So much of building an NFL roster requires vision. A deftness as it pertains to a series of events unfolding. The ability to look at a position, for example, and understand the market around it. Patience to allow it to play out, and at the same time, be aggressive within that months-long sequence to get a real-time feel for how the rest of the league is buying – or selling.
On Friday, in case you missed it, the Eagles added a veteran safety to their defensive backs room in the person of Jaquiski Tartt, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound player who started 64 of 80 games in the seven seasons he played with San Francisco since the 49ers made him a second-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. In 2021, Tartt started all 14 games that he played in the regular season and all three playoff games, logging 100 percent of the defensive snaps for an outstanding unit in the postseason. Tartt is a proven player who also started for San Francisco in the Super Bowl 54 run that ended with a bitter loss to the Chiefs in the 2019 season.
Tartt displayed versatility with the 49ers, too, playing both free safety and strong safety in his time there. He is big and athletic and experienced and he has started on the biggest stage in the game. What he brings to the Eagles is all of the above, adding depth and some great Training Camp competition at a position that truly can't have enough players. Two starters at safety? Sure, but three is a lot better, as the Eagles found out last season when their three-man group of Anthony Harris, Rodney McLeod, and Marcus Epps played so well for a defense that allowed only 117 explosive plays, fewest in the NFC and tied for fifth-fewest in the entire league.
We'll see how it all plays out as Tartt comes in and learns the defense and works in with Harris and Epps and a large handful of promising young players the Eagles like. This is a 90-man roster, so the spots are precious, valued, maximized. A 17-game schedule taxes every part of the roster and then some, as the practice squad players are extremely valuable and treasured resources as well. It takes a whole lot more than 53 players – really, it's more like 70 – to make it through a season. I've heard Howie Roseman and Nick Sirianni address an auditorium of players with the message that every single one is there for a reason. Every single one of them is important. Every single one of them is being counted on to play his best football, with the goal – as lofty as it might be – of having a roster where every player is a starting-caliber player.
Tartt is a starting-caliber player. And to add a starting-caliber player midway through the generally quiet month of June bears some examining and some understanding of just how well Roseman and his personnel department played the roster game the right way.
If you go back and look at some pre-free agency lists – and who didn't do that in the interminably long weeks that followed the 2021 season, when we wondered how the Eagles would improve their roster to hopefully make a deep postseason run after a playoff experience in Sirianni's first head coaching season? – you see that the safety position had a glut. Pro Football Focus introduced this list of safeties on the market, highlighting the impressive depth of talent just as a tease. NFL.com had a list of its top 101 free-agents-to-be and the safety position was heavily featured.
The point here is not to debate the actual rankings, but to acknowledge that there was some outstanding talent available in free agency. The Eagles went to work on their own list, predicting the market for those players. Some, they knew, would go early as free agency opened, signing big contracts. Some would linger and test the market and see what was out there as teams debated signing veterans or investing in the position via the NFL Draft. And some, the Eagles knew, would slip through the cracks.
Philadelphia brought back Harris early in free agency on a one-year deal. Harris, who started and played well for the Eagles last season, dipped his toe into the free-agency market. He saw what the league saw and thought his best chance for success was to return to Philadelphia in Jonathan Gannon's defense with a team on the rise. Done deal and a win for both sides.
Roseman made the most significant move in free agency early by signing edge rusher Haason Reddick, adding one of the premier pass-rushing forces to a defense that ranked 31st in the NFL in quarterback sacks a season ago. Reddick was a top target of the team. The Eagles nabbed him and then nibbled away by retaining Harris and a handful of other key players – like running back Boston Scott, like wide receiver Greg Ward, like defensive end Derek Barnett, like defensive back and special teams core player Andre Chachere. They signed wide receiver Zach Pascal in free agency. They added linebacker Kyzir White. They re-worked the contracts of veterans Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox to make sure both were good for 2022.
And then it came time for the NFL Draft and, well, you know what a success that weekend was. In addition to making five picks, the Eagles swung a trade for wide receiver A.J. Brown and promptly signed him to a contract extension through 2026. In the post-draft period, they added cornerback James Bradberry, winning out in a crowded field of interested teams. Now it's Tartt, who started for San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game and who had six total tackles and who was right there with a chance to go to another Super Bowl.
As it turns out, the Eagles wouldn't have been able, in all likelihood, to trade for and sign Brown and then add Bradberry and Tartt had they concentrated their financial investment in free agency at the safety position. Roseman and his staff read the safety market correctly. There was a vision and an understanding of how it would all play out, and so a deal that came together on Friday, with Tartt agreeing to terms on a one-year deal and reuniting with Bradberry – his college teammate at Samford – brings to this defense a player who has been there and done it for seven NFL seasons, who has the versatility that Gannon covets, who is athletic, and who is going to fit in just wonderfully to a safety picture that should be one to watch when Training Camp begins.
This vision started long before free agency began in March. The Eagles saw the market and they played it perfectly and, boom, just like that in the midst of a sleepy week in June (by NFL standards), the defense made an under-the-radar move that could pay great dividends through the course of a long and grinding NFL season in 2022.