our Phase 2 coming up (in the week ahead), and the coaches have a chance to be on the field with the guys and that leads into OTAs when we get to practice, so the next six, seven weeks are going to be exciting."

You know how this works, right? The Eagles had nothing but good things to say about their three days of work in the NFL Draft, the most important weekend of the league's offseason, but they also know that there is a ton of work to do to make it all come together. That's where head coach Doug Pederson comes in. In his fourth season here, Pederson gets it. The roster has changed quite a bit, just as it does every offseason. He's got to get everyone lined up in the offseason program and set the stage for what should be an extraordinarily competitive Training Camp in the summer at the NovaCare Complex.

"There are many different ways of building it, the different layers of building your roster, it's always constantly changing," Pederson said. "We're always looking to add that value, add that talent, and the depth onto our roster."

There are four layers at work here, so let's examine just what the Eagles have done to reach this point.

SIGNING THEIR OWN

The list is an important one, starting with defensive end Brandon Graham, who inked a new deal before free agency started. Graham's presence, now that the draft is complete, is even more vital. He's a front-line talent who combines with Derek Barnett and Chris Long to make for a strong initial three-man rotation at the head of the position. The Eagles also retained cornerback Ronald Darby, a critical signing that allowed the Eagles to steer away from reaching for a cornerback in the draft. Agreeing to terms with defensive tackle Tim Jernigan on the first day of the draft gave the Eagles some real depth there and, again, gave them some options in the three-day draft. Even with a strong defensive line class in the draft, the Eagles didn't feel the need to go outside of their player rankings because they felt a "need" at the position.

Going back even a bit earlier in the offseason, the ability to get deals done with linebacker Paul Worrilow, safety Rodney McLeod, offensive tackle Jason Peters, and tight end Richard Rodgers gave the Eagles answers at those positions heading into the draft. The Eagles didn't need to reach. They went with the best players on their board, and that's always a great position to be in for the NFL Draft.

STRIKING VIA FREE AGENCY

This phase actually started just before the official start of free agency when the Eagles scooped up veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who had been released three days earlier by the Jaguars. Teaming Jackson with Fletcher Cox should make for a dynamic tandem inside defensively, and when you add Jernigan to the mix, the Eagles have three starting-quality players who can really do some damage. Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector, among others, are going to compete to be part of the rotation at defensive tackle.

For the purpose of adding quality depth, the Eagles also signed in free agency starting-level veterans in safety Andrew Sendejo and defensive end Vinny Curry, and both of those positions are better for the moves. Sendejo could turn out to be one of those under-the-radar valuable commodities as a third safety behind McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins, while Curry is in the extremely competitive mix at defensive end.

A player to watch is linebacker L.J. Fort, who is here to compete in that room. Fort knocked around the NFL for a handful of seasons before finding his stride in 2018 with the Steelers and the Eagles like his versatility and his coverage skills, so he'll push for playing time at linebacker.

USING THE TRADE ROUTE

Howie Roseman did some of his finest work as he acquired wide receiver DeSean Jackson in a trade with Tampa Bay as free agency opened and then when he brought running back Jordan Howard to Philadelphia in a deal completed with Chicago. Jackson provides the kind of electrifying speed that this offense needed, and Howard solidified the running back position and should be a perfect fit with his hard-running style and his success in the red zone.

Those two players, both of whom are expected to play important roles in the Eagles' offense this season, cost the Eagles only two late-round draft picks, one in 2019 and one in 2020. Brilliant stuff from Roseman.

Defensively, the Eagles closed out their draft by sending a seventh-round pick to Indianapolis in exchange for fourth-year defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who adds to the competitive situation along the interior of the defensive line.

CAPITALIZING IN THE NFL DRAFT

At this point, they are just names with flashy college résumés who impressed the Eagles tremendously in the pre-draft process. They are prospects who are going to have to come in and earn roster spots and playing time for a roster that is, among NFL teams, pretty darn stacked.

But here it is, the 2019 Eagles Draft Class:

  • First round, left tackle Andre Dillard: The Eagles think the world of him and understand that he's got work to do to get on the field after starting 39 consecutive games at Washington State and earning All-American honors as a senior. Peters is the starter here, and he's one of the best the NFL has ever seen at the position.
  • Second round, running back Miles Sanders: After ripping it up for Penn State as a junior, Sanders joins a crowded backfield that includes Howard, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams, among others. Running back will be one of the most competitive positions on the roster this summer.
  • Second round, wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside: Big and strong with great hands and a major threat in the red zone, Arcega-Whiteside has a lot of traffic to get through to earn playing time. The Eagles think highly of him for every reason, but Alshon Jeffery, Jackson, and Nelson Agholor have some pretty good track records individually and collectively.
  • Fourth round, defensive end Shareef Miller: A good, off-the-edge pass rusher, Miller has players like Graham, Bennett, Long, Curry, and second-year man Josh Sweat in the same room. Jim Schwartz wants heat from his pass rush, and he's got some with this group.
  • Fifth round, quarterback Clayton Thorson: He's got a big body and a good arm and he was productive enough at Northwestern without a strong supporting cast. Thorson is here to join a quarterback room with Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, and Luis Perez. Thorson will have plenty of opportunities to impress the coaching staff in the spring and summer. He will get his reps in practice and in the preseason.

The 2019 NFL Draft is now in the books. The Eagles put their plan in place way back after the 2018 season ended – "We have a burning desire to get back on the field after the way the season ended, I think," Pederson said – and now they're through free agency and through the draft and they like very, very much, the way the roster looks.

But that's all on paper, and they know it. The discovery period is next for the Eagles, who can't wait to see how it looks once the players get out on the field.

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