INDIANAPOLIS - The Eagles are not beginning the offseason with the illusion that they're close to contending. Howie Roseman, who has final say on the roster, wants to ensure the Eagles approach free agency and the draft focused on building continuity around quarterback Carson Wentz - not trying to fill every immediate need for 2017.
"We're not sitting here and saying we're one player away - that if we just sign this one guy, that's going to put us in position to just get over the top," Roseman said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. "We're going to try to build this piece-by-piece and be aware of the risk involved in things. That doesn't mean we don't take some risks or have to get through the moment at certain positions, but that's our plan."
So for those in the Philadelphia area pinning their hopes on the Eagles' signing the top free-agent wide receiver and cornerback, you might need to temper your expectations.
This is not to say the Eagles won't be active in free agency - Roseman insisted the Eagles could still be aggressive even though they will not have as much salary cap space as some of their counterparts - but the team will take a measured approach.
In past years, the Eagles felt the urgency to plug holes through free agency and fill in whatever gaps might be left through the draft. But this year Roseman is willing to leave a glaring need unmet if the contract or the player does not fit the team's long-term outlook.
"We're not going to go out and sign a high-priced free agent if we don't think the value's there even if it's going to be hard to look at that depth chart for a couple of months," Roseman said. "It's just not the right thing to do for our football team or our organization."
The Eagles would have an estimated $12.5 million in salary-cap space if free agency opened Wednesday. Free agency doesn't begin until next week, though, so there remains time to trade or release players or restructure contracts to create more flexibility.
The Eagles have historically been creative at creating cap space and structuring contracts to lure their top free-agent targets. In a moment of self-reflection, Roseman wondered if what they've done in the past was the right strategy.
Coach Doug Pederson said that it's a different offseason having the quarterback position solidified and that the roster must be built from the bottom up. For a coach, Pederson admitted it could be tough to maintain the necessary patience, but he said the organizational commitment starts with owner Jeffrey Lurie, and they have learned from the past.
The Eagles are viewing this offseason as more akin to 2000 than to 2011 and 2014. Those were the years after the Eagles made changes at quarterback. In 2000, the moves were about building a roster for Donovan McNabb's long-term development. But in 2011 with Michael Vick and 2014 with Nick Foles, the Eagles took more of a win-now approach and wanted to fill needs to build on playoff runs.
The reasons were understandable - they were coming off NFC East championships in both campaigns - but the moves did not lead to more success. The teams went backward, and were soon looking at resets.
Management views the acquisition and development of Wentz as a prime opportunity to build for sustainable success. Roseman noted how teams that drafted franchise quarterbacks in 2004 - the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers among them - are still squeezing life out of that decision more than a decade later.
The Eagles were active in free agency in 2000, but the big ticket was Jon Runyan, who was a key piece in McNabb's growth. And every move the Eagles make or don't make this offseason should be viewed through the prism of Wentz's development and timetable to leading a contender.
"I think you always have to take shots, whether that's in free agency or the trade market, but making sure you're taking educated shots and not just putting something out there because it gets you through the moment," Roseman said. "It's nice to win press conferences in March . . . but we don't want to be in a situation where we're signing a guy now and two years from now we have a press conference or press release talking about him being a cap casualty."
Anything a football executive says this time of year should be understood with the caveat that he's at a poker table with 31 other teams, and a good bluff can be effective. But Roseman's message was that the Eagles are not one or two players away.
If the team's plan comes to fruition, that "one-player-away" approach could arrive in a future offseason.
"You've got to take some short-term pains for that, and hopefully, when you do that, you get the long-term gains," Roseman said. "You want to do something that so two, three, four years from now that maybe you have that opportunity to add that missing piece, or one piece, you have that flexibility."