Head coach Doug Pederson met with reporters Wednesday at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix for over an hour. You can watch the entire media session in the video above, but here are the four key takeaways from his address.
1. Carson Wentz's Progression
The biggest storyline for the Eagles heading into the 2017 season is clear - What is the next step for Carson Wentz?
The Eagles' quarterback made a name for himself quickly during his rookie campaign after being named the team's starting quarterback just a handful of days before the season opener against Cleveland. But after a whirlwind first season, there's a next step that Wentz must take as a leader and face of the Eagles' franchise, and Coach Pederson is eagerly looking forward to seeing that progression.
"The biggest thing is the fact that he's finally had an offseason to catch his breath," Pederson said. "He rolled through FCS Championship, Senior Bowl, Combine, workouts, OTAs right into Training Camp, so there was no downtime for him.
"So for him to just be able to exhale, catch his breath, come into this offseason knowing that he's the starter, not having to guess if he's going to be the starter, it's big for him. It's part of his maturity. It's part of the growth at that position and we definitely want to see incremental process. It's not going to be an overnight change, obviously, but it's going to be that each day we're getting him ready to go for day one, for opening day. I know he's excited to get back, all the guys are excited to get back and get going with this thing. … I don't think that there's much that he has to do (differently) because he stepped in day one last year and the guys looked at him and said, 'Okay, you're our guy.'"
Wentz has a healthy obsession with the game of football, and since there will be even more on his plate in terms of expectations in Year 2, Pederson asked Wentz to simply just get away and relax during the offseason in order to come back to the NovaCare Complex completely refreshed.
"It's like I tell every player. Get away. Relax," Pederson said. "I don't want to see you, you don't need to see me. Get out of the building, go on vacation, heal up, rest, do all of those things that you need to do and be ready to come back fresh on April 17. Take some time for yourself. For him it's hard because he wants to throw every day. You say take some time away and don't touch the ball. Come back ready to go, and we're excited.
"I can tell you this, Carson will be ready to go April 17. He'll want to get on that field in Phase One. I think for him coming in this second year, from a leadership standpoint and the face of the franchise, the organization, he embraces that. I think this will be big in terms of the way he talks and handles the guys around him offensively, defensively. Obviously he's capable of doing that. I think too that by him going through 16 games last year, there's a level of maturity. We're always looking to improve and get better there."
2. How Off-Field Concerns Cloud The Evaluation Process
If Joe Mixon didn't cold-cock Amelia Molitor breaking four bones in her face in the process, the former Oklahoma star would be in the discussion with Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, and Christian McCaffrey as to who will be the first running back selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.
But Mixon did, and the video is public for whomever wants to view it. NFL teams must decide whether the talent is worth the controversy that will follow Mixon to his professional team.
"I've watched him a little bit this offseason. He's a talented player. Very explosive. Got good hands out of the backfield," Pederson said. "You put him in there with a lot of these backs who are coming out, dynamic, exciting back to watch."
But it's not just about on-field ability when it comes to not only Mixon, but every draft prospect.
"You're looking for guys who can fit into your system. You're always looking to add talent to your roster, but at the same time you have to make sure you're doing your homework on these players," Pederson said.
"We're always trying to better our roster. With a player like that, those are things that we do our homework on these players and you want to make sure it's the right fit for any team, not only our team, but he's an explosive player. He's dynamic, and I know someone will give him an opportunity."
The Eagles have Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Byron Marshall, and Terrell Watson at running back. Mathews is coming off a serious injury, and the team could look for a back in a draft class that is chock-full of talented rushers.
Pederson said that what teams looks for in running backs have changed over the years. The Eagles would relish a running back who can run between the tackles, get to the outside, stay on the field for all three downs, pass protect, run routes, and catch the ball.
Another off-field concern that teams must weigh in the draft process in injury history. Wide receiver John Ross broke the Combine record for the fastest time in the 40-yard dash. He has, however, suffered a torn ACL, torn meniscus, and recently underwent surgery for a torn labrum. At least as far as the Eagles are concerned, Ross' medical report won't take him off the draft board.
"With the sports science that is evolving today, I know what we do in our building, it's something that we monitor. We can help players obviously," Pederson said. "Jason Peters, played all 16 games last year and played at a high level, so there's ways of keeping these guys healthy and keep them on the football field."
It's one thing to evaluate talent. It's another to gauge how a player will fit into a team's program from a mental and physical standpoint, and it proves to be the biggest challenge at this time of the year.
3. More Protection For Carson Wentz
The primary goal this offseason has been to surround quarterback Carson Wentz with as much talent as possible. The Eagles have succeeded to this point by adding wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to the lineup, but there's one position group that is much deeper going into 2017 - the offensive line.
"It's exciting going into Year 2 that those guys are still intact," Pederson said.
The starting five linemen who opened the 2016 season are still on the roster with Jason Peters and Lane Johnson manning the tackle spots, Allen Barbre and Brandon Brooks at guard, and Jason Kelce coming off his second Pro Bowl season at center.
But the buzzword that you will read often between now and the start of the season when it comes to the offensive line is competition. Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Stefen Wisniewski combined to start a season's worth of games in 2016.
"The beauty of having guys like that whether they're starters, backups, role players, whatever you want to call them. It just gives you depth at the position and it gives you that competition going into Training Camp, going into the season that you want," Pederson said. "It's a great thing to have veteran players as backups or role players that compete and want to start."
Wisniewski was re-signed to a three-year deal at the start of free agency. The Eagles also added guard Chance Warmack, a former top-10 pick who played his college football under the tutelage of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
This doesn't even include some of the pre-free agency signings such as guards Dallas Thomas (26 career starts) and Josh LeRibeus (12 career starts).
"It creates that competition that we're always looking for and trying to find the best five going into the season," Pederson said.
4. West Coast Travel
One of the newest pieces of information to come from Pederson's media availability regards the Eagles' 2017 schedule. The time and dates for the 2017 NFL season will be released sometime next month (potentially the week of April 17, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter), but before the schedule is officially made, the team did put in one request with the league.
The Eagles are scheduled to play both the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers on the road, and instead of having to travel twice from coast to coast to the same location, the Eagles have requested to have those two games played back to back so the team can stay out west for the week.
"Yeah, looking at the schedule and looking at where we are going, one of the proposals was to try to stay out on the West Coast for two games," Coach Pederson said. "We'll see next month when it comes out if we're able to get that."
Aside from visiting Los Angeles twice, the Eagles will also travel to Seattle for a meeting with the Seahawks.