Welcome to The Week in the NFL’s offseason. As the Eagles continue their offseason conditioning program – still in Phase 1, which means no on-field work – the front office prepares for the NFL Draft and all that goes with it. Seven draft picks, including three in the first 57. Opportunities after the draft to sign quality players, which the Eagles have excelled at in seasons past. This is The Biggest Week of the offseason, and the Eagles are poised to strike.
I’ve got some thoughts on the draft and what the Eagles have in front of them and, upon deeper review, some additional thoughts to what the recently released schedule means for 2019. Let’s all unwind and take some deep breaths before Thursday’s NFL Draft arrives …
- The many mock drafts out there have been all over the place since the Eagles finished up their free-agency business, and it’s difficult having any kind of feel for where the Eagles might go in the first round, at No. 25 overall. The team truly wants to draft the “best player on the board,” said vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas last week and they have the chance to do so because they’ve done such a good job in free agency. There is a difference between “best player on the board” and “best player at a position of need on the board,” and I truly believe the Eagles are in the former category, not the latter.
- This draft is said to be chock full of talent along the defensive line, which Douglas acknowledged when he and Howie Roseman met the media last Tuesday. “I think there's some dynamic players, both D end and tackle. And there's a different flavor. If you're a 34 team (three linemen, four linebackers) there's a guy for you. If you're a (four linemen, three linebackers) up front there's a guy for you. It's a good group.” By retaining Brandon Graham, signing Malik Jackson and bringing back Vinny Curry, the Eagles have given themselves a strong defensive end/defensive tackle depth chart heading into the NFL Draft.
- Adding even more intrigue into what the Eagles are thinking is a story that Howie Roseman shared with reporters last week when he recounted a story from the 2002 NFL Draft, an excellent one that brought to the Eagles cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, along with safety Michael Lewis and running back Brian Westbrook. The Eagles already had Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor at the corners, so they had no immediate need for Sheppard and/or Brown. Sheppard became a starter the next season and Brown upped his playing time, and when 2004 came into focus, both were starters on a Super Bowl team. The moral of the story: The Eagles are looking not only at the 2019 season but also years down the road. Which, of course, makes any predictions of where the Eagles might go in this draft even more difficult.
- A quick update on the 2018 Eagles draft class, which hasn’t changed a whole lot since the last quick update: Tight end Dallas Goedert is a dynamic player whom the Eagles want to strategically pair with Zach Ertz for a terrific 1-2 punch at tight end, Avonte Maddox gives the Eagles versatility and depth at both safety and cornerback and is going to be tough to keep off the field this season, defensive end Josh Sweat has to get healthy after his injury-shorted regular season and then work his way up through a crowded depth chart to earn playing time, offensive guard Matt Pryor is expected to push his way up the depth chart if he has a strong spring and summer and offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, who continues to develop. He has a huge offseason in front of him.
- Speaking of the offensive line – the younger players in particular, including Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai from 2016 – here is Roseman’s perspective: “Last year we drafted two guys that we really were excited about drafting in Pryor and Jordan. Those were guys we knew we would develop and had the opportunity with our veteran offensive line to be able to do that. You look at those guys and even the guys we drafted in 2016 who sometimes, with offensive linemen, they get better and better more experienced that they get. We're excited about that group. Obviously, we've got four guys on our offensive line who have been to Pro Bowls, which is exciting when we think about it. And not only that, but they're great teammates, too. So, we talked about kind of the culture we're trying to set, how we develop guys. And those guys take an interest in developing the younger players. It's very common for you guys, you'll see it at training camp, J.P. (Jason Peters) will take Jordan by his side, (Jason) Kelce and Isaac will spend time. Brandon (Brooks) will spend time with Pryor. And Lane (Johnson) does it with everyone. That's the culture we're trying to set -- bring in the younger players and let the veterans lead.”
- On the schedule: The three-game road trip – at Minnesota, at Dallas, and at Buffalo – is tough, but that’s part of the deal. The Eagles are then home for a full month with games against Chicago, New England, and Seattle with a bye week following the Bears game. Those six games are defining, no question about it. The quality of the opponents is what is worth mentioning. Heck, the schedule throughout is extremely difficult. But at the end of the day, the Eagles have minimal travel – only once after the October 27 trip to Buffalo, an easy trip, will the Eagles get on an airplane, and that’s to Miami for a 1 p.m. kickoff on December 1. When you’re looking for gulps of down time late in a season, avoiding long travel is ideal. And the Eagles are well positioned to enjoy some of that down time, relatively speaking, of course, late in the 2019 regular season.