The 2019 NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix came and went and in the span of a few days the league’s owners approved a radical change to the replay system, giving coaches and officials a chance to review pass interference calls as well as non-calls. That was the big takeaway from a how-the-game-is-played standpoint, along with the banning of all blindside blocks. All of this was done in the name of the game’s integrity and safety, and the new rules are significant. From an Eagles standpoint, what we learned is a bit more nuanced. A review, then …
1. The Eagles are very pleased with the progress they’ve made in the offseason, and they also know they’ve got more work ahead. By retaining key contributors (defensive end Brandon Graham, cornerback Ronald Darby), working out deals with safety Rodney McLeod and left tackle Jason Peters, adding impact with wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive tackle Malik Jackson, improving depth with linebacker L.J. Fort, safety Andrew Sendejo, and defensive end Vinny Curry, the Eagles have improved the roster. “We're excited about what we've done so far in free agency,” Roseman said. “This is a transition from free agency to the draft. We always think about this as we get into kind of our offseason, about being here and transitioning into the draft process.”
2. Roseman answered a question about the age of the free agents the Eagles have added, ranging from 29 to 32, understanding that the free-agent landscape has changed over the years. Teams have more room to sign their own players. Getting a player like offensive guard Brandon Brooks or safety Rodney McLeod is so much more difficult now. “I think the big thing is that you look at the league, and a lot of the free agents who are 26 and 27, they're getting re-signed early, those better players,” Roseman said. “Teams are doing a better job of keeping their own players. And so where you used to have value at that point, there is now value in older guys. You look at the Super Bowl, you look at the Rams, they added four or five guys in the pro player market, their left tackle, their center, their starting corner, their nose tackle, who are all over 30. So, there is also value in having good players. Players are playing longer, the science is better and keeping those guys healthier, and so you have opportunity to get these guys.”
3. Running back? It’s a position many out there are talking about, but the Eagles seem genuinely fine with what they have on the roster, believing that Corey Clement will come back from his knee injury just fine, that Josh Adams will take a significant step forward in his second season – remember, he missed the spring practices and some of Training Camp and still led the team in rushing yards – and that Wendell Smallwood will continue to be productive when called upon. The running back-by-committee approach has worked for head coach Doug Pederson, and with a strong offensive line and an explosive receiving corps, it can work in 2019. But, the Eagles are keeping their eyes open through the rest of free agency, the draft and any trade opportunities that might arise.
4. Joint practices with Baltimore! Again! It’s always good to see another team and break up the monotony of Training Camp, so the Eagles will host the Ravens at the NovaCare Complex this summer. Dates not yet set. Good chance to work against a premier defense and a running game that brings an extremely physical nature.
5. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie spoke of the team’s draft “volume,” and it makes sense. Unless you have a chance to add a franchise-altering player, as the Eagles did in 2016 when they drafted quarterback Carson Wentz, you try to accumulate as many picks as possible. And that’s what the Eagles are doing, especially in 2020 when they are expected to receive compensatory picks for losing quarterback Nick Foles, wide receiver Golden Tate, and linebacker Jordan Hicks in this year’s free agency. More to come here. Roseman is always keeping the possibility of moving players and picks alive.
6. Cornerback is going to be one of the most competitive positions on the team this summer. Who wins the starting jobs? If Darby is healthy, he’s clearly the first option. Jalen Mills is an incumbent starter who is currently rehabbing an injury. Sidney Jones has a very important summer ahead. Avonte Maddox is looking to take a next step after his impressive rookie season. Cre’Von LeBlanc showed something in the nickel last season. Rasul Douglas made big strides in 2018. And so on … defensive backs coach Cory Undlin has a chance to really bring this group into a new echelon in 2019.
7. Yes, the Eagles have every intention to sign Wentz to a long-term contract extension. No, there is no timetable. But the Eagles sure feel confident about their plans and about Wentz now and for the future.
8. The trade of Michael Bennett to the Patriots brings a fifth-round draft pick in 2020, and the presence of Malik Jackson playing alongside Fletcher Cox will replace some of Bennett’s production. The Eagles love what they’ve got going on along the defensive line. They’re deep and talented and versatile and they can add to the mix in the draft if they choose. It all goes back to what Roseman said of the team’s philosophy: “In a lot of ways, we’re boring. We’re kind of predictable. It’s going to be about the O-line, it’s going to be about the D-line and then we build out from there.” The message: The Eagles are going to be as strong as they can be along the line of scrimmage every season. This year is no different.”
9. What we don’t know is the future of running back Darren Sproles. Head coach Doug Pederson left the door open for Sproles, but it’s really on Sproles as to what his next step is. Same with defensive end Chris Long, who has not indicated his plans for 2019.
10. Lurie was a key influencer in the league’s pass-interference rules for 2019 and he also talked about – potentially – having kelly green as an alternate color in 2020. But he also had some strong words talking about Pederson and the job he’s done. “He continues to impress, he continues to grow,” Lurie said. “Just tremendous respect from his fellow coaches and the players. You know, as an owner, that's what you look for first. You know, I had heard that – one of the research I certainly did and Howie did with Doug, on Doug, was with Andy, and they had a period where they lost six or seven games in Kansas City one year, and he said the most resilient guy on the coaching staff by far, Doug Pederson. I never forgot that, and I thought of it last year when we were struggling a bit. Incredibly poised and optimistic and dealing with ways to straighten out the team and get everybody – and always brings people together.
"He has a dynamic to always bring people together. Nobody is pointing fingers, no one is blaming a sluggish offense or special teams is not doing as well or defense. Nothing like that. Doesn't let it happen. Just what can I say, very, very impressive and terrific guy to work with, and I think surrounds himself with really good people and players around the league have a real good idea of what Doug is all about, genuine, genuine, and in today's world, I don't care what business you're in, when you're genuine and when you're human, when you're honest and you have integrity, it gets back to that word integrity, it's powerful. It's very powerful.” Very well said.