It is clear that three areas were vitally important for the Eagles to improve in this 2016 offseason on the way to building a more robust, playoff-worthy roster: Quarterback, offensive line, defensive backfield. Let's take a look at each group and talk about what those positions could offer this season.
The conversation is complicated now with starter Sam Bradford not attending the voluntary Phase 2 portion of the offseason. The Eagles continue to say that they expect Bradford to be the starter this season and that he will be present and prepared when the time comes for mandatory work at the NovaCare Complex. If you backtrack to the January timeframe when Doug Pederson was hired as the head coach, quarterback was clearly a position group prioritized to improve.
Signing Bradford to the two-year contract was the first step. He's, yes, the starter this season. Chase Daniel was added as an unrestricted free agent to provide experience in the system. He knows the offense as well as Doug Pederson. The Eagles then, of course, traded up to No. 2 in the draft to select Carson Wentz last week, so they feel they are well stocked for the present, the mid-range and the long-term future.
It remains to be seen what happens with Bradford, but for now in this Phase 2 portion of free agency Daniel and No. 4 quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who has a huge arm and need to improve his mechanics, are running the offense and sharing reps. Daniel's ability to help teach the offense to the rest of his teammates is invaluable.
Wentz reports one week from Thursday as the team's post-draft Rookie Camp takes place that weekend.
Ignoring the group in the draft for two years took its toll on the offensive line last season as the Eagles offensive line suffered with injuries and a lack of depth. Pederson made sure to put the offensive line right at the top of the must-improve list when free agency started.
The Eagles got into the action immediately, signing Houston Texans guard Brandon Brooks on Day 1 of free agency. Brooks became the starting right guard, shoring up one area of need. The team later added veteran Stefen Wisniewski to provide depth at center behind starter Jason Kelce.
Then in last week's draft, the Eagles used a third-round pick on Isaac Seumalo, who is likely to compete right away for the starting left guard position with incumbent Allen Barbre. Then the Eagles used a fifth-round draft pick on tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. He is more of a long-term prospect, but the Eagles like his long arms and his feet and the way he is physical at the line of scrimmage.
So instead of starting, Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner are the perfect fits as backups. Barbre has his hands full winning at left guard. Wisniewski has 77 career starts and is a great center/guard backup here. Dennis Kelly can be a swing backup tackle. A handful of other young linemen - Malcolm Bunche, Josh Andrews, etc - have their hands full making the team.
It's a much-improved group after all is said and done in free agency and the draft.
Here is the number that jumps out at you from last season: The Eagles gave up 36 touchdown passes, a franchise worst for a single season. Jim Schwartz, the new defensive coordinator, knew he needed to upgrade the backfield for his scheme to take hold.
The Eagles have done that, and then some. They signed safety Rodney McLeod in free agency to work with Malcolm Jenkins and so far, the Eagles have raved about McLeod. Raved about him. He's not the biggest guy and he's not the fastest guy, but McLeod was a good player in St. Louis and Schwartz - who compares McLeod to Blaine Bishop, whom Schwartz coached in Tennessee when Bishop was in his prime, not the Bishop who played for the Eagles in 2002 when he was at the end of his career - thinks McLeod can be a force in this defense.
The Eagles also added cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks in free agency, traded away the underachieving Byron Maxwell and retained cornerback Nolan Carroll. But they weren't finished addressing the secondary.
Day 3 draft picks Blake Countess and Jalen Mills had higher grades inside the Eagles' draft room but they were there in the seventh round and the team selected them and will add them to the competitive mix. JaCorey Shepherd, a sixth-round draft pick who last year was a strong candidate to be the nickel cornerback before blowing out his knee in Training Camp, is now healthy and pushing for a roster spot and playing time.
With all of that, the development of second-year cornerback Eric Rowe is critical in the big picture. The NFC East is loaded with great wide receivers - Washington used a first-round pick on one and the Giants added one in the second round - so the Eagles have to be sturdy on the back end. Schwartz's scheme has always provided pass-rush punch, so if the defense can cover down the field, this defense could take some significant steps forward in 2016.