Welcome to The Quiet Zone.
As the entire NFL prepares to enter the three-day period, March 11-13, during which "clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2018 player contracts at 4 p.m., New York time, on March 13," teams can say nothing. Nada. Zilch. Every "report" that's out there, every "rumor" that is being circulated, has to be met, by the rules, with silence from NFL teams.
You remember, of course, when the Eagles traded running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills in early March 2015. Word of the deal came down prior to the official start of the league's new business year, so the speculation was rampant. McCoy to the Bills? For linebacker Kiko Alonso? What do the Eagles have to say about it? Turns out, then-head coach Chip Kelly, who made the trade, had plenty to say when he was permitted to say something a week later.
It's safe to say that the Eagles "have a lot of balls in the air," as Howie Roseman likes to say from time to time. He's a master at working the phone lines and gauging interest in deals with teams and the Eagles as a group are well aware of the overall picture out there. They've had weeks of internal conversations about what direction they want to take in free agency. They've created some breathing room within the $188.2 million salary cap. They've got flexibility to add to the roster and they intend to, as Roseman has emphasized many times, keep their "foot on the gas pedal" in the weeks to come.
Roseman sees free agency as a chance to "supplement" the roster. It's difficult to say how the Eagles are going to play it this year given the nature of a roster – the Eagles are going to have some significant change, it seems – that has stability at many areas but also has looming questions at some key spots. What we know so far is this …
- By signing center Jason Kelce and guard Isaac Seumalo, the Eagles have extended some longer-term stability up front. Both players were already under contract for 2019, but the Eagles aren't taking a one-year approach with their vision. Roseman talks about structuring the roster for two and three years down the line, so keeping Kelce and Seumalo around through 2021 and 2022, respectively, is a good thing.
- The biggest news was the new contract for defensive end Brandon Graham, who surely would have attracted a large audience in free agency. The Eagles have work to do at defensive end and along the defensive line, and keeping Graham gives them a leader in the room, a high-effort, highly productive player who is going to bring energy every day to the defensive end group. Graham is healthy, he's hungry, and he's so, so happy to be an Eagle. He should have a big season ahead.
- With the moves the Eagles made, including the decision to allow quarterback Nick Foles to become an unrestricted free agent, the team now has some wiggle room to add players in the free agency period. Where they go and the players they have targeted, well, we're going to see what's up on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Even with the moves, the Eagles have some obvious needs. As it stands now, Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles will be unrestricted free agents, leaving Josh Adams, Corey Clement, Boston Scott, and Wendell Smallwood as the running backs on the active roster. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is scheduled to be a UFA on Wednesday at 4 p.m., so there is a potential hole at that position. Ronald Darby, coming off his knee injury, is slated to be a free agent on Wednesday, and Jalen Mills is still rehabbing a foot injury that cost him half of 2018. Thus, the cornerback position has some legitimate question marks. Right guard Brandon Brooks is still recovering from the torn Achilles tendon injury suffered in the playoff loss at New Orleans, so there is the question of when he'll return to the lineup.
This is an exciting time and, because of the mandate for silence, also a bit of a frustrating one. I remember when I heard the news of McCoy being traded – as I boarded a flight to Colorado for a spring ski trip in 2015 and by the time I landed my phone was absolutely crushed with texts and inquires and requests to appear on radio hits for Eagles talk across the country. I had to stay quiet for another week until the new business year started.
The NFL has a way of remaining in the news throughout the year, including this fast-moving period of free agency. The expectation is that the Eagles are going to be active once they can legally talk to players' agents on March 11. Roseman is always on the lookout for a way to upgrade the roster, no matter the position.
And there is also no doubt that he's been working the phone lines and juggling as many of those "in-the-air" balls as he can handle. It's that time of the year, and the level of expectation is almost crushing. You get the feeling that maybe the Eagles are going to do something substantial. Then again, you really don't know what Roseman has planned, so patience is required.
From this vantage point, all I can do is shhhhhhhhhhh. Silence is the rule. Silence is golden. Starting on March 13 at 4 p.m., maybe we'll have something significant to talk about as the Eagles reload a roster that has the makings of being something special.