The Eagles have their plan in place. They have grades on every available player. With a young roster coming off a division title, the Eagles are looking to upgrade any way possible in this offseason. What kind of approach will the Eagles take? General manager Howie Roseman knows the lay of the land and looks out at a talent pool in free agency that may not be as deep as many fans believe.
"The interesting thing is that when you look at this free agency class and you compare it to last year and the year before, it doesn't have as much talent as it's had the last couple of years, so I think that more so the teams who have money and want to go into the free agent market, they're going to be even more aggressive to get those done quickly," Roseman said this week on 94WIP Sportsradio in Philadelphia. "I think what you'll see is the big-tag guys- and there's a period here from Saturday to Monday you can talk in general terms to agents, so you can kind of get a sense- so I think what you'll see is Tuesday, Tuesday evening, there will be a bunch of signings, and you've just got to figure out where the agents are and what they're thinking, but normally those big-name guys will come off very quick."
The Eagles moved quickly in 2013's free agency, coming quickly to contract terms with players who had key roles in 2013 like cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and linebacker Connor Barwin. None of them were break-the-bank signings, but they added depth to the roster in head coach Chip Kelly's first year and helped the Eagles win the NFC East title.
This time around? Roseman isn't divulging the team's intentions, but he points to lessons learned from the past as the Eagles prepare to implement the strategy ahead. When the Eagles signed a flurry of high-profile free agents in 2011, the name recognition on the roster improved, but some very important intangibles suffered.
And so did the season.
"No question, because the chemistry is off. It's like anywhere else. When you bring a new person into the environment, how are they going to fit in?" said Roseman. "What are people going to look at them like? It's no different than when a new kid comes into the school, a new kid comes into the workplace, now you bring five or six of them in and people are thinking 'Am I good enough? Do people not like me? What do they think about me if they have to bring all of these guys in?'
"Chemistry is very important to us and we want to do things and build things the right way. I've talked about this a little bit … but the name on the back of the jerseys should matter. The guys that we drafted and developed as Eagles, it should matter, and so for us to do that we have to build. We have to build the right way, we have to draft and develop and look to free agency so we can kind of fill needs so we can go to the draft without having to do something."
The objective, then, is to "fill needs" prior to May's draft. The Eagles are well underway in that department, keeping wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin off of the free-agent market by signing them to contracts recently. There is more to come, and the Eagles have to balance what's right for them now, what the draft picture looks like and how the roster projects a few years in the future.
"We have a draft board for free agency, and we rank them according to our grades and we have a lot of debate and discussion with our scouts and our coaches about fits, and sometimes that's one of the big things. There may be a player out there who is a really good player who just doesn't fit our scheme, and so for us to go out and give him big money doesn't make a lot of sense, even though he is a really good player," said Roseman." So what we try to do from there is go through non-fits for our scheme, guys that won't fit into our culture and chemistry of the team, so they'll have an alert on them because of their background or character or whatever it is that doesn't really fit with what we're looking for, maybe it's a size issue or maybe it's a length issue, and then we'll have a much smaller free agent board.
"What we'll do with those guys is we'll set a value on all of those guys and where we feel comfortable paying based on their grade, because the concerns that we have going into free agency are probably twofold ; one, it's arranged marriages, so you don't know these guys as good as you think you do. It's a lot different when you're scouting them when they're 21 and 22 than when they're 26 and 27 and they're different people. We're all different people in college than we were five or six years later when we're out getting a job and kind of doing our thing.
"The second part of it is that because the market is depleted, because like us, a lot of teams try to sign their best players, and if a guy is on the free agent market, it's either because the team doesn't have cap room or the team has decided that they're not willing to pay that player. So there is going to be a red flag and you have to figure out the red flag, and then what happens a lot is that good players get great player money, great players normally don't hit free agency, and pretty good players get really good money. So what kind of message are you sending to the rest of your team if you have really good players a year away from free agency or two years away from free agency, and you break the bank on a guy and they go 'I know that guy, I'm better than that guy,' so what are you going to do when his contract comes up? I think you want to be careful. That doesn't mean that there aren't ways to improve your team.
"Certainly, we want to improve our football team, but we also want to be smart about it and make sure that we aren't going to make any decisions that are going to impact us two years down the line, so that when I'm talking to you and we have this free agent class from our 2012 draft, and I'm saying that we don't have any money left, you're saying 'Well, that wasn't very smart."