INDIANAPOLIS - There is always more going on than just the assessment of draft prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine, and that seems especially true this year for your PhiladelphiaEagles.
Wednesday, coach Doug Pederson is scheduled to take questions from reporters for the first time since the season concluded in January. We have a few things to address, not the least of which would be the decision to block quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo from interviewing to become offensive coordinator for the Jets.
Generally, but not always, assistants are allowed to leave for a promotion. League sources think the decision was made by team chairman Jeffrey Lurie, who is heading an intense organizational focus on the care and feeding of quarterback Carson Wentz. De facto general manager Howie Roseman - also scheduled to speak Wednesday - has refused to comment, telling reporters that coaching matters should be addressed with Pederson. So they will be, not only the DeFilippo business, but also Pederson's first staff change, axing wide receivers coach Greg Lewis in favor of Mike Groh.
Wednesday is just the start of the festivities. As the week continues, the Eagles and the rest of the league will get to poke and prod more than 250 prospects for the April 27-29 draft, which will be in Philadelphia. On Friday, a coin flip will determine whether the Colts or the Eagles draft 14th overall, the Birds holding the pick they got from the Vikings for Sam Bradford. Loser drops all the way to 15th.
This is an exceptional year, analysts say, for running backs, cornerbacks and edge rushers, three things the Eagles definitely need. And while the wide receiver class isn't considered superlative, at least three wideouts have mid-first-round grades, any of whom could reasonably be in play at Nos. 14 or 15.
NFL agents convene Friday in Indianapolis for their annual meeting, offering a good chance for them to huddle with team personnel. The Eagles reportedly have scheduled time with Jason Bernstein, agent for defensive end Connor Barwin and center Jason Kelce. Both veterans could be endangered, as the Eagles seek cap room for free agency. So far the only cap move is the release of former starting corner Leodis McKelvin, which saved $3.2 million. It's a bit of a surprise that no other releases or restructurings have been announced. Barwin has said he is willing to rework his deal, which carries an $8.35 million cap hit in 2017. Kelce has a $6.2 million cap figure. Both players could have trade value, as could linebacker Mychal Kendricks, once a key cog, but now a marginal contributor under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Spotrac.com shows the Eagles with $11,638,476 in cap room, the NFL's 29th-best figure. So they'll be doing some stuff.
Adding to this week's team-agent hustle and bustle is that the league has moved the combine much closer to free agency. The two-day "legal tampering" period starts March 7, and the market opens for real on March 9. Rest assured, there will be quite a bit of mildly illegal tampering in the bars and restaurants of Indianapolis this weekend.
Eagles fans are very interested in the wide receivers, in free agency and the draft, since that position was a gaping hole in the roster in 2016, and looms as an impediment to Wentz's development if the team can't upgrade substantially. We're still a long way from the draft, but it's easy to see a potential first-round quandary for the Eagles: Is the wide receiver they can add at 14 or 15 as good a prospect as the corner or the edge rusher who might be available there? If he isn't, will there be a potential difference-making wideout available 43rd overall, in the second round, or 74th, in the third?
As always, some of the most important Eagles staffers at the combine won't be speaking publicly, or glimpsed in the background of NFL Network shuttle drill footage. Teams say the most crucial part of the combine, the part that can't be made up for by watching tape or interviewing, is the opportunity to have your doctors do medical exams. Guys who are still healing from 2016 injuries will get fresh scans.
This is a big deal, in that the NFL is more of an actuarial league than some fans realize. If your orthopedist tells you "that guy's shoulder might last a few years, might not," this will dramatically affect your assessment. The biggest misses in media mock drafts, in which a guy was considered an early-round prospect but keeps sliding, often have a medical component. (Or an off-the-field component, though those issues are getting a much more public vetting than they seemed to receive a decade ago.)
It just so happens that medical assessments will be crucial with some prospects Eagles fans are tracking, such as Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis (ankle), Washington wide receiver John Ross (knees and shoulder), Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams (neck), and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder). Davis, Ross and Williams are the three wideouts lead NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock sees as Eagles first-round possibilities. Davis won't be running at the combine.
"The Eagles have to be looking really hard at all three of those potential first-round wideouts," Mayock said in a conference call this week. "I think all three of them could potentially go between 10 and 20. I know people have some injury concerns about John Ross, from Washington, but, as a vertical threat, he's probably the best one in this draft. So I think the Eagles have to be looking at all three. They're distinctly different, so the Eagles have to figure out what their order of preference is, what kind of style they want."
Mayock said that, given the strength of the corner class, the Eagles could find potential stars after the first round.
"It wouldn't bother me at all if they drafted a couple corners, and I think they could," he said.