How much do words matter now that we're in March, and free agency is around the corner (it begins on March 18) and the entire NFL world overreacts to every eyebrow twitch? The word around the league at this time of the year is, Beware the Lies of March, because they're coming from everywhere.
If you are able to separate from the barrage of impressive 40-yard dash times and bench-press feats from the NFL Scouting Combine as it closes, full attention turns to free agency. The Eagles are literally going through their final due diligence on an extensive list of prospective unrestricted free agents and preparing for the March 16 window to discuss deals with player agents.
It's coming fast.
With that in mind – and as we wait for answers – here is a list of questions to consider as the Eagles put their roster-building plan in place.
How different is this roster going to look for 2020?
Potentially, quite a bit different. The Eagles have a list of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on March 18 who have been deep contributors in the past – wide receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive end Vinny Curry, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, running back Jordan Howard, safety Rodney McLeod, offensive tackles Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, defensive tackles Tim Jernigan and Hassan Ridgeway, and quarterback Josh McCown.
A lot can happen in the next few weeks, but that's a significant list. The Eagles can certainly sign back some of those players, but many of them are expected to at least test the waters of free agency. Included is three-quarters of the starting defensive secondary (McLeod, Mills, Darby), the starting left tackle (Peters), a valuable swing offensive lineman (Vaitai), good players on the defensive line, and a running back (Howard) who was a huge piece of the offense in 2019 prior to suffering an injury.
If the Eagles lose a high percentage of that group, yes, the roster is going to look quite a bit different in 2020.
How much salary cap room will the Eagles have?
According to OverTheCap.com, the Eagles have nearly $42 million to spend within the salary cap, and while that's a healthy amount of wiggle room, it ranks 18th most in the NFL with a projected 2020 salary cap of $200 million. It's encouraging that the Eagles have a strong roster already in place – even if they lose a high number of players in free agency. The Eagles are also projected to have as many as 10 draft picks, so they aren't in a place where they are going to need to fill a ton of holes in free agency.
What will the team target in free agency?
That's where all the "words" come into play, because the Eagles are saying absolutely nothing and yet all you hear is the team linked to this player and that player. Rumors, rumors, rumors. Take them for what they're worth.
This team has had a lot of success in recent years by signing players like offensive guard Brandon Brooks and safeties McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins and all of those players had the same characteristics: They were a bit under the radar, they fit positions of need for the Eagles, and they were just reaching their NFL primes.
Ideally, you want to sign players who are on the rise and ink them to long-term contracts or fill in some of the roster blanks late in free agency with older players on shorter-term deals. The Eagles haven't tipped their intentions, but it's clear when you look at the roster that the offense needs more playmakers to help quarterback Carson Wentz and the defense can use help at all three levels.
Where the Eagles go is known only to a very few in the organization. We're still got two weeks before the negotiation window opens on March 16. Things change in a hurry in the NFL.
How does last year's draft play into plans for this year's free agency?
It plays into it a lot, actually. Miles Sanders, coming off his terrific rookie season, is poised to take over the leading role in the running game in his second season. First-round pick Andre Dillard saw some action in his rookie season, and now the Eagles have to determine if he's ready to protect Wentz's blind side on a full-time basis in 2020. Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had limited productivity in 2019, and the Eagles expect him to make a jump in his second season, but to what extent? With both Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson coming off injuries, are the Eagles ready to place Arcega-Whiteside in a prominent role? The truth is, the Eagles won't know much on Arcega-Whiteside until they see him when the offseason conditioning program begins in April, just before the NFL Draft.
At defensive end, a critical area that needs more production, is Shareef Miller going to be in position to contribute after a developmental rookie season?
How does the NFL Draft factor into the team's plans for free agency?
Probably quite a bit, in all honesty. Howie Roseman has said he wants to "infuse youth" into this roster, and with the Eagles projected to enter the April 24 draft with 10 picks, the Eagles have a chance to do just that. Maybe the Eagles target two or three players in free agency and then turn their focus toward the draft.
The Eagles know they have to hit the draft hard and do it right. They need to draft some players who are going to help shape the next young core of the roster in the 2020s. This is an extremely important draft for the Eagles.
But … that's for April. March is about free agency. It's right here in front us and after we parse through the clutter and the false stories and the staged words, the Eagles have an opportunity to begin to reshape the roster.