Good morning. It’s now the busiest part of the NFL offseason. The offseason program started at the NovaCare Complex this week, the NFL will reveal the schedule tonight, and the draft will begin a week from tomorrow.
— Zach Berman
The NFL schedule will come out tonight, which is an important day on the offseason calendar because Eagles fans begin making travel plans (and figuring out their way around real-life conflicts). You can begin making your record predictions, a futile exercise in April that is nonetheless popular. We’ll engage, too.
As a reminder, the opponents are already set — it’s just the dates that are not yet known. Here are the opponents:
Home: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks.
Away: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings.
The first places many teams look when the schedule comes out are the Thursday night game and the bye week. The Thursday game is a short week, so teams want to be home and don’t want to travel far if they’re on the road. The timing of the bye week is important because it gives teams a chance to rest and recover.
There’s sometimes a hope of avoiding a team with a new coach in Week 1 because there’s less of an idea about how that team will look. (The Jets, Packers, and Dolphins are the only teams to fit in that category for the Eagles.) The end-of-season games will come against NFC East rivals.
For fans, the travel destinations are always a draw. If you haven’t been to Lambeau Field, it’s an incredible place to watch an NFL game. This will be the Eagles’ first visit to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened last year. And it’ll be a memorable return to Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Eagles won the Super Bowl last year.
Carson Wentz has watched all his passes from last season, but when he’s looking for areas to improve in 2019, he’s less focused on any statistical or qualitative benchmark. It’s about getting healthy after finishing the past two seasons on the sideline.
“I don’t necessarily look back and say I’ve got to change and do this or that,” Wentz said. “But just keep getting better. First and foremost, I want to get healthy and put everything behind me. … Just find a way to win a ball game. I’m not going to get caught up in stats or Xs and Os.”
Wentz didn’t have much time in the offseason program or training camp last year to work on improving on the field or with his teammates. He spent most of the time rehabbing. And though he’s not fully healthy — Les Bowen updated Wentz’s status here — he expects to be back by OTAs next month.
If he has steady work in the offseason program and training camp, it will help Wentz come the season. There won’t be the explanation that he needs to make up for lost time. Interestingly, Wentz said the benefit of being a part of those practice sessions would be with his relationships with teammates. It’s harder to develop that chemistry on the sideline.
“Same kind of things I could last year, just keep developing relationships with the guys, adding input in the playbook,” Wentz said. “Keep growing, as an offense, as a team. And the same idea of leadership organically taking place.”
Wentz’s health and leadership will be watched closely this offseason. When looking at Wentz, it’s important to not be a prisoner of the moment. If he’s taking all his expected snaps on the first day of minicamp in June and training camp in July and the regular season in September, then the April story lines won’t matter. But given his importance to the organization, everything he says and does is highlighted.
I viewed his news conference this week as trying to undersell his recovery — from an information perspective, it’s probably better for Wentz to undersell and overdeliver — but there’s nonetheless intrigue that he’s not yet entirely healthy. Still, he’s able to participate in this part of the offseason program. The next key date to watch is May 21, the first OTA session.
The Eagles have studied the quarterback class closely this offseason, and they want to draft a quarterback every year or other year. They haven’t taken a quarterback since Carson Wentz in 2016.
However, Howie Roseman looks at Nate Sudfeld like a drafted quarterback. Sudfeld was a 2016 sixth-round pick by Washington, which cut him after the preseason in 2017. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad and then promoted him to their active roster in 2017. He’s set to be their 25-year-old backup to a starter who has missed time the past two years.
“When you’re able to find a guy like Nate and develop him, that’s like drafting a quarterback,” Roseman said. “We were able to get Nate in our system, groom him. That was just as good as any quarterback we could have taken in the middle rounds. So we haven’t gotten away from it when we look at it from that perspective.”
I’ve thought a lot about this and asked about this, and truly believe all three are possibilities. In fact, I’d guess a trade either way is more likely than staying at No. 25, although I’d say staying at No. 25 is more probable than either one. (In other words, let’s say a trade down is 30 percent, a trade up is 30 percent, and staying there is 40 percent.) It all depends how the board falls. An early run on quarterbacks and tight ends will push a defensive lineman down into the 20s.
I think they’ll move up if one of the top defensive linemen slides into the mid- or late-teens. I don’t anticipate the Eagles’ trading before 15 because I don’t see them sacrificing too many valuable picks. But if the board looks crowded with similar players at No. 25, I can certainly see the Eagles’ trading back into the second round and trying to add a third-round pick. In that case, they’d have four picks on Day 2 — a good position for them to be in, especially if the talent at No. 25 looks similar to what they could land in the late 30s/early 40s.
I’d go with third defensive tackle, pass-catching running back, and middle linebacker. But I don’t think the Eagles need to push a need, especially early.
Still, I think the Eagles can upgrade the No. 3 defensive tackle, and this is a good draft to do so. If Ed Oliver slipped into the teens, I’d trade up for him. If Christian Wilkins was available in the early 20s, I’d move up a few picks to get him. If Dexter Lawrence or Jerry Tillery is on the board at No. 25, that’s where I’d look. It’s not just hitting a need. It’s value, too.