An offseason of upheaval - a new front office structure, a new coaching staff, some significant changes to the roster - has brought the Eagles to this point. They've got a couple of weeks of Organized Team Activities ahead with a team minicamp included, and then they are off from June 10 until late July when Training Camp begins.
And the truth is that everything you've heard and read is based on watching practice without pads and tackling, so how much can you really take to heart? That said, the Eagles have worked hard at addressing some areas of weaknesses and they think they've made major upgrades to some key areas. Let's explore ...
I know there are varying opinions on how the Eagles handled their quarterback picture in the offseason, signing Sam Bradford before free agency began, giving Chase Daniel a lavish three-year contract and then moving up in the draft to take Carson Wentz second overall, but I think the perspective from former NFL general manager and current ESPN Insider Bill Polian is spot on.
"They had no choice at the time but to sign Bradford, and they paid a premium," Polian said in ESPN Insider. "Then they were able to acquire Daniel as the backup, which was fine. They had solidified the position. Miami hands them a premium pick for guys they didn't want anyway, and now they are able to parlay that into a trade up in three separate transactions to get what they believe is the quarterback of the future. What's wrong with that?"
Bradford is throwing the ball terrifically in practice - an opinion formed by watching him this week and bolstered by conversations with coaches - and Wentz has been really good. Daniel is a prototype No. 2 who can get a team through a game and win on his own the next week, if needed. He knows the offense and he knows where to go. In the short- and mid-range passing game, Daniel will be fine.
There is no comparison with the Bradford of a year ago to the Bradford of now. He looks 70 percent healthier. He looks outstanding. He's the starter. Is there competition? Sure, in the sense that there is always competition in the NFL. Bradford has returned from his two-week departure a focused, urgent quarterback. And Wentz gets the whole picture. I watched him for 15 minutes after Wednesday's practice throwing to a group of four receivers just to get in some extra work, something that everyone loves to see.
Last year's quarterback lineup was Bradford, gimpy and way less than 100 percent until late in the season, the turnover-prone Mark Sanchez (who does so many other things right, but those darn turnovers ...) and Thad Lewis, an NFL journeyman. This year, the Eagles have their quarterback of now in Bradford, their backup for now and the near future in Daniel and their quarterback of the future - how many years before he plays, we don't know - in Wentz. There is some great talent in this group.
Byron Maxwell was one of the most disappointing additions I can ever remember. Here is what former head coach Chip Kelly said of Maxwell upon the Eagles signed Maxwell as an unrestricted free agent last year: "He's what we're looking for, again, in corners: tall, long, physical, athletic, smart. He's an intelligent football player, so I think he's a good fit."
Turned out that Maxwell was anything but physical and he didn't appear to be anything particularly special athletically and so on and so on. That the Eagles traded him and actually got something in return that proved to be very valuable was remarkable.
Anyway, how have the Eagles improved in the secondary? Rodney McLeod was a big get and the Eagles have been raving about him since Day 1. He and Malcolm Jenkins are expected to team and become, per defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, one of the best safety tandems in the NFL.
Beyond that, the Eagles loaded up with some cornerbacks they think will fit the system. Are they stars? Maybe not. A lot depends on the Eagles getting a pass rush up front. Leodis McKelvin looks to have some good football in him. Ron Brooks is an under-the-radar corner who is going to have a chance to win major playing time. He's a scrappy player. Eric Rowe is being challenged here, and that's a good thing for his big-picture development. The Eagles have a bunch of young corners, ranging from Denzel Rice to Jaylen Mills to comebacking JaCorey Shepherd who are going to compete. Nolan Carroll will be on the field in Training Camp.
There is depth in numbers, they say. The Eagles certainly have numbers. Look forward to some good competition this summer.
Brandon Brooks is a 335-pound beast at right guard, an area of concern last season. That was a hugely important acquisition in free agency. Stefen Wisniewski is here to back up Jason Kelce at center, so the Eagles have a backup with 77 career starts in the NFL. Great upgrade.
Allen Barbre is starting at left guard now, but he's going to be pushed by third-round draft pick Isaac Seumalo, you can believe that.
Instead of pushing for starting jobs, players like Matt Tobin and Dennis Kelly and Wisniewski and Andrew Gardner are where they will be extremely valuable - as backups. Fifth-round draft pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai has impressed the coaches in the few weeks he's been here.
Suddenly, the Eagles have depth along the offensive line. And they have a bona fide right guard who is going to make both Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson a lot better. So much hinges on Jason Peters, we all know that, but the Eagles are in much better shape here.
Kelly's coaching staff was made up largely of college coaches, and some of them were very good. I respect every coach in this league. They are hard workers and they are dedicated to the game.
But Doug Pederson has surrounded himself with some excellent, veteran NFL coaches like Schwartz, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and linebackers coach Ken Flajole (a former defensive coordinator) who join the holdovers from the previous staff - special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, tight ends coach Justin Peelle, running backs coach Duce Staley, secondary coach Cory Undlin - that has to be considered an upgrade. Greg Lewis, the wide receivers coach, has bonded very quickly with his group.
The coaching staff is better. Could be much better. As Pederson learns in his first season as an NFL head coach, he's put some bright, experienced and proven minds around him. Good move.
By DAVE SPADARO
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