WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Howie Roseman stood with his back to the Atlantic Ocean. The waves crashing upon the beach at The Breakers as the general manager spoke could have symbolized the Eagles’ measured approach to the offseason thus far.
“I look at team building. And that’s what we’re doing right now, we’re building,” Roseman said Monday at the NFL owners’ meetings. “We’re not in the go-for-it situation, all-in situation. We have too many resources. We have too many good young players to be like that.”
The Eagles went into the start of the new league year earlier this month with their sights set on about five top-tier free agents. They figured they could sign two, maybe three. Upgrading the pass rush was a priority, and they signed linebacker Haason Reddick to a three-year, $45 million contract.
But they fell short with their other targets, either because they didn’t offer as much as their competition or because the players preferred other teams. Roseman, though, said he wouldn’t push needs simply to make a splash or appease do-anything fans for several seasons, the three most prominent being:
— Free agents, especially the ones who sign early, are often overpaid.
— The Eagles have three first-round selections and five of the first 83 picks in next month’s draft.
— He viewed the extensions he gave to four 2018 draft picks last season as part of this offseason.
While the contracts signed by tackle Jordan Mailata, defensive end Josh Sweat, tight end Dallas Goedert, and cornerback Avonte Maddox factored into the Eagles’ roster and salary cap plans for 2022, their deals are structured as to not inflict much pain in the short term. All told, the four account for just over $14 million this season.
The Eagles had cap space to make moves, and they tried. Wide receiver Christian Kirk and safety Marcus Williams received offers, but the Eagles, ultimately, didn’t match the deals the Cardinals (four years, $72 million) and Ravens (five years, $70 million), respectively, gave the free agents.
They had other contingency plans and looked into the trade market. But Reddick ended up being the only new face that came in the first wave of free agency.
“We looked into a bunch of opportunities,” Roseman said. “Some of them we felt like just weren’t the right fit for us, whether from a cost perspective or a position perspective. And I would just say this: We’re not even to April.”
The Eagles did add two players during the second wave, signing receiver Zach Pascal and inside linebacker Kyzir White to one-year contracts. But those seemingly cost-effective moves were offset, in the eyes of some, by Roseman circling back and re-signing underperformers like defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Derek Barnett.
“You can’t just go into free agency and say, ‘Alright, we have a particular need at this position, let’s just sign somebody to feel better about it,’ and that guy’s not good enough,” Roseman said. “Some of the guys that we circled back on … we felt were positions that those guys did a solid job for us in the role that they have, and it takes some of the pressure off.
“But it doesn’t preclude us from also going into the draft and say, ‘Let’s take this position.’”
The three first-rounders
The Eagles, though, still have some glaring holes at safety and cornerback. Roseman is likely to continue the trend of signing veterans to one-year, prove-it contracts at those positions so that he doesn’t have to force picks.
But he also doesn’t want to have to redshirt too many top choices. Last year, for instance, first-round receiver DeVonta Smith started in Week 1, second-round guard Landon Dickerson started by Week 3, partly because of injury, and third-round defensive tackle Milton Williams played meaningful snaps all season.
“When you have the amount of high picks that we have, we don’t want to block these players from play time,” Roseman said. “We don’t want to get into a situation where we’re drafting guys in the first, second and even sometimes in the third rounds and they don’t have an ability to play, because you’re wasting a contract year.”
Roseman didn’t tip his hand as to whether he’ll use all three of his first-rounders — picks 15, 16 and 19. There is a belief that he’ll trade back with at least one to create additional first-round capital for the 2023 draft when there are supposed to be more talented quarterbacks.
But first-round picks were flying off the shelves this offseason, with multiple teams trading for elite quarterbacks and receivers.
The Eagles had interest in the two quarterbacks who fetched the most — Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson — but the feeling was not mutual. The team was never able to engage in talks with either their respective teams or the players, who had no-trade clauses, and Wilson went to the Denver Broncos and Watson to the Cleveland Browns.
Roseman didn’t address the Eagles’ efforts in regard to Wilson and Watson. He and coach Nick Sirianni have endorsed Jalen Hurts as the starter since the end of last season. While they were open to on-paper upgrade, ultimately the odds favored the return of the third-year quarterback.
“I don’t know that we ever wavered from the level of commitment that we’ve had in Jalen,” Roseman said. “I think when we say he’s our guy, he’s our starter and we believe in him, and we have to do whatever we can to help him and give him a chance to reach his potential. I don’t think that’s changed one bit.”
The draft is a possibility but seems unlikely considering the mixed evaluations on the top prospects and whether any would represent an improvement.
The Hurts reality has played into the Eagles’ rebuilding approach. Wilson or Watson would have immediately sped up the process. But Roseman would have had to sacrifice multiple first-round picks to get either. Retaining the soon-to-be-24-year-old Hurts allows the Eagles to strengthen their non-quarterback foundation.
The receiver market
Asked about the narrative that Hurts made the Eagles less attractive to free-agent receivers, Roseman said that the likelihood that Smith, Goedert, and receiver Quez Watkins would garner more targets this season might have been more the factor.
“For us, we’re looking at, how do we get these guys more involved? … That doesn’t mean we can’t use more weapons,” Roseman said.
The Eagles did have preliminary negotiations with the Falcons to trade for Calvin Ridley before the receiver was suspended for gambling. They made offers to Kirk and Allen Robinson. And they had other feelers out. But, so far, they’ve only added reserve Zach Pascal.
The price for receivers, whether via trade or in free agency, has been exorbitant. There’s still time to add bodies, but the draft is expected to be deep at the position once again. And Roseman’s statement about increasing targets suggests the Eagles hope to pass more than they did in 2022.
Addressing the D-line
While Roseman’s swings in the receiver market went against his normal habits, that he would focus on the defensive line did not. Reddick, who recorded 23 ½ sacks over the last two seasons, represents an upgrade over Derek Barnett.
But Barnett didn’t leave via free agency, as many, including himself, expected. The former first-rounder didn’t miss a game last season for the first time in his career, but he recorded only two sacks, and was again a penalty-making machine. The rest of the league paid notice and the Eagles brought him back on a two-year deal likely indicative of his demotion to rotational reserve.
“I think the perception of Derek is probably not fair with the reality,” Roseman said. “He’s a guy that I think, if you’re looking at a different team, and you have a 26-year-old defensive end coming off his not best year, we kind of look at that and go, ‘Alright, maybe that’s an opportunity.’
“Obviously, playing time coming in is ideal, fits Philly, understands the perception of him and the fouls in untimely moments. But this is a guy who certainly can contribute to a great defensive line. We’ve seen it with us. I think going into free agency he probably thought differently about where he would be.”
» READ MORE: Eagles re-sign Derek Barnett to a two-year contract
Cox was released two weeks ago before a roster bonus was to trigger an $18 million guaranteed figure. But the Eagles re-signed him several days later to a one-year, $14 million deal. They had tried to trade the 31-year-old, just as they tried before the trade deadline in October, but his contract scared off interested teams.
Cox has regressed, and while he played better down the stretch last season, it’s unclear who the Eagles were vying with when he hit free agency. They still believe he has enough gas in the tank.
The Eagles have eaten about $100 million in dead money against their salary cap in the last two seasons. No other team has a higher figure. Roseman, though, said the number doesn’t accurately reflect his business dealings.
“I think this whole perception of dead money is something that we have a different interpretation on,” Roseman said. “For us, when you look at it, you’re taking the money no matter what on these guys. First, you have to be right on the evaluation of the player, and obviously, that’s the most important thing here.
“Have we been perfect on our extensions? No, obviously, not. We traded a player with a big money cap hit last year [Carson Wentz] and we signed him early. … If we’re signing five guys early and we’re hitting on four of those five guys on those deals and saving money by doing them early, we’re going to do them every time.”
Roseman conceded that some of the extensions he gave or his practice of pushing money into future years have come back to haunt the Eagles. But he also cited the team’s efforts to capitalize on the 2017 Super Bowl victory and the pandemic, which started just before he signed cornerback Darius Slay and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to big deals, as reasons for the residual cost.
He said he believes the Eagles are more fiscally sound and are moving in the right direction.
“Coming out of ‘17 and ‘18, we tried to be aggressive,” Roseman said. “We knew at some point we were going to have to take a step back. I would do that 100 times out of 100 times. If you said to me in the next five years we’re going to go to the playoffs four of the five years, we’re going to win one world championship, and we’re going to have a horrible … year, would I sign up for that?