Good morning, Eagles fans. I'm writing this newsletter from Indianapolis during my annual trip to the NFL scouting combine, an important event on the NFL calendar that signals the offseason is kicking into another gear. Howie Roseman speaks at noon today, and Doug Pederson follows at 12:15 p.m. We'll also hear from other coaches and executives, as well as all of the top draft prospects over the next few days. Look for coverage all week on Philly.com and in the Inquirer and Daily News. You can also expect to hear more rumors about trades, free agency, and draft picks — that's all part of the combine experience, with decision-makers from around the league in the same place for a week.
This is the third offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come every Wednesday for the next few months. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. 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
Howie Roseman trades more than any NFL executive, and he could add to his total this offseason. The Eagles have fewer resources than at any point during Roseman's time in charge, with the No. 32 overall pick and no Day 2 draft choices. With the Eagles at the combine this week, there's intrigue about which prospect the Eagles might select at No. 32. But there's also the possibility that they don't draft in the first round at all.
"I think you've got to be versatile," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "By that I mean you've got to get a good football player, but you also have to have an ability to move down if possible, if necessary. And the Eagles don't have, if I remember this correctly, a two and a three. So an ability to move down would be first and foremost in my mind. A lot of teams like to move up to get quarterbacks at the end of the first round to get that extra fifth-year option. So sitting at 32 is prime real estate for a move down."
In the last 10 years, the Super Bowl winner has traded out of the final spot in the first round only three times — but they all happened in the last four years. So it's something to watch this year.
The other way to acquire more picks would be to trade players. The obvious trade candidate is Nick Foles, and his status will be discussed often during combine week and the offseason. Carson Wentz's health would play a big role in any Foles decision, but it's also important to pay attention to the quarterback dominoes elsewhere. If a quarterback-needy team can't land their desired quarterback in free agency and is interested in Foles, what type of pick would they sacrifice? That is going to be the question. It would need to be high enough to convince the Eagles.
Elsewhere, I'd watch out for Mychal Kendricks. It's possible the Eagles re-sign Nigel Bradham and keep Kendricks, especially with Jordan Hicks recovering from a major injury. But if the Eagles plan on Bradham and Hicks being their top two linebackers, I'd be surprised to see them use $7.6 million of salary-cap space on Kendricks as a third linebacker.
Many of the trade discussions start in Indianapolis, so this is the week you'll hear names on the rumor mill.
The Eagles could stay at No. 32 and draft the best player on their board. They have that luxury without a pressing hole to plug. But the Eagles have situational roles that are potentially open next year — a third safety, a second tight end, a rotational defensive lineman. They also can look beyond 2018 and think ahead about what positions might come open. The Eagles are getting older on the offensive line and at defensive end, and they could have a need at running back in 2019.
I bring this up because the Eagles will have to ask themselves whether they want to find a player who can step in and contribute immediately while the Eagles have this window to win another championship or if they try to plug a potential future hole, such as offensive tackle. Remember when the Eagles drafted Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in the first two rounds in 2002 when they were coming off an NFC championship game? Neither player started as rookies, but they quickly became starters on a team that made the Super Bowl. If the Eagles draft an offensive tackle, he might not take a meaningful snap in 2018 if Jason Peters returns and if the line stays healthy. But he might be the every-down starter in 2019.
However, I can also see the argument for adding a talented defensive lineman who can step in as the No. 3 tackle next season. And maybe he has that role in 2019, too, if Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan remain starters, but that's an important role for the Eagles. The same can be said about the third safety spot considering how frequently the Eagles play sub packages.
If I were Roseman, defensive tackle and safety are two positions I'd strongly consider at No. 32, assuming the value is there.
At this time last year, I flew to Indianapolis eager to learn more about Sidney Jones, thinking he was a realistic possibility for the Eagles with the No. 14 overall pick. One week later, Jones tore his Achilles tendon. The Eagles drafted Jones in the second round and didn't activate him until Week 17. The plan when they drafted Jones wasn't to see the fruits of that pick in 2017; it was for 2018 and beyond.
Jones will not technically be a rookie in 2018, but his addition to the roster is almost like a bonus draft pick because he barely played last season. It's easy to say that Jones would be a top 10-15 pick this year — he was in that range last year in a loaded cornerback draft class, and this year's class isn't as decorated — but it's impossible to know because you cannot disregard the injury. How would Jones run this year at the combine? How does he move? The Eagles saw hints of it last year in practice and in the Week 17 Dallas game, but they'll see it in earnest in 2018. If he can return to pre-injury form, his addition will be a major boon for the Eagles.
There should be significant optimism about Jones. He was that good of a prospect last year and has the potential to be a front-line starter for the Eagles. In a year when they likely won't have as talented of a draft haul as other years because of a dearth of picks or because of lower picks than usual, Jones is a high-level prospect who will be introduced to the lineup. It won't show up in draft grades, but it will show up on Sundays.
The Eagles will be searching for a punter for the first time in five years after Donnie Jones retired Tuesday. They have Cameron Johnston on their roster, and there's a reason they signed the punter to a futures contract in January. The Eagles saw Johnston in training camp last year and wanted to bring him back. At this point, I'd have to give him the edge. But I don't think the Eagles will go into training camp without competition at that spot, so look for them to add a free agent or a rookie.
If I had to guess today, I'd say Mack Hollins. I think Torrey Smith will be a salary-cap casualty, opening a spot for Hollins. However, the Eagles could always add an option in the draft or play Nelson Agholor on the outside more next season. My guess is they mix-and-match. Whoever starts in that role will be the fourth option in the passing game after Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, and Agholor. But Hollins would be the clear front-runner of the internal options.
I'll have a much better chance of answering this question correctly after the combine than before because a big part of coming here is to learn what's going on around the league and in the draft. Nevertheless, I'll try to answer your question.
I don't think the Eagles will be in the market for a big-money free agent — especially if they re-sign Nigel Bradham. Bradham is the key to the offseason, because if they don't keep him, they'll need to find a third linebacker and determine whether they're comfortable with Mychal Kendricks and Jordan Hicks as the top two. But I don't think the Eagles will sit out free agency. They can target high-upside players who don't find desired deals and try to bring them in on one-year, "show-me" contracts. These players are often coming off injury or an underperforming year and need to rebuild their stock. Who fits this profile? Bengals running back Jeremy Hill rushed for 1,124 yards as a rookie in 2014, fell out of favor last year, and could take on the LeGarrette Blount role in the Eagles offense. There are former first-round picks whose rookie contracts are expiring and might benefit from a change of scenery. These players might find more money and better opportunity elsewhere, though. But the Eagles could offer roles for those players to rebuild their value — the No. 2 tight end and No. 3 safety are examples of spots where newcomers could play key roles for the Eagles in 2018.