THE MOST interesting thing Howie Roseman said on Wednesday afternoon was what he and the rest of the Eagles organization had fastidiously avoided saying for much of the previous year.
The topic of conversation was, as it often is, second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, specifically the decision that Roseman, et. al, made around this time last year to do whatever it took to add him to their roster. While their stunning trade to move up the draft board left little to interpret about their long-term vision, it blew to smithereens everything else we thought they thought about the here-and-now. But every time they were confronted with those smithereens, they seemed determined to paste them back together, which led only to another implosion, a vicious cycle that left Eagles watchers everywhere questioning the very nature of their reality.
Sam Bradford was the quarterback until he wasn't. Wentz wasn't ready until he was. The roster was one that should have done better the season before, until it became one that performed about as well as they'd expected. There is no rebuilding in football, until there is, or something like that.
Which is why ears should've perked up at the phrase Roseman used on Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis as he discussed the ways the organization's mentality has changed, now that it believes it has found a long-term solution at quarterback.
"When you can go and say, we may have to take it on the chin for a year or two here, certainly from a resource perspective," he said, "but if we get this right, we can build around him for a really long time."
So there it is. The smithereens were where we initially thought them to be. Last year was Year 1 of taking it on the chin, and, if we interpret Roseman verbatim, 2017 might be Year 2.
Or it might not.
It's the explication of that "or" that will be the fascinating thing to watch when the NFL's free-agent signing period begins a week from now. For all that has changed for the Eagles over the last year - 12 months ago, the Eagles had just re-signed Bradford - we still have very little idea how they view the short-term capabilities of their roster.
At some point between now and and whenever Wentz retires, they expect to enjoy a long run of success, comparable to the one they experienced with Donovan McNabb under center.
What we don't know is how they expect the maturation of their roster to take. Attempting to forecast the tack the Eagles will take with this offseason is a remarkably complicated task, given the fundamental piece of information we lack: How, exactly, do they view themselves? As in, how far away?
The last year has been a cascade of conflicting words and actions with regard to their evaluation of the talent they have at their disposal, to an extent that, from a short-term perspective, little at all has changed. Count the positions at which their situation remains unchanged: same at receiver, more questions at cornerback, more questions along the defensive line. Same theme at tackle: Can Jason Peters stay healthy? More uncertainty at running back. They have something resembling stability along the interior of the line - fewer questions than last year at least - and Nigel Bradham showed himself to be a capable stopgap alongside Jordan Hicks.
Kicker, punter and long snapper: check.
A lot has changed. But a lot more remains the same. The question matters not so much from a standpoint of the Eagles' actual business at the combine. The only way to sustain success in the NFL is to build through the draft, and the Eagles' concerted effort to rebuild their scouting department under former Ravens and Bears personnel man Joe Douglas is probably No. 2 behind Wentz on the change-o-meter. At the same time, the Eagles spent much of last offseason locking up players with the belief that they had some semblance of their core in place. Fletcher Cox along the defensive line, Zach Ertz at tight end, Malcolm Jenkins in the secondary. It was out of respect for those players that Roseman and Pederson steadfastly refused to use the term "rebuilding," no matter how many times they were asked.
Now, one year later, the question arises: How much building do they believe they have left to do? The answer will likely dictate their strategy during the free-agent signing period, which means it could be our first significant hint of their expectations for the upcoming season. Cornerback and wide receiver are their two greatest positions of need, both of them potential deal-breakers for the thought of any surprise playoff run.
But the one truism of free agency anymore is that it is a lot easier to mess your team up than it is to make it better.
"By nature, free agency is an overpayment," Roseman said, and he was 100 percent correct. For a team that believes it has the ability to contend within a three-year window, the risk inherent in such overpayment can sometimes make sense. The question, then, is what do the Eagles believe? At times last season, they could've talked themselves into thinking that they were a couple of players away. A No. 1 receiver and a No. 1 cornerback and look how everyone else slots into place. At other times, they could have realized the turnover that still needs to occur, particularly on both lines. On the defensive side, salary-cap considerations might soon leave them with a depth chart that features Beau Allen and Vinny Curry as starters. On the offensive front, even if Peters makes it through another season healthy, they must replace him at some point. The same might be true of center Jason Kelce.
"We're trying to build a complementary roster around the people we have," Roseman said. "Every offseason's important. At the same times we want to make good decisions, we want to minimize our risks and go forward and have something to build upon."
The only thing we know is that they know they have Wentz. And, it turns out, a durable chin.