Thursday was a significant day at the NovaCare Complex as the Eagles signed two Pro Bowl running backs in Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray, while introducing potential starting cornerback Walter Thurmond III. Oh, and head coach Chip Kelly also provided a wrap-up of the day's action.
Dave Spadaro provided analysis at how the Eagles' backfield will look. Bo Wulf explained how the Eagles were able to get Murray, the NFL's rushing champion. But here are nine other critical things we learned ...
1. Darren Sproles Isn't Going Anywhere
Despite the additions of Murray and Mathews, head coach Chip Kelly made it very clear that Darren Sproles – fresh off his first Pro Bowl appearance – is very much a part of the Eagles' 2015 plans.
"Darren is a Swiss Army knife and you can use him in a million different ways," Kelly said. "He's an integral part of what we're doing here."
The start of free agency is well underway. Here's a look at the behind the scenes happenings inside the NovaCare Complex ...
For that matter, Kelly said running back Chris Polk, a restricted free agent who received a right of first refusal tender by the Eagles, is an important player to the team as well.
"You have to have as many good players as you can," Kelly said. "You have to be able to fit them in. Last year, we were in a situation where we kept four tight ends but we only kept three running backs. We could go the other way, we could keep four running backs and three tight ends. There are a lot of things when you get to those final cuts, when you get to September, you have no idea. Someone may be injured, you may not have to make any decisions.
"We're never going to give up good football players. Chris is an outstanding football player, a really integral part of what we've done here the last two years."
2. What's Next At Wide Receiver?
One position that is sure to still see some movement for the Eagles is wide receiver, where last year's leading receiver Jeremy Maclin departed for richer waters in Kansas City. Right now, the Eagles have only five receivers on the roster.
"We think, in terms of our model, that it's a really good draft for wide receivers," Kelly said when asked about the position. "We also have a lot of confidence in some of the guys, Jordan Matthews had an outstanding year for us as a rookie, he's going into year two. Josh Huff, we have a lot of high expectations for Josh. We're excited about him. We get Riley Cooper back.
"We also have a lot of tight ends who have a lot of flexibility. Zach Ertz is a multi-position player for us. And then we also have, I mentioned earlier, we have a real Swiss Army knife in Darren Sproles, who we can use in a few different ways. But again, we do think the draft is very talented from a wide receiver standpoint so we'll take a long look at it from that standpoint also."
While the team has likely made its biggest splashes of the offseason – though that's never a safe bet with the Eagles – Kelly said there is still plenty of work ahead.
"We're not done," he said. "We have the draft coming up and there are other opportunities. Again, I think (Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman) and (director of football administration Jake Rosenberg) and those guys have done a really good job in explaining what we have, where we're going as we articulated our plan from a player standpoint in what we're looking for. They've done a great job putting together models for us on how we can manage it, how we can do it. We feel very comfortable where are. But again, it's March, we still have the draft, we still have a lot of other opportunities before the season to add to our football team."
3. Why The Eagles Won't Move Up To The Top Of The Draft
It should come as no surprise that Kelly was asked once again about the team's interest, or lack of interest, in mortgaging the future in order to move up to the top of the draft in order to select a player like Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. As he did a day earlier, Kelly explained why that's not an option for the team.
"I said philosophically we're opposed to trading up for anybody. We want to keep our picks," Kelly said. "We want to get a lot more good players in here, we want to develop those players and eventually we're not going to really be, hopefully, big guys in free agency. We're going to develop from the bottom-up and have our players in this league so we're not going out there in free agency having to bring six, seven, eight, nine guys in here."
4. The Eagles Will Listen To All Offers
Kelly was also asked about a report that the team had placed Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis "on the trade block."
"I think in the last week every person on this team was talked about on the trade block," Kelly said. "We've had discussions about everybody and everything and as we put together models there wasn't anybody that was untouchable. If we were willing to trade LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles then I think everybody on this team we had very hard discussions on and if we lost them, what would we do to replace them?"
5. Ryan Mathews Knew What He Was Getting Into
Chip Kelly explained during his press conference that the team's plan all along had been to acquire multiple running backs in order to replace the departed production of LeSean McCoy. It was a plan that was made clear to all of the involved parties, including Ryan Mathews, who said he was attracted to the possibility of joining a potentially special backfield.
"I had a little bit of an idea," said Mathews, who called the Eagles' offense a running back's dream. "It didn't deter me at all. They have a good group here and I was really excited to be able to come here and check it out.
"I was just more about the team. I wanted to come play for the team. I just really bought into Chip's system and when I got here and really got to watch it, watch some plays and talk to (running backs coach Duce Staley), it was awesome."
In addition to joining forces with Murray, Mathews will also reunite with his former teammate Darren Sproles.
"I played with Sprolesy my rookie year in San Diego, so I know him a little bit," Mathews said. "I'm excited to get back with him. But it's going to be fun. It's going to be downhill football and it's going to be awesome."
6. Mathews Out To Prove He Can Stay Healthy
One of the bugaboos of Mathews' career thus far has been the occasional stint on the sidelines because of injury. In five seasons, Mathews has only played 16 games once and at least 14 games twice. Most of that, he said, is the nature of the position.
"I've had seriously bad luck, but it is what it is and it's just part of the game," said Mathews. "It's football, it's not flag football. It's not anything else. It's a contact sport, so it just has to go with luck. But like I said, my future starts now."
Mathews also knows that in Philadelphia, where he'll rotate in a deep backfield and have the benefit of the team's sports science program, he'll have a good chance to stay on the field.
On the flip side, the Eagles themselves will do everything they can to keep Mathews on the field.
"I think their plan the whole time was to have me here too," Mathews said. "I knew that they wanted me as one of their backs.
"Just how coach Chip likes to run the ball. He likes to run the ball. He uses his running backs a lot and that's one of the reasons I wanted to come here, I wanted to be used like that. It's going to be fun. I think it's going to be able to showcase my talents a little bit more."
7. Thurmond-To-Eagles A Long Time Coming
Cornerback Walter Thurmond III has felt drawn to the Eagles ever since he took a pre-draft visit back in 2010. The two sides talked last offseason, but the Eagles decided to sign Nolan Carroll II and Thurmond joined the Giants on a one-year deal. When the Eagles and Thurmond began discussions this month, the sixth-year veteran wanted to secure the opportunity to reunite with head coach Chip Kelly, whom he played for in his senior year at Oregon, and finally come to Philadelphia.
Having played for Kelly, Thurmond is well aware of the culture that has been established over the past two seasons.
"It's really understanding how to get the most out of your players. When you're able to do that and get the respect from the guys and guys can buy into the program, that's huge. That's when you're able to win games and go far into the playoffs because everyone has one central goal. It's a mindset," Thurmond said. "It's something that I'm familiar with coming from Seattle. That's what Pete (Carroll) was able to do. That's when greatness happens, when guys are buying into the program."
Thurmond is preparing to compete with Carroll and Brandon Boykin for the starting job opposite of Thurmond's former teammate from Seattle, Byron Maxwell.
"Maxwell's my guy. Since he came in his rookie year, I've always liked his ability. Being a later-round pick, he just came out and just ballhawked and made a lot of plays," Thurmond said. "I'm very happy for him. It's going to be very fun to be able to play with him on this defense, on a new team, new culture and everything. I'm looking forward to it."
Thurmond has the versatility to play both outside and inside. The Eagles' defensive scheme is very similar philosophically to what Thurmond played at both Oregon and Seattle.
Thursday was a busy day for the Eagles with Thurmond's introduction and the addition of running backs Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray. The key, Thurmond said, is getting all of the new pieces to jell together.
"You can have a roster full of names, but it doesn't mean anything if you're not winning the game," he said. "The mindset is to come out and compete every day to get each other better, to maximize our individual potential and come together as a team and win football games."
8. Murray: No Negative Effects From Nearly 500 Touches
Running back DeMarco Murray truly earned the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2014. Murray had 392 carries, which tied for the seventh most in NFL history, as he gained a Cowboys franchise-record 1,845 yards. Add in 57 receptions and Murray had 449 touches in just the regular season.
Murray played two playoff games and had 48 more touches. That's 497 touches for the entire season. Against Chicago in December, Murray had 41 touches, the most by any player in a game this season and just seven away from tying the highest total in NFL history.
How will Murray combat the potential of any lingering effects from the arduous workload? With a combination of the Eagles' sports science program, hard work and relying on the strong depth on the roster.
"I feel great. I take care of my body. I work extremely hard. I know we have Darren Sproles here. We just signed Ryan Mathews. I know those guys. If I ever need a little break, they can handle the load so I'm excited to work with those guys and it's going to be a bright future," Murray said.
"I think I just need to continue to work hard, just kind of build my craft. Start back from ground zero, work on the small things and make sure that I'm physically and mentally ready to do whatever they ask me to do, so I'm excited about the future and I'm definitely not worried about that."
Chip Kelly indicated that he doesn't want Murray to shoulder as much of the load as he did last year in Dallas.
9. Murray's Addition Adds Another Chapter To Eagles-Cowboys
Signing one of the premier free agents was a boost to the Eagles' roster. Prying him away from the Dallas Cowboys? Well, that's something that will make the two matchups that much more enticing later this year.
Why exactly did the Cowboys allow a division rival sign away the player who just set a franchise record for rushing yards, who gained more ground yards than any player in the league last season and was a vital component to Dallas' playoff run?
For Murray, it came down to a chance to win a Super Bowl ... and respect.
"I felt this was a great opportunity for me to win a Super Bowl at the end of the day," Murray said. "It wasn't about financial security or anything like that. Obviously, you want something that you deserve and something that is respectful. I felt that those two things were important to me and I was able to accomplish that here."
While Cowboys fans poured fuel on DeMarco Murray jerseys, Murray took the high road when asked if the chance to play his former team twice a year played a role in joining the Eagles.
"I've got a lot of respect for those guys there. I approach every game the same. There's not one game I look more forward to than the other. I go out there every Sunday and try to put my heart out there and play my hardest so I'm sure the emotions will be a little high during those games, but I'm excited to get here and just start working out and get better with this team," he said.
"I understand the business side of it. Like I said, even before all of the negotiations were going on, there's no hard feelings. Those are great people in that organization. I'm very, very blessed. I spent four years there. I learned a lot from those guys. Some things don't work out and you've just got to move on."