Good morning. This is the period of the offseason when the focus shifts from roster building to on-field workouts. The Eagles host rookie minicamp this weekend and will officially sign their undrafted rookies before the minicamp begins.

This is an offseason 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

The Eagles picked J.J. Arcega-Whiteside 57th overall out of Stanford.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
The Eagles picked J.J. Arcega-Whiteside 57th overall out of Stanford.

J.J. Arecega-Whiteside’s connection to Condoleezza Rice

As a high-school prospect who grew up in South Carolina, J.J. Arecega-Whiteside traveled across the country for a visit to Stanford. Stanford’s reputation for its combination of academics and athletics didn’t need much support, but it also didn’t hurt that Arcega-Whiteside met former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice while on campus.

They shook hands on that trip, and Arcega-Whiteside went to Stanford. It wasn’t the last time he interacted with Rice. In fact, Arcega-Whiteside spent last summer working for Rice, who currently has an office at Stanford. That offered Arcega-Whiteside a résumé unique for a second-round pick. (More important to the Eagles is that he was one of the top wide receivers in the country.)

“I like to say I was her first body of defense,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “Anybody who wanted to contact her, meet with her, they had to go through me first, which was cool, because I got to meet some extraordinary people from around the world.

Arcega-Whiteside, who was an international relations major at Stanford, lived in Spain, Portugal and Italy while his parents played professional basketball. English was his third language. So he already came to the internship with a diverse background. He said he needed to keep some of the people he interacted with confidential, but he admitted he met with ambassadors from Russia and China. He spoke with some of Rice’s closest friends. And he even learned some history he didn’t know – drawing the envy of other interns in the office.

Arcega-Whiteside answered a call from former Secretary of State George Shultz, who served before Arcega-Whiteside was born. He didn’t know Shultz, but he might have been the only one in the office who didn’t make the connection in an office of politicos.

“Everybody’s jaw dropped, and I was like, ‘What? What was going on?’” Arcega-Whiteside said. "They’re like, ‘You just don’t understand who you just talked to.’ ”

The compensatory pick deadline

Tuesday was a noteworthy day on the NFL calendar because it was the last day that free-agent signings count against the compensatory pick formula. The Eagles have paid close attention to this formula and should have at least two compensatory picks next spring. Their biggest signing (Malik Jackson) did not count against the formula because he was released, and they traded for DeSean Jackson and Jordan Howard instead of signing players at those positions.

Now that the deadline passed, the Eagles could look at some high-salaried players who would have hurt their chances at a valuable compensatory pick. The Eagles don’t have glaring holes so there’s not necessarily the need to break the bank, but they could be opportunistic. One position where I think the Eagles could use help is defensive end; they’re relying on Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller, or a down-the-depth chart player such as Deashon Hall or Joe Ostman to be the No. 4 defensive end. But if there’s mutual interest from Ziggy Ansah, a proven pass rusher who has a background with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, it would make a lot of sense. That would be the player I’d target if they’re confident in his health and he’s willing to be a rotational players. That’s the type of signing that would put the Eagles’ pass rush in a much better spot, as long as he’s healthy.

The flip side of this deadline is that Eagles free agents who remain on the market can sign elsewhere and the Eagles won’t receive compensation. So Jay Ajayi can find a deal elsewhere, and it won’t help the Eagles. Same with Stefen Wisniewski, who could even make a sense as a player the Eagles bring back as a versatile interior lineman.

May signings

When Howie Roseman was asked after the draft about not drafting a linebacker or defensive back, the Eagles’ top executive admitted “it’s fair to look at those two groups and say that it’s probably something that we would have liked to have done.” He also noted that the player acquisition season is not finished.

Less than one week later, the Eagles signed linebacker Zach Brown and claimed safety Blake Countess off waivers. Brown is an established starter who immediately bolsters the Eagles linebackers, which had lingering questions after Jordan Hicks’ exit. Countess is the type of rotational safety that the Eagles could use, considering Rodney McLeod is coming off injury and they like to use three-safety formations. (He also has a cornerback background, which is the type of safety the Eagles covet.) They added Andrew Sendejo in free agency and also return Deiondre’ Hall and Tre Sullivan as reserves, but Countess’ experience and special teams ability makes him an intriguing pickup.

One of the Eagles’ prevailing lessons during their Super Bowl season was about how roster building goes beyond the first week of free agency and draft weekend. Think about all the key contributors the Eagles found after those pressure points – Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Graham, Jay Ajayi. Brown and Countess might not have the success of those players, but they were smart moves to make in early May at reasonable prices. (Countess’ contract is not guaranteed.)

Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor stiff arms Washington linebacker Zach Brown.
(Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor stiff arms Washington linebacker Zach Brown.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

The Eagles certainly have a talented team on paper. But much needs to come together, they need to stay healthy, and they need to avoid regression from aging players.

The most important part of the Super Bowl chances must be Carson Wentz staying healthy and playing at his 2017 level. If he’s on the field and healthy, the Eagles should be legitimate contenders. If he’s not, there will be serious questions. (More on that below.)

Also, the Eagles need a consistent pass rush. Without Michael Bennett and Chris Long, they’ll be down two of their most reliable pass rushers from last season. Derek Barnett needs to take a major step in his progression and Brandon Graham must avoid regression. And who emerges as the No. 4 defensive end? The defensive end rotation has more questions than last season. And then Malik Jackson needs to make the difference the Eagles are expecting. The defense is built around the pass rush. If that’s not good enough, the Eagles won’t be good enough.

Finally, they need to survive injuries. Those are inevitable, and they did it in 2017. They weren’t as effective in 2018, especially during the regular season. The Eagles have better depth on paper, but they’re also old in some key spots.

Certainly, they have a team that should be in the Super Bowl discussion. But those are a few things that must go right.

Not as confident as the past two years. Nick Foles was an established quarterback in 2017. Even if he wasn’t the Super Bowl MVP yet, he had been a starter and had played at a high level. Nate Sudfeld has taken 25 career passes in regular season games. That’s not to say he won’t be a good backup; he has good tools and he knows the system. But if Carson Wentz gets injured this season, it would not be the same as when the Eagles turned to Foles. So that’s a question mark. And then Clayton Thorson is a developmental player at this point. Jeff McLane explored the quarterback situation in more depth.

Good question. It remains to be seen. Assuming Darren Sproles is not back, the Eagles could go in a few different directions and it depends on who makes the 53-man roster (and who’s active on game days). Blake Countess and Corey Clement are options as kickoff returners. They both have experience there. It could also be Boston Scott if he sneaks onto the roster. In that case, Scott would be a candidate for punt returner. Clement returned punts last season, too. Shelton Gibson is another player who would be in the mix if he’s on the team and active on gamedays. Some under-the-radar players to watch would be practice squad wide receiver Braxton Miller and undrafted rookie DeAndre Thompkins, who is expected to sign this week. Either player would need to make the team, though.

But there’s not a lock for those spots at this point. The spring and summer will determine those roles.