Good morning. The quiet time is finished. I write this from Indianapolis, where the Eagles and the rest of the NFL convene for the next week for the annual scouting combine. Howie Roseman will have a 12:30 p.m. news conference and Doug Pederson will follow at 12:45, so expect many Eagles stories in the coming days. Follow Philly.com for the latest updates.
— Zach Berman
This will be a busy week for the Eagles at the combine, both in evaluating the prospects and preparing their offseason plan, given the collection of other team officials and player agents all in the same place.
This is the year of the defensive linemen in the draft. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Eagles scout, lists his top four prospects as defensive linemen/edge rushers, and 10 in his top 22. It’s good news for the Eagles, who have aging defensive ends (their top three by the end of the season were at least 30 years old) and uncertainty at defensive tackle next to Fletcher Cox, given Tim Jernigan’s contract situation. If I had to place a bet on the Eagles’ first-round pick right now, I’d say it will be a defensive lineman.
There’s also depth in this offensive-line class. That’s an area the Eagles must watch closely, too. They need to determine whether Jason Peters will be their left tackle in 2019 and if Jason Kelce will come back for another season, and there’s also the reality of Brandon Brooks recovering from a major injury.
The running-back class will be a big story in Philadelphia. The Eagles haven’t invested a top-60 pick in a running back since LeSean McCoy in 2009, and with three picks in the first two rounds this season, they could have an opportunity to do so. They shouldn’t force it if there’s not one there they like, but you’ll hear much about Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary during the next two months.
Other than the prospects, the biggest Eagles story this week will be whether they use the franchise tag on Nick Foles or let him reach free agency. But there are other major decisions the Eagles must make, whether it’s with Peters, Jernigan, Nelson Agholor, Brandon Graham, Ronald Darby, or Jordan Hicks — the list goes on. That’s why it will be so interesting to hear what Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson say Wednesday.
The Eagles finalized changes on their coaching staff and in their front office this week. Some of the moves had already been reported, such as Phillip Daniels’ promotion to defensive line and Carson Walch’s promotion to wide receivers coach. Other moves have names you might remember, such as former Eagles long snapper Mike Bartrum, named assistant tight ends coach, and former practice-squad quarterback G.J. Kinne, working on special projects for offense.
But the most notable addition was Andrew Berry to the Eagles’ front office as vice president of football operations. Berry now has the highest post in football operations under Howie Roseman — it’s important to note this is a different department from Joe Douglas, who is vice president of player personnel — and comes to the Eagles from Cleveland, where he was vice president of player personnel. So he’s had a big role in a front office, albeit for a struggling Browns team with a data-driven emphasis.
The Eagles are similarly an organization that embraces analytics, and Berry’s title suggests a big role in Philadelphia. Berry has a scouting background with Indianapolis, too. My understanding is no one lost his job to bring Berry in; the Eagles were focused on just adding talent to the front office.
The Eagles made a few transactions since the last Early Birds, all on special teams. They re-signed kicker Jake Elliott and long snapper Rich Lovato, and they released Chris Maragos.
All these moves were expected. Elliott and Lovato were exclusive-rights free agents, so they weren’t going anywhere. They’ll become restricted free agents after next season. If Elliott has a good season in 2019, my guess is the Eagles will try to lock him up and make him their long-term kicker.
Maragos hasn’t played since October 2017 and has had two surgeries, but his career with the Eagles deserves more than a line on the daily transaction sheet. He joined the Eagles in 2014 and was a key special-teams player, a team captain, and a respected presence in the locker room. Maragos was a walk-on at two colleges, an undrafted free agent in the NFL who spent time on practice squads, and he now has two Super Bowl rings (Seahawks, Eagles). The Eagles struggled to replace him on special teams after his 2017 injury and need to find another player like him.
I like this question because it also shows how the Eagles build their roster: from the inside out, with the lines and quarterback a priority. In Howie Roseman’s time in charge of personnel (2010 to now, with 2015 the exception), the Eagles have used seven first-round picks. One was a quarterback (Carson Wentz), two were offensive linemen (Danny Watkins, Lane Johnson), and four were defensive linemen/edge rushers (Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Marcus Smith, Derek Barnett). My guess is that last category gets a fifth name this year.
So, to your question: Can they hit on a position outside of those players? You have a better chance of hitting on a first-round or second-round pick than you do on a middle-round pick. If you’re talking about an offensive playmaker other than tight end, they used high picks on Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews in recent years, and though both players have been productive, neither has developed into a Pro Bowler. You need to go back to 2009, when the Eagles took Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy with their top two picks, and in 2008, when they took DeSean Jackson.
I think the Eagles will be in position to take a running back like that this year. It depends on if the talent is there. Whether it’s Devin Singletary or David Montgomery or someone else, there could be a few running backs in the second round who would be appealing to them. (I don’t think they’ll take Josh Jacobs in the first round because of the emphasis on the lines and the talent in the class.)
If they wait until the fourth round, there’s more risk. They could end up with a starter, or they could miss as they did with Donnel Pumphrey.
I don’t know if they’ll find that wide receiver you’re looking for unless they spend their first-round pick on him. With that said, there are intriguing options via trade and in free agency. I’d take a hard look at John Ross on the trade market. Just two years ago, he was setting records at the combine with speed and was a top-10 pick. He’s only 24. I know he’s been injured, but he’s an intriguing talent for the Eagles.