Creativity helps when building an NFL roster, and the Eagles, led by Howie Roseman, are as creative as any team. We’ve seen the Eagles operate for years in a manner that blends conventional with some out-of-the-box thinking that keeps Philadelphia annual championship contenders. The current roster? It’s an interesting mix of veterans acquired in a multitude of ways and younger players being developed by an outstanding coaching staff.
The Eagles have 71 players on their roster at the moment, with tight end Richard Rodgers and running back Jordan Howard the most recent additions. As teams turn their full-on focus from free agency to this month’s NFL Draft, it’s worth taking a look back at what the Eagles have done in the last three weeks and view the actions as a microcosm of how to build a roster.
RE-SIGNING EAGLES DRAFT PICKS
Twenty-two of the team’s 71 players are Eagles draft picks (24 including wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive end Vinny Curry, former Eagles draft picks who re-signed with the team after playing elsewhere), dating back to defensive end Brandon Graham, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2010. The NFL Draft provides the core of a roster and the Eagles have done well with it, adding starters like quarterback Carson Wentz, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, tight end Zach Ertz, tackle Lane Johnson, center Jason Kelce, defensive end Derek Barnett, left guard Isaac Seumalo, and cornerback Jalen Mills. There is another group of key players like tight end Dallas Goedert and cornerback Avonte Maddox and wide receiver Nelson Agholor who may not technically start, but who are every bit as valuable. The Eagles wouldn’t be this successful without drafting well through the years.
In fact, since Roseman regained control of the roster from Chip Kelly late in the 2015 season, the Eagles have hit on their drafts, particularly at the top. Wentz (2016), Barnett (2017), and Goedert (second round, 2018) are three vitally important players in the 2019 picture for the Eagles and while both Wentz and Barnett have been hampered with injuries, all three are expected to have positive impacts this season.
The Eagles opened this offseason, prior to the official start of free agency on March 13, by locking up some of those draft picks – they extended Kelce’s contract, did the same for Seumalo, and also locked down Graham with a long-term deal prior to entering the market. For Graham and Kelce, the contracts were their third as Eagles. The lesson: The Eagles want to draft well, develop their players, and retain their own.
“We’re a team that wants to keep players,” Roseman said. “We want our players to stay here and remain part of the family. That’s important to us.”
BEING CREATIVE IN THE TRADE MARKET
Roseman is a deal-maker. We all know that. And he’s never been on his game more than in the last month – and that’s saying something for a man who was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year in 2017 – as the Eagles acquired DeSean Jackson in a trade with Tampa Bay on the first day of free agency and then last week traded with Chicago for Howard at the reported cost of a sixth-round draft pick that can become a fifth-rounder in 2020.
Jackson and Howard aren’t the only players acquired via trade who dot this roster. The Eagles paid heavily (three draft picks) to get left tackle Jason Peters from Buffalo in 2009, and he’s been worth every bit of that investment. Cornerback Ronald Darby was acquired in a trade with Buffalo prior to the 2017 season and played an integral part in the Super Bowl LII season. Safety Deiondre’ Hall, primarily a special teams player last season, came via trade last summer from Chicago.
There are many ways to build a roster and the Eagles have never, ever been averse to making moves in the trade market.
It’s worth noting that placekicker Jake Elliott was signed from Cincinnati’s practice squad early in the 2017 season and he’s been outstanding in two seasons here. Add in cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc, acquired off waivers last season from Detroit, and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill (2016) and you understand that the Eagles will look in every possible corner for talent they can add to the roster.
WINNING IN FREE AGENCY
The Eagles were well prepared for the onset of free agency and, in fact, were prepared for moves made before free agency started as evidenced by the signing of veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson. Had the Eagles not scouted Jackson and given him a performance grade, they would have in no way been prepared to sign Jackson to a new contract only a few days after Jackson was released by Jacksonville.
Once free agency started and the Eagles made the trade for Jackson and dealt defensive end Michael Bennett and a 2020 seventh-round draft pick to New England for a fifth-round draft pick in 2020, they took a more measured approach to adding to the roster. Linebacker L.J. Fort, who emerged with Pittsburgh after years as an NFL journeyman, signed a three-year deal to provide depth and competition. Darby tested free agency and then came back to the Eagles on a one-year contract. Curry, who played last year with Tampa Bay, signed back with the Eagles for 2019. Safety Andrew Sendejo, a starter in Minnesota who suffered a groin injury last season, joined the Eagles for 2019.
Along the way, the Eagles saw quarterback Nick Foles, wide receiver Golden Tate, and linebacker Jordan Hicks sign big deals elsewhere in free agency, so compensatory draft picks will be coming for the Eagles in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Other key players on this roster signed in free agency through the years: safety Malcolm Jenkins (2014), offensive guard Brandon Brooks, linebacker Nigel Bradham and safety Rodney McLeod (2016), and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and defensive end Chris Long (2017).
AND ALSO …
By thinking creatively, the Eagles created room within the salary cap and completed other laundry-list items that will pay dividends this season: They re-structured the contract of safety Rodney McLeod, a valuable piece on defense, to ensure his return in 2019. They signed linebacker Paul Worrilow, a veteran with extensive starting experience, for one year after he missed all of 2018 with a knee injury. They answered the question on the return of Peters for another season by re-working his contract and giving themselves a three-deep look at left tackle with Peters as the starter, Halapoulivaati Vaitai as a capable backup, and with second-year man Jordan Mailata an intriguing developmental player.
There are some players here who weren’t drafted who were then signed by the Eagles that have paid off as well, like long snapper Rick Lovato, punter Cameron Johnston, and running back Corey Clement.
WHAT IT MEANS LOOKING AHEAD
Anything is possible. The Eagles are aggressive, they’re creative, they’re working from a position of strength with a roster that is in good shape at every position, and, well, anybody who says they think they know what’s going to happen between now and the end of the NFL Draft is fudging. Nobody knows. That’s what makes April 25-27 so enticing. The Eagles have the means to do as they want and work from a position of strength during the most important offseason weekend of the year.