SOMEDAY, THE EAGLES again will take an offensive lineman with their first pick.
Fresh off a 50-sack season in which the offensive line was a huge problem, might that day be today (or, more accurately, very late tonight)? Could be. Gets more likely if they trade down, out of the first round, as general manager Howie Roseman has indicated they might.
The thing is, the Eagles are adamant about not "reaching" in the first round. They are scheduled to draft 23rd overall tonight, when the 3-day selectathon starts, giving us a brief respite from the courtroom drama that has dominated this offseason. This draft, according to Roseman and just about everybody else, offers more late first-round value on the defensive side, certainly on the d-line, and possibly at cornerback, if the Birds are inclined to roll the dice on much-scrutinized Colorado star Jimmy Smith. An o-lineman at 23 - even Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, the darling of the early Eagles mock drafts - might be less of a sure-fire star than Smith, or any of several defensive ends and defensive tackles available at 23.
The Eagles seem to have their strongest needs at offensive line, defensive line, and corner, not necessarily in that order, but that doesn't mean their first three picks will fall in those areas. When Roseman met with reporters last week, he fielded a series of questions about the temptation to draft more for need this year, given that there has been no free agency, and this is the first chance to really help the team. Roseman took a contrary view - knowing there will be free agency, at some point, and that no potential free-agent targets have signed elsewhere, gives you the latitude to care less about need than you might otherwise, he said.
It's clear from everything Roseman has said this offseason that missing on a star in the draft to plug a hole with an average player is something he abhors.
"In this game, we've seen that things change very quickly. If you look back 2 years from now, and you've missed at a position that was pretty deep [on your roster], and now you're in a position where you have to take a guy, that to us would be the worst possible outcome," Roseman said last week.
Asked about o-line talent in this draft, Roseman said: "In past years, you'd get into the middle rounds and you'd try to find guys and you'd worry that you were forcing up a guy because you wanted to draft an offensive lineman . . . This year we talk about maybe the top not being as strong as it has been in years past, but maybe the depth is there moreso than it's been in years past, throughout the draft."
If the Eagles draft 23rd, there almost certainly will be a potential difference-making DE available. If you were going to place a bet on a position to come first, that would be where to put your money. Could be Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, Temple DE/DT Muhammad Wilkerson, or one of several others. But it might be a safer bet that the Birds won't pick 23rd. They have traded out of their original position six of the last eight years. They haven't actually drafted anywhere in the 20s since 2002, when they took future Pro Bowl corner Lito Sheppard 26th.
"I wouldn't be shocked if we drafted [23rd]. I wouldn't be shocked if we got a great offer and moved down," Roseman said. "I think we're open to all those options and we've gone through all those scenarios."
Teams place grades on players, and rarely does a team have a first-round grade on 32 prospects, even if there are 32 first-round slots to be filled. So if you're picking in the bottom half of the first round, you might not be getting a player you consider a true first-round talent. You can either trade down, and know you'll only have to pay second-round money for a second-round talent, while pocketing an extra pick or two, or you can spend your own picks to trade up, for somebody you're comfortable treating as a first-rounder.
Last year the Eagles traded up from 24th to 13th to take defensive end Brandon Graham. They expended two third-round picks, 70th and 87th overall, to do this. But the Eagles have just one pick in the second (54th overall) and third rounds (85th overall) this time. Under Andy Reid, the only time the Eagles have traded up without having extra first-, second- or third-round pick to burn was in 2004, when they moved up from 28th to 16th to nab Shawn Andrews (their most recent first-round OL draftee. Call it the curse of SpongeBob). You could argue that adventure didn't turn out well; Andrews' career disintegrated after two Pro Bowl berths and no one else the Eagles selected that year made an impact. (Sorry, Trey Darilek and Andy Hall fans. The truth hurts.)
Like everybody at your office, the Eagles do mock drafts, Roseman acknowledged, but with a different slant.
"When you're picking in the 20s, I think you're able to knock off a certain amount of players that you're fairly certain are going to be gone. Maybe you don't have 'em on the right teams, or the exact right spot, but you're pretty confident they're not going to be available at your pick. That's really what we try to do with the mock drafts," Roseman said. "We don't so much make sure we get the right player with the right team, but that we're kind of figuring out who's going to be the possible picks at our spot."
The Eagles have 10 selections in this year's seven-round draft, which is second only to San Francisco's 12, but you can be certain the Birds would like to have more. They pride themselves on finding bargains after the draft, in the rookie free agent market, which will not exist this year (at least not right away) under the terms of the lockout. Late-round picks are going to be more valuable than usual.
Given that situation, it might be hard for the Birds to do all the late-draft wheeling and dealing they normally attempt, dispatching a sixth-rounder next year for a seventh-rounder this year (how they got Jamar Chaney, by the way), and whatnot.
Roseman was asked why the Eagles like do so much maneuvering in the final hours of the process.
"ADD," he joked. "We're trying to get as many players in to compete as possible. I think last year [when the Eagles ended up drafting 13 players, 11 of whom went on to see action], we knew we wanted to get an influx of young players . . . no matter how confident you are on draft day, the more players you get, the better chance you [have] of hitting on guys . . . We don't go in thinking we're going to make a certain amount of trades, but we go in open to it . . . We spend a lot of time meeting and talking about all the scenarios. We feel like once it comes available to us, we have those options mapped out. So we're not making at lot of decisions on the fly."
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