The nitty-gritty time is upon us. With the NFL Scouting Combine in the past and free agency staring the league in its collective face, decisions are very real and the element of a ticking clock is a fact of life. Here are some thoughts on what is ahead for the Eagles.
MARCH 1: 4 PM IS THE DEADLINE FOR USING THE FRANCHISE TAG
There has been no word on whether the Eagles intend to use a franchise tag on quarterback Sam Bradford, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 9, but it remains an option. Reports indicate that the Eagles have engaged in contract negotiations with Bradford's representatives and that the team increased its offer to Bradford in the last couple of days. Executive vice president of Howie Roseman said at the NFL Scouting Combine that the team was talking with Bradford's camp.
Clearly, though, the Eagles have been open publicly with praise of Bradford and have expressed their desire to have him back for 2016 and beyond. That said, a negotiation is a two-sided business and it is not clear what Bradford wants or the strategy his agent is taking.
So this is a multi-pronged situation: Would the Eagles use the franchise tag to secure Bradford's rights for 2016? If they do, the deadline is Tuesday at 4 PM. And second, what are the chances the Eagles and Bradford can get a deal done prior to the start of free agency on March 9 at 4 PM? And what happens if no deal gets done prior to then? Bradford would become an unrestricted free agent and the Eagles would do ... what? It's all right in front of us with free agency closing in.
WHAT ABOUT THE REMAINDER OF THE TEAM'S FREE AGENTS?
Signing defensive end Vinny Curry kept him off the free-agent market and locked up a promising piece of the defense. Najee Goode was also signed so he's off the market. Scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on March 9 are the following Eagles: Bradford, cornerback Nolan Carroll, cornerback E.J. Biggers, safety Walter Thurmond, defensive end Cedric Thornton, wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu and No. 3 quarterback Thad Lewis.
Let's not dismiss this group, which includes starters from 2015 like Thurmond, Carroll (until he was injured) and Thornton. Could any of them return to the Eagles for 2016? Sure. There is still a week to get a deal or two completed. We will see what direction the Eagles take. If Thurmond becomes an unrestricted free agent and signs elsewhere, obviously, the Eagles need a starter at safety next to Malcolm Jenkins. Thornton played solid football against the run in the 3-man front. Carroll worked hard in the offseason to earn a starting cornerback job, and he's rehabbing after suffering a nasty broken ankle in the loss at Detroit. Biggers played 564 defensive snaps in 2015, 46 percent of the team's defensive plays, and if he leaves those snaps have to be replaced. Ajirotutu didn't contribute as a wide receiver, but he helped in coverage on special teams.
Offensive linemen Matt Tobin and David Molk are scheduled to be restricted free agents on March 9, and the Eagles have a right to make them a tender contract offer prior to then.
The Eagles have some wiggle room when it comes to the salary cap, but not as much as in previous seasons following the 2015 spending spree in free agency. Can the Eagles do what they want within the salary cap? They will look for good, prudent additions to help the football team. What happens at quarterback obviously has a huge impact on the decision-making moving forward.
WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM THE NFL SCOUTING COMBINE?
The NFL Draft is held in late April and we're going to hear all kinds of rumors between now and then. The NFL Scouting Combine featured a draft class that is loaded with defensive talent and athleticism, three quarterbacks who project as first-round picks for sure but who come with just as many question marks, and an offensive line group that looks fairly loaded, top to bottom.
Teams consider the Combine as a part of the evaluation process, and a very important piece not only for the on-field demonstration of athletic ability, but for the behind-the-scenes interviews that take place. Teams are able to interview up to 60 draft prospects in all.
Did what happen at the Combine greatly impact the Eagles' draft strategy? Not likely, unless a player bombed the interview or disappointed greatly in the skills drills. For a team that could address the offensive line in the offseason as the Eagles will certainly consider, the group of offensive linemen in the Combine looked impressive. So were some defensive players as well as a good quarterback group and some outstanding prospects at the running back position. Wide receiver? There are always going to be some quality prospects, but just how much attention that position gets at the top of the draft remains a question.
WHAT ELSE IS ON THE TABLE RIGHT NOW?
The team's offseason conditioning program doesn't begin until April 4, so the players are mostly on their own and just now ramping up their personal strength programs. Any player who works out at the NovaCare Complex does so without any coaching supervision. Beyond free agency -- dealing with the current roster and strategizing to make an impact when the league season begins on March 9 -- and bearing down on the NFL Draft prep, the emphasis is on new head coach Doug Pederson working with his coaching staff to continue to evaluate the current roster and help with any free-agent and draft film study needed.
We've waited since Pederson was hired in January to learn what direction the Eagles would take in the personnel-acquisition portion of the offseason. We're almost there. The nitty-gritty time is upon us as the Eagles put their plans into action and continue to strengthen this roster for 2016.