History says the best teams in the NFL draft well and fill in the blanks in free agency with a judicious use of their funds, strong evaluation of available talent and accurate translation of talent into a new system. The fans, though, see free agency as a time when teams have a chance to upgrade their rosters by spending money and taking chances.
The expectation in league circles is that, no matter the new rules of the collective bargaining agreement, there is going to be veteran talent available. In fact, if the new CBA says that players are unrestricted free agents after four years of league service, there will be an unprecedented depth of talent free to sign with any team.
What does that mean for the Eagles? It means there is a land of opportunity, for sure. The pressure will be on director of pro personnel Louis Riddick and the coaching staff to identify and develop -- quickly -- players who can help this football team in 2011 and beyond.
What it doesn't mean is that the Eagles have to abandon an approach that has served them well over the years, and that is to be smart about the players they take serious runs to sign. There is no reason for the Eagles to sign every available player just because they are going to have some breathing room within the salary cap and some well-defined areas that can be improved on the roster.
The core of the roster here is built through the draft. The Eagles are laden with young talent that is the basis of the team's hopes for years to come. I wouldn't suggest, for example, that the Eagles go out and sign a right offensive guard just because they can. They invested a first-round draft pick in Danny Watkins with the expectation of seeing him step in and make an early contribution. Why change course because of free agency?
In this very unusual and unsettling offseason, teams have had a lot of time to plot their futures. And the teams that are going to benefit the most from that added chance to step back and plan ahead are the ones who had a vision and who are steadfast in sticking with their blueprint. Certainly, there has to be some flexibility within the blueprint -- teams aren't going to get every player they want to add -- but the teams that will move forward the most are the teams that map out and execute their strategies the best.
So what should the Eagles do in free agency? They should look for impact, no matter the position. I'm not here to name names or start some wild and unsubstantiated speculation. I'm here to wonder what the approach is going to be. My guess is that the Eagles will sign two to three free agents expecting those players to make an immediate contribution.
Look, the most successful offseason we can remember in recent years in free agents came prior to the 2004 campaign. The Eagles traded for wide receiver Terrell Owens. They signed defensive end Jevon Kearse and linebacker Dhani Jones in free agency. They added three instant-impact players and went on to a dominating regular season and an NFC Championship and, of course, a date in the Super Bowl with New England.
Why not have that kind of offseason ahead? Trade for a starter. Sign a couple more in free agency, and let's see just how good this team will be in the year -- and years -- ahead. It sounds like a good plan from this perspective, but who knows how things are going to play out in a wacky period of time that no doubt will greet NFL teams leading into the regular season?