These were the necessary steps to take, the tender contract offers, the ones that the Eagles judged fairly and squarly to make sure they have every opportunity to hold on to the players they want to keep, the ones that are in the vision of the off-season blueprint they have created. The Eagles on Thursday put down the foundation of their next couple of months by tendering contract offers to nine restricted free agents, including fullback Leonard Weaver.
It was a busy day behind the scenes, a nice appetizer to what will be a quick, bam-bam unrestricted free agency period featuring only a handful of headline players. Will the Eagles try to make an early splash as free agency opens? Does it even make sense, given the unpredictable nature of the no-salary-cap scenario ahead for the NFL?
We'll find out right away, no question about it. Free agency for the cream-of-the-crop players is going to last about three days, maybe four, and then after that there will be a long period of time during which the moves will be few, the rumor mill will slow, and the actual transactions will be light.
But even then, the Eagles have a chance to improve this roster. As teams around the league announced their tenders on Thursday, a strong number of players were released, and the streets became much more populated with good, solid NFL players who can make a team better. When a player like, for example (and this means nothing other than it is a name that I know and I am opining), Rock Cartwright comes free, the Eagles have to ask themselves if he is a good option as a No. 2 running back here, or, even if he is an upgrade as a No. 3 running back and special teams player?
Good players hit the streets on Thursday, adding some oomph to the free-agent class. Make no mistake, though, the first wave of headlines comes on Friday and through the weekend as Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor, Karlos Dansby and the stars of free agency are courted and, ultimately, signed.
At this point, I have absolutely no idea if the Eagles are planning to make an early splash. I know they have done their homework and I know that they have their plan in place and I know that the Eagles are as aggressive as any team in the league when it comes to making moves in the off-season. I wish I knew ...
Anyway, let's analyze the moves the Eagles made on Thursday, tender day, as they relate to 2010 and beyond ...
*Leonard Weaver, fullback *
Reports indicated that the Eagles worked into the night to try and sign Weaver to a longer-term contract, but instead they settled for a tender offer to Weaver at the compensation level of a second-round draft pick. Is that risky? Well, yes. A team could come in and sign Weaver and make it impossible for the Eagles to match, in which case the Eagles would receive a second-round draft pick as compensation.
The bottom line: It is hard to imagine Weaver leaving, but then again, who ever thought Brian Dawkins would leave last year in free agency? You never know in the NFL. I say Weaver remains, and I think the Eagles will get a contract done with him.
*Jason Avant, wide receiver *
Tendered at a second-round draft pick level (which means that if another team signs Avant to an offer sheet, the Eagles would have seven days to match the offer and retain Avant, or they would receive a second-round draft pick from that team), Avant is clearly a player the Eagles value highly and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him at some point sign a longer-term contrat to remain. There are few slot receivers as good, as reliable, as proven as is Avant.
The bottom line: It is hard to imagine Avant going anywhere. The Eagles have a great situation with their top three wide receivers -- starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and then Avant. What happens behind those three, given the uncertain picture with Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis, is another development to watch.
*Nick Cole, offensive guard/center *
Also tendered at a second-round level for the second consecutive off-season, Cole potentially has a huge role in this offense. He may very well be the starting center as Jamaal Jackson recovers from his late-season knee injury. Cole could aslso factor into the picture as a right guard, depending upon the next step with Stacy Andrews, who is reportedly due a bonus in the coming weeks.
The bottom line:Cole needs to be prepare this off-season to be a starting player. He isn't the classic-looking offensive lineman, but the Eagles have someone in Cole whom they trust, whom they think is a 16-games-a-year starter at two positions, and probably even at left guard if needed.
*Ellis Hobbs, cornerback/kick returner *
Given a tender offer with first-round compensation should he sign with another team and the Eagles not match the offer sheet, Hobbs is coming off a cervical injury which robbed him of half of the 2009 campaign. Too bad. While Hobbs hadn't played much at cornerback for the Eagles, he made his mark in the kickoff return game and would have gotten a chance to play given Joselio Hanson's four-game suspension. Hobbs said in a recent interview that he is healthy and is ready to go for 2010, in whatever role awaits.
The bottom line: Fascinating. Why did the Eagles tender Hobbs at a first-round level? Did they think another team was hot on his trail? Hobbs is going to love working with new special teams coordinator Bobby April, who has a proven track record as the best in the business. Hobbs should have an explosive impact on special teams. And with new defensive backs coach Dick Jauron on board, Hobbs will have every opportunity in the world to move up the depth chart in a crowded field at cornerback.
*Chris Gocong, linebacker *
Tendered with compensation equal to his draft round, the third round, Gocong is in an interesting position. How does he fit in with this defense? He lost his job midway through the 2009 season and then came back and played a well in the post-season against Dallas. What does that mean? Gocong is here now, is an attractive piece to teams looking for edge rushers, but for right now the Eagles are keeping him because he has speed, he plays hard and he is outstanding on special teams.
The bottom line: Gocong is in a precarious position, but he works his butt off and he is a good football player and you want players like Gocong around to help the football team.
Omar Gaither, linebacker
Coming off his Lisfranc injury, Gaither has been a regular at the NovaCare Complex rehabbing the foot and he seems to be making great progress. He was tendered at his draft-round level, the fifth round. Gaither figures to provide some depth and challenge for playing time.
The bottom line:A good player and someone who can play all three linebacker positions, Gaither will be here and should help as the Eagles look to get their linebackers on track after a tough 2009 season.
Alex Smith, tight end
The veteran tight end who joined the Eagles last year was not tendered. He is free to sign with any team as an unrestricted free agent.
The bottom line:Unless the Eagles have injury problems, or some kind of setback in the spring or summer, it appears Smith will move on.
*Akeem Jordan, linebacker *
Signed as an non-drafted player coming out of college, Akeem Jordan has made quite an impression here and he was playing outstanding football prior to the injury last year. The Eagles want him back, clearly. Jordan was tendered at a second-round level, so the team obviously values him.
The bottom line:The expectation here is that Jordan will compete with Will Witherspoon and Gaither for the job as the starting linebacker on the weak side. This is a crucial off-season for Jordan.
Sav Rocca, punter
Rocca was not drafted, so the Eagles have a right of first refusal should he sign a contract tender elsewhere. Will another team reach out and try to grab Rocca, who has made steady improvement?
The bottom line:This is an interesting case, because a team could make a no-risk effort to sign Rocca. That team would not lose a draft pick should the Eagles not match the contract offer. In any event, Rocca will have competition in the spring and summer with Durant Brooks around.
Max Jean-Gilles, offensive guard
Another player looking for a chance to land a starting role and some longer-term stability, Jean-Gilles was tendered at a fourth-round draft pick level. He is likely to return to the Eagles, unless a team wants to give up a fourth-round draft pick as compensation.
The bottom line:Maybe there is a team that sees Jean-Gilles as more valuable than do the Eagles. At the very least, Jean-Gilles provides good depth for the Eagles as he challenges for playing time. The Eagles have 30 days from Friday to decide what they are going to do about the roster bonus due Stacy Andrews. That decision could very much impact the future for Jean-Gilles.