Before the Eagles had even hired Doug Pederson on Jan. 18, Howie Roseman had started negotiating contract extensions with five homegrown players.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie wouldn't even define Roseman's future role during Pederson's introductory news conference, but the executive vice president of football operations had already begun to execute a plan that would significantly alter the state of the franchise.
Roseman was following the Andy Reid-Joe Banner blueprint of re-signing the Eagles' own draft picks, in most cases before they had reached their contract years. It's an effective approach, but since the extensions are often based partly upon projections, the evaluations must be accurate.
Roseman played a key role as then-general manager in the drafting of four of the players the Eagles eventually gave new deals: tight end Zach Ertz, tackle Lane Johnson, defensive end Vinny Curry, and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Naturally, he would be inclined to think highly of those picks.
But the Eagles hadn't even hired a coach, let alone another personnel executive, when Lurie had given Roseman the green light to start negotiations during the first week of January - just days after the owner had fired Chip Kelly.
The only other likely voice in the room was senior personnel scout Tom Donahoe, whom Roseman had hired several years earlier. It's unclear if Pederson's opinion was taken into account after he was hired, but negotiations continued until it was announced that Ertz, Johnson, and Curry had signed five-year deals in succession on Jan. 25, Jan. 29 and Feb. 2.
Ertz's extension was worth $40 million, Johnson's $56.25 million, and Curry's - he was set to become a free agent - $46.25 million. Veteran tight end Brent Celek was also signed to a three-year, $12 million extension on Jan. 26. And while Cox's contract would prove to take longer to work out, he signed a six-year, $102.6 million extension on June 16.
After each signing, Roseman spoke of the importance of locking up in-house talent and of forming a core the Eagles could build around. It's a sound philosophy, and in many cases one that produces Super Bowl contenders, but the players had better be difference-makers if you're going to pay them as much as the Eagles paid their own guys.
With one year almost in the books, it's fair to question whether Ertz, Johnson, Curry, and Cox are difference makers, or at the least, worth the contracts the Eagles gave them. It could be argued that not one performed up to expectations, or in Cox's case, as dominating as he played from 2014-15.
Only Johnson seemed to take a leap forward, but he was suspended 10 games for using a performance-enhancing substance. Ertz has had a solid second half, same as he had in his previous three seasons, but overall he has had a disappointing season. Curry couldn't even crack the starting lineup and has been severely lacking in difference-making plays.
The struggles of all four could merely be circumstantial. Perhaps the change in scheme and attention affected Cox more than anticipated. Maybe Johnson won't repeat his previous mistakes. It's possible that Ertz needed time to develop chemistry with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. And it's conceivable that Curry just had a down year.
Perhaps they will deliver the next few seasons and their contracts will be bargains considering the increasing NFL salary cap.
They had better, because as they enter their prime playing years, their cap numbers jump exponentially. In 2016, the four accounted for approximately $20.6 million or 12 percent of the Eagles' cap. In 2017, they are projected to cost $34.2 million, and in 2018, $50.75 million against caps that obviously have yet to be determined.
The Eagles are about $1 million over the projected cap number of $166 million for 2017, but they can trim salaries by moving on from veterans like Connor Barwin and Ryan Mathews. There isn't much else to cut, though, especially if they bring back left tackle Jason Peters.
Johnson was paid based on his eventual move to left tackle, but if he stays on the right side he would be massively overpaid for his position. Curry is the ninth-highest-paid edge rusher in the NFL. There isn't a feasible argument that he has played anywhere near the players who earn roughly the same as him.
Ertz received a contract slightly less than fellow tight end Travis Kelce of the Chiefs, but he hasn't come close to matching his production. Cox is the second-highest-paid interior lineman. The Eagles paid him market value, but they still had him under contract and could have wielded their franchise tag in the next two offseasons.
Cox is an elite player, but he plays a position that Reid-Banner, and other teams, traditionally balk at giving premium dollar. The same could be said of safety and guard, and yet the Eagles gave a new deal to Malcolm Jenkins and signed free agents Rodney McLeod and Brandon Brooks.
This offseason will obviously be a pivotal one as the Eagles look for pieces to aid Wentz. But Roseman will also have to decide if wants to offer contracts to two more homegrown players by retaining free agent-to be Bennie Logan and giving a new deal to receiver Jordan Matthews.
Both were drafted under his reign. The difference now compared to a year ago is that Pederson is firmly in place and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas will be here for his first full offseason. Will their voices be heard?
Change at center?
The Eagles aren't expected to move on from center Jason Kelce this offseason. For one, despite the perception among some fans, his play hasn't regressed significantly. And second, the salary-cap dollars the Eagles would save if they were to cut or trade Kelce ($3.8 million) aren't significantly that much greater than the hit they would take in dead money ($2.4 million).
But stranger things have happened. And the Eagles have clearly considered the possibility of someday moving rookie Isaac Seumalo to center.
"I would have no hesitation if he had to play center," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday.
Seumalo practiced a fair amount at center earlier this season as he remained inactive on game days. But the more he was pressed into action at guard and the more he had to prepare to play tackle because of the injuries, the less repetitions he took there.
But it's a position the 6-foot-4, 303-pound Oregon State product clearly knows well. He started at center for 23 games in college.
"I like center a lot," Seumalo said Thursday. "It's different, but I think it's a great mental burden on your shoulders. It's maybe not as physical as other spots, but mentally you've got to be right at it."
Seumalo would appear to be slated to replace veteran Allen Barbre at left guard for next season, though. But the Eagles, since they selected him in the third round of the 2016 draft, have always stressed Seumalo's versatility as one of his strengths.
"At our meetings," Seumalo said, "if you treat [the meeting] like playing center then you know everything."
Brandon Brooks might not show up on the Eagles' recent injury reports, nor has his anxiety, but that doesn't mean the guard hasn't had to play through constraints.
Since his disclosure that he has been diagnosed with anxiety, after missing two of the previous three games, Brooks has started and made it through the Eagles' last two games.
"It's getting easier," Brooks said Wednesday. "I'm still mentally coaching myself up - 'It's just a game, have fun.' Nobody's perfect. People are going to make mistakes."
Brooks said he continues to take medication and engage in therapy to "get to the bottom" of his illness. He said that the Eagles, from coaches to teammates, have been supportive, even though his condition isn't something tangible like a broken bone or a muscle strain.
"It's one thing to have a physical injury, but when you hear mental illness some people only think about people going crazy," Brooks said. "You get an extreme picture rather than something that is minor or fixable."
The 27-year-old offensive lineman said most of the feedback he has received from outside the NovaCare Complex has been positive. But he said there are also those in the public who have been less than sympathetic on social media.
"As my first O-line coach used to say, it hasn't been all sunshine and lollipops," Brooks said. "There are going to be some people that don't understand and see it as a weakness. I'm OK with it either way."
When he has played, Brooks has been consistent. The Eagles signed him to a five-year, $40 million contract this offseason, though, and will need to rely on the guard for at least next season.
Five questions: Malcolm Jenkins
1. What's the first position you ever played? I was the second string right guard in fourth grade.
2. Who was your football hero growing up? [Former Ravens linebacker] Ray Lewis.
3. Who is the toughest opponent you ever faced? [Former Lions receiver] Calvin Johnson.
4. Who is the best teammate you ever had? [Former Saints linebacker] Jonathan Vilma.
5. What's your least favorite piece of football equipment? Thigh pads.
Inside the game
Darren Sproles, 33, has maintained his level of play over the last three seasons despite his increasing age, but this season the Eagles were able to get him on the field more and use him more effectively.
The result has been an uptick in rushing yards per carry (4.8) and receiving yards per catch (8.6) compared with last season (3.8 and 7.1) when opposing defenses had an easier time diagnosing when he was to get the ball.
Sproles played only 34 percent of the snaps in 2015 under Chip Kelly compared with 50 percent in 2016 for Doug Pederson. His touches are relatively the same - 5.2 carries and 3.4 catches per game last year vs. 6.1 and 3.5 this year - but the Eagles have gotten better production.
Jason Peters was voted to his ninth Pro Bowl last week, but he hasn't attended one since 2009 when the game was played in Miami. The Eagles left tackle said Thursday that he plans to be at the Jan. 29 game in Orlando, though.
Peters said he missed the previous five Pro Bowls that he was voted to - he was injured all of 2012 - because he didn't want to fly to Hawaii or he was injured.
Inside the locker room
It's that time of year. No, not Christmas. Well, yes, the holidays are a time for gift giving, but in locker rooms around the NFL, players have been bestowing season-ending presents to their teammates. Quarterbacks traditionally reward their offensive linemen for protection, and for Carson Wentz, that meant giving each Eagles lineman an engraved Beretta shotgun.
The guns have to be registered before the players receive them, but Wentz, an avid hunter, showed his teammates a picture of the firearm last week. Some of the linemen, like Allen Barbre, are already gun owners, but some, like Stefen Wisniewski are not.
"Guess I will be soon," Wisniewski said Thursday.
Center Jason Kelce, who said last month that he didn't own a gun, declined to talk about Wentz's gift. Barbre said that the Beretta shotgun is used more for clay pigeon shooting than for big game hunting. He said he probably wouldn't even use it and would keep it more as a souvenir.
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham bought all the other players at his position robes with their numbers and names on the back. While most have kept their new robes at home, Bradham has been prominently wearing his in the locker room this week.
By the numbers
Yards-after-catch average for Zach Ertz in the last three games, or since his blocking effort was questioned in the Bengals game. He averaged 2.3 yards in his first 10 games.
Average yards per reception by Jordan Matthews, which leads the Eagles among receivers with more than 20 catches but is the lowest in the NFL. The next-closest team is the Broncos' 13.1-yard average (Emmanuel Sanders).
NFL ranking for both the Eagles' punt-return (12.9 average) and kick-return (27.9 average) units entering the final game of the season. The last team to lead the league in both categories was the Chiefs in 2003. No other team has achieved the feat in the last 35 years.