INDIANAPOLIS — One of the Eagles’ top offseason priorities — maybe their top offseason priority — even ahead of adding speed at wide receiver and finding some trustworthy cornerbacks and improving their pass rush, is figuring out how to reduce the number of injuries they’ve been hit with the last two years.
They’ve replaced members of their medical and training staffs and are examining every aspect of their football operation, from the types of cleats their players wear to the stretching they do before practices and games, their weightlifting regimen, their calcium intake, and their family medical histories.
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They intend to approach both free agency and the draft much more conservatively than in the past with respect to injuries.
Previously, they’ve been willing to take chances on players coming off injuries because it allowed them the opportunity to get some bargains, including cornerback Sidney Jones, a top-15 player they got in the second round of the 2017 draft because he had torn an Achilles tendon before the draft.
The problem is, that doesn’t do them much good late in the season when that player is on injured reserve or rehabbing a hamstring strain. The same goes for older injury-prone players like DeSean Jackson.
At both his postseason news conference and again last week at the scouting combine, general manager Howie Roseman trotted out the “hope is not a strategy when it comes to injuries’’ line.
"When you bring guys in that are injured,’’ Roseman said in January, “it obviously increases the risk that they will get hurt again.’’
While the Eagles obviously were paying close attention to the 40-yard dash times of the wideouts and cornerbacks at the NFL scouting combine last week, the two most important aspects of the combine for them were the medical examinations and the player interviews.
The Eagles are expected to remove a lot more players from their draft board this year than before for medical and off-the-field reasons.
A good example is Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault who is projected as a first- or second-round pick. But after running a 4.58-second 40 at the combine, it was revealed that he had a core muscle injury. He had surgery over the weekend and is looking at a 6-to-8-week rehab. But given the Eagles’ recent history with core injuries – DeSean Jackson, Mack Hollins – there is a good chance they will remove Shenault from their draft board, or at least move him down a round or two.
“To sit there and think that something is automatically going to change and you’re going to change a person — either their character or their [medical] history — is a big risk,’’ Roseman said. “If you’re going to do something like that, the resource you put into it, you’ve got to be willing to say there’s a good chance this won’t work out.
“We have to learn from it, and maybe for a period of time, go back to studying, especially when we have new [medical and training] people here, and figuring out what kind of injuries we’re good at figuring out and what are the things that translate going forward instead of sitting here and thinking we have all the answers. That hasn’t worked.
“As we look to this offseason and this draft class, the amount of resources we put into those types of guys will be very little.’’
The Eagles are going to draft a tight end next month. It could be Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant. It could be Washington’s Hunter Bryant. It could be somebody else. But they will be drafting a tight end.
Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are one of the league’s best tight-end tandems. But one of them – probably Ertz – figures to be gone after the 2021 season, when both are scheduled to be free agents.
The position is expected to move up a few tax brackets soon when the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the 49ers’ George Kittle sign new contracts. Kittle will be a free agent after next season. Kelce’s contract expires after the 2021 season, but the Chiefs already are talking to him about a bank-breaking extension.
Ertz won’t command quite as much as Kelce and Kittle, but he’ll be at the top of the next tier. If he continues his impressive development, Goedert will be right there with them.
Even with the salary cap expected to take a big jump soon when the league negotiates new TV deals, the Eagles aren’t expected to be willing to invest the type of cap space it would take to keep both Ertz and Goedert beyond 2021. One, absolutely. Both, no.
Doug Pederson used 12-personnel (two tight ends) and 13-personnel (three tight ends) 55.7% of the time this season. That was far and away the most since he became the Eagles’ head coach.
But a lot of that was out of necessity because of the injury problems at wide receiver. The truth is, Pederson is an 11-personnel (1 RB, 1TE, 3WR) guy at heart.
Ertz has been with the Eagles since they drafted him in the second round out of Stanford in 2013. He’s 29 and is coming off an 88-catch, 916-yard, six-touchdown season, and would love to spend his entire career with one team. But he knows that doesn’t happen very often in the National Football League.
A lot of Eagles fans watched J.J. Arcega-Whiteside struggle as a rookie and quickly concluded that the Eagles made a big mistake taking the Stanford wide receiver in the second round of the 2019 draft.
The reality is none of us knows yet whether Arcega-Whiteside’s 10-catch season was just a case of a rookie struggling a bit with the transition to the pro game or whether he’s just not that good. We’ll have a clearer idea this time next year.
Raiders general manager Mike Mayock pointed out several reasons why wide receivers tend to struggle as rookies.
“For starters, you have the lack of quality press coverage in college football,’’ he said. “When you’ve got a grown man trying to keep you from getting off the line of scrimmage who’s competent, long and tough, that’s different than what you were used to in college.
“Secondly, when you’re able to get off the line of scrimmage, the picture changes. The coverage changes. You could go from being the third option on the backside to the first option on the front side. And you have to filter that on the run without slowing down.
“Why do some guys not look as quick as they were in college? Usually, because they’re confused. They don’t know where they’re going. There’s a lot more to digest when you’re trying to learn an NFL offense than there was in college. In college, half of them are looking over to the sideline presnap. They have their own individual coach telling them what route to run.
“Here, you better get in there and get in the huddle and learn [all] three [wide receiver] positions, not one.’’
Former Eagles players Connor Barwin, Brent Celek and Darren Sproles were at the scouting combine this past week evaluating players along with the rest of the Eagles’ scouts and coaches.
Barwin, the edge rusher who played for the Eagles from 2013-16 and became an important part of the Philadelphia community, was hired last month as the assistant to general manager Howie Roseman. His role is similar to the one another former Eagle, Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins, held in 2017 when he briefly was considering scouting and player development as a career.
Celek, a tight end who retired after the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory following the 2017 season, and Sproles, a running back who retired this year, both will serve initially as part-time personnel consultants.
“When we looked at our team over the last few years, we had a lot of players that we felt could do more when their careers were over; that still had a lot to give,’’ Roseman said.
Roseman said Barwin always has been a guy who was interested in the dynamics of the front office.
“He’s a smart guy, and hard-working,’’ he said. “As both a player and now, he’s there early in the morning and stays until late at night. “When Andy [Weidl, vice president of player personnel) came back from the Senior Bowl, he said, ‘Man, Connor and Celek, they just fit in.’
“They’re all blue-collar, hard-working guys. With Celek and Sproles, those guys have shown a desire to do it but maybe don’t have the time right now to be in there every day. So [they’ll] maybe not [have] as big a role to start with. But they’re all just really smart, good people.