Good morning. The big wave of free agency will close by the end of the weekend (how much different is the NFL from MLB?), but there’s still value to be found and upgrades to make during the coming weeks before the draft.

This is a special Friday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86), wide receiver Golden Tate (19), injured quarterback Carson Wentz, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews (80) greeting each other before a December game.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86), wide receiver Golden Tate (19), injured quarterback Carson Wentz, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews (80) greeting each other before a December game.

Free-agency updates

The Eagles haven’t been too active since Wednesday’s newsletter. The previously reported transactions became official and the Eagles added L.J. Fort, who should help on special teams and provide depth at linebacker, but there’s still no starting running back or established starter elsewhere whom the Eagles have added.

They saw Tevin Coleman sign in San Francisco, and though options remain at running back on the free-agent market (T.J. Yeldon, Spencer Ware), they might find more value on the trade market (Duke Johnson, Jordan Howard).

There’s little reason to panic on March 15, but the Eagles should address the position soon. If they wait until the draft, they might miss the running back they want and be left in a situation like 2017, when they looked for patchwork solutions. It worked because they could sign LeGarrette Blount in May and trade for Jay Ajayi at the deadline, but it’s not a given those options are possible.

The Eagles also saw the exits of Golden Tate to the Giants and Jordan Matthews to the 49ers. Neither player was expected back, especially after the Eagles traded for DeSean Jackson and kept Nelson Agholor. Both Tate and Matthews will count in the compensatory-pick formula for the Eagles, if you’re keeping track. (However, don’t go throwing a victory parade about a possible 2020 compensatory pick for Tate; the Eagles surrendered a 2019 third-round pick to acquire him in November.)

‘Cheetahs don’t stretch’

DeSean Jackson’s introductory news conference was Thursday, and he discussed his excitement about returning to Philadelphia, his maturity since he left the Eagles, his new teammates, and even getting back his No. 10. Jackson’s best line came when discussing the way he takes care of his body now compared to when he was younger.

“At a young age, you don’t have to look at how I’m taking care of my body, how I’m resting, how much I’m partying,” Jackson said. “As you get older, you mature, you wake up and say ‘my body’s hurting a little more,’ maybe I need to sit in the hot tub longer, maybe I need to get to work earlier, get on the field and go stretch. Little things like that.

"As a young kid, when I was 24, I could wake up out of my bed and go run. I used to always say, ‘Cheetahs don’t stretch.’ I looked at myself as a cheetah. But now I’m a little older, these joints hurt a little more.”

This was insightful from Jackson, who has not played 16 games in a season since he left Philadelphia. He’s here because of his deep speed and big-play ability, and he must do everything he can to preserve them.

Jackson explained how his offseason track training is key in keeping his speed. His production shows that he’s still beating teams deep, but if that part of his game starts to slip, Jackson would not be nearly as effective.

Draft update

Now that the trades are official, the Eagles are down to seven picks in April’s draft. The sixth-rounder that went to Tampa Bay in the DeSean Jackson trade was a compensatory selection, so the Eagles kept their original pick. Here’s an updated look at their picks:

1st round: No. 25

2nd round: No. 53 (Ravens’ pick, acquired in 2018 draft-day trade)

2nd round, No. 57

4th round, No. 127

4th round, No. 138 (compensatory pick)

5th round, No. 163

6th round, No. 197

The Eagles also will have eight picks in 2020, including an extra fifth-rounder from New England in the Michael Bennett deal, and a seventh-rounder from Tampa Bay in the Jackson trade. The Eagles don’t have their original seventh-round pick because it went to New England with Bennett.

DeSean Jackson laughs during his press conference.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
DeSean Jackson laughs during his press conference.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

“How do the Birds view Jordan Mailata? He seemed to show lots of promise in camp and the preseason last year. Would the team consider him as an heir apparent to Peters?” – Dave, via email

The Eagles are certainly intrigued and encouraged by Jordan Mailata, who was like a blank canvas when he came to Philadelphia last spring. He learned the position and showed considerable promise through training camp and the preseason.

But he still needs more work and development to say he can replace Jason Peters at left tackle. Re-signing Peters gives the Eagles more time to evaluate and develop Mailata. The Eagles will manage Peters’ work during the summer, giving Mailata even more time.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the top reserve at offensive tackle, although his contract is up after the season. The Eagles can extend him, but Vaitai might be best as a swing tackle.

Mailata has a rare combination of size and athletic traits, and if he continues on this track, I can see him as Peters’ eventual replacement. That could come in 2020, but it’s not set in stone yet. Mailata needs to continue in the right direction for that to happen.