Another day goes by and with it there is more anticipation. The draft just can't get here fast enough so that we can put the pieces of the puzzle together and get a fair handle on the Eagles and what this 80-man roster looks like heading into the post-draft period.
Agonizing. I enjoyed a hearty conversation with Eagles fans on the Discussion Boards for much of the day on Tuesday as we talked about the direction the team was taking in this off-season. I contend that it has been an exciting off-season through the first week-plus of free agency, and that the best part of the Eagles' plan comes on draft weekend. Others are understandably nervous. They see need areas. They see holes. And the fans are far too excited to exercise the patience needed to see this off-season through to the end of draft weekend.
Anyway, here are some questions the Eagles need to answer in time. It's a slow news day at the NovaCare Complex. I don't know what else to write, so ...
- Will they make any more moves in free agency? The Eagles could be done. They have signed two players, offensive lineman Stacy Andrews and safety Sean Jones. There are still some "names" on the streets, and some of them can still help in reserve roles, if the Eagles are so inclined. There are also some "names" who are veterans, like just-released Orlando Pace, that would seem to go against the Eagles' approach to get younger in the off-season.
The Eagles aren't saying anything, and they aren't about to tip their hand in any way, but we can just guess here. I tend to think the Eagles won't be active any longer in free agency, but there are about 135 players still on the streets and the prices come down every day. And understand the importance of that: At this point in free agency, you don't want to reach and commit to a player with a large contract. You want roster fillers, players to come in and play for a year or two and add depth and provide some insurance and experience against injuries. You don't want long-term deals for big money, only to find out that the player really wasn't that great a fit.
The Eagles do have openings on their roster. They have lost six players in the off-season -- four in free agency, plus the trades of Lito Sheppard and Greg Lewis -- and they are prepared to move on without Jon Runyan and L.J. Smith. Balance that against the two acquisitions and the 12 picks in the draft and you can see that there could be room for a couple of players now, and fewer on the other side of the draft.
What are the positions that demand the most attention?
** 2. What are they going to do with all of those draft picks?
Use 'em. Be creative. In a matter of a couple of weeks, the Eagles will invite up to 30 potential draft picks to the NovaCare Complex for an up-close look. There are also a handful of local prospects who will come by and see the facilities, meet the coaches and try to impress. To guess what the Eagles might do with their vast array of picks, including the 21st and 28th in the first round, along with four picks in the fifth round, is almost worthless, but we have to get through the days between now and April 25.
The mock drafts are all over the place. Will the Eagles go with an offensive tackle early? A running back? A tight end? Another position? Really, anything goes. This is crunch time for the college scouts and the coaching staff. We think the days drag until the draft. The personnel department is busy with personal workouts, evaluations and final-weeks tweaking of grades.
Will the Eagles use all 12 picks? Maybe, but they could also trade up and pile on the first day with an extra second-round draft pick or two. Who knows? It sure is going to be a fun weekend, though.
**3. How can they possibly spend all that salary-cap room?**
You certainly wonder if they can. The Eagles had a lot of room under the cap prior to free agency, and resisted the urge to go hog wild and pay for players who really don't upgrade this roster. Whether that was the right strategy remains to be seen. The Eagles have gotten younger on the roster, and they feel they have upgraded with Andrews and Jones.
A chunk of the cap money went to those two. Another large chunk will go to the draft picks, an amount that is determined by the NFL after the draft picks are made. The Eagles will look, as they always do, to invest in their current roster with new contracts. They set aside some money in case a spate of injuries occurs.
And having the extra money allows the Eagles the flexibility to make trades, acquire players and improve the roster all the way through the season. There are also certain escalators in contracts which eat up space. But, no doubt, the Eagles have a lot of room and it is going to be very difficult to use it all.
**4. Any updates on injuries?
Nothing officially. Darren Howard had his surgery and has gone through his rehab. Max Jean-Gilles continues to recover from his broken ankle suffered on Thanksgiving. There is no timetable on his return to the practice field. Brian Westbrook spoke to reporters recently and said he had a minor surgical procedure that reportedly went great. That is terrific news.
Stacy Andrews is in with the Eagles' athletic training staff recovering from the knee injury he suffered in Game 15 with the Bengals last December.
The Eagles should be relatively healthy for the post-draft camp, but head coach Andy Reid usually keeps a handful of players on the sidelines, just for precautionary reasons. It sure seems like practice is a few years away.
**5. What is next for the players?**
The off-season conditioning program begins very soon and then the NovaCare Complex will be brimming with energy and enthusiasm. Many players come in on their own and get a workout in, so the Complex hasn't been all that quiet for very long at all. The playoff push made for a short off-season -- for the players, not us -- and every one of those young men had a chance to get away and get their bodies and minds right before digging in for 2009.
They are all watching and waiting to see what happens with the rest of the off-season, just like you. And me.