CLEVELAND – One eye on the present. One eye on the future.
It's the tricky tightrope NFL roster builders walk every day: They're constantly looking for upgrades and as much as they want to improve for the season at hand, they also must balance how the roster is going to look two and three years down the line.
Howie Roseman has talked about this for years, this requirement to have his own version of double vision. Roseman is always at it, always fidgeting with the roster, always exploring ways to develop the practice squad, churn the bottom of the active roster, and create paths to add starting-caliber talent to the top of the roster. It is his goal, he said in the 2022 offseason, to have an active roster with "53 starting-caliber" players.
And while that is extremely ambitious, it demonstrates Roseman's aggressiveness in building the best roster possible, again, working that fine line of laying it on the line for the current season and also keeping in mind the plan of succession.
This 2022 roster is a great example of the Roseman philosophy. After the Eagles kept the roster largely intact following the Super Bowl 52 victory hoping for one more deep playoff run – they reached the postseason in both 2018 and 2019, becoming just the fourth team since the institution of the salary cap to win a Super Bowl and follow it up with consecutive playoff appearances – Roseman knew it was time for a reset. The Eagles changed head coaches – with Nick Sirianni replacing Doug Pederson – and they turned the quarterback job over to Jalen Hurts, a second-round draft pick in 2020.
A "transition year" turned into a playoff season. The roster improved as a handful of young players developed as "succession" players – Dallas Goedert at tight end, Avonte Maddox as a nickel cornerback, Josh Sweat at defensive end, Jordan Mailata at left tackle, Miles Sanders at the running back position, Hurts at quarterback, Quez Watkins at wide receiver. The 2021 NFL Draft provided instant impact from some players who were expected to step right in and contribute, namely wide receiver DeVonta Smith, and others who were not, specifically lineman Landon Dickerson, drafted and projected by many as the heir apparent to center Jason Kelce but who instead stepped in early in the 2021 season at left guard and played standout football. Others, like defensive tackle Milton Williams and running back Kenneth Gainwell, contributed in their first seasons and are now expected to play valuable reps in 2022.
What the Eagles did in the 2022 offseason served as the perfect microcosm of the game plan Roseman has employed. He was certainly opportunistic and nimble working within a tight salary cap structure when the team added premier edge rusher Haason Reddick, wide receiver A.J. Brown, linebacker Kyzir White, and cornerback James Bradberry. How the Eagles did that with apparent minimal wiggle room within the salary cap, well, it was quite a feat. And all of those players are immediate-impact veterans who have fit right into the equation throughout this summer.
But Roseman also fulfilled the other part of his approach, adding "succession" players. First-round draft pick Jordan Davis is part of the defensive tackle rotation with veterans Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, along with Williams. Davis has played well to date and who knows how much playing time he will earn this season, but he wasn't drafted to be "the guy" right away in his career. He has had the benefit of learning in the same room with some great players who have shared their tricks of the trade on how to have success in this league.
"Technique. It's all about technique," Davis said. "Learning from those guys, man, it's been great. They've all helped me so much. You can't just win with talent at this level. You have to know how to work it and study the little things and perfect your technique. That's where I'm at in my development, still learning the technique. I get better every day, I feel."
Second-round draft pick Cam Jurgens is in the same situation. He's gained valuable reps with Jason Kelce sidelined after undergoing a routine cleanout in his right elbow and was highly impressive in Friday's preseason opener. Jurgens fits into the picture along the offensive line, but as it projects now, it may not happen in 2022. Everyone thought the same thing about Dickerson 12 months ago, so you don't know what the immediate future holds, but the Eagles are in a great position from tackle to tackle along the offensive line and, if all goes according to plan, Jurgens will serve in a backup role in his rookie season.
Same with third-round draft pick Nakobe Dean, who made his preseason debut memorable with four solo tackles and five total hits against the Jets. A star at the University of Georgia, Dean has been hard at work behind the scenes learning the linebacker positions while mixing in with the veterans during practice for the coaches to gauge his progress. The Eagles hoped Dean would add competition and depth and, yes, that has certainly been the case.
Roseman is still at it, working to have a roster with "53 starting-caliber" players. These joint practices against Cleveland this week and Miami next week will give the Eagles a chance to eyeball their roster against two up-and-coming teams. Philadelphia's projected starting lineup appears pretty much set – and this is nothing official or anything, just based on daily observances – but there are always going to be challenges. The chain of succession often takes unexpected twists and turns – Mailata's rise at left tackle has been nothing short of remarkable, to cite one case – so the daily competition continues.
But by having his "double vision," Roseman has been able to craft a roster the Eagles think will compete in 2022 and that will build depth for future seasons. It is not an easy feat to accomplish but here the Eagles are, having turned their fortunes around after the down 2020 campaign, a team with a roster that has taken a noticeable and definite step forward in a very short period of time.
The Eagles arrived in Cleveland on Wednesday evening ahead of the joint practices and preseason game against the Browns. Check out photographer Kiel Leggere's shots of the players boarding the team charter.