It’s that time of year with NFL head coaches, general managers and owners hanging out at the annual league meetings. We had a chance to hear from Eagles EVP of football operations Howie Roseman on Monday evening, and he talked a bit about Carson Wentz’s future with the team, and their free agency plan of attack.
He opened by saying that they are now transitioning their focus to the draft, and that they’ve got a lot of work to do with six months before their first game of the 2019 season.
On Carson Wentz’s future
During Howie’s discussion of the emphasis the team has put on compensatory picks (more on that below) the past couple of seasons, the general manager said in no uncertain terms that they have a young quarterback who they are building a future with.
“I think it goes without saying that we have a quarterback that we’re committed to, that we want to sign to an extension.”
He was later asked about how some of the moves made this offseason seem to be preparing for the big contract ahead for Wentz. Howie said they were excited about the guys they’ve brought in so far, but also have to be realistic in the fact that they have a quarterback that they want to pay and extend long-term.
Roseman noted that it’s exciting to have a guy that they can build around and envision the future of the franchise, and that they know they have that guy in Carson. So now the focus is figuring out what to bring in around him to help the team compete for championships.
He wouldn’t, however, talk about whether the QB’s injuries are affecting the team’s plan for a future contract and whether or not they’d wait until the 2019 season played out before making a deal.
On the RB position
Roseman said that going into free agency, it was very important for them to stay true to their beliefs and that’s investing in the o-line and the d-line, getting Ronald Darby back, and acquiring playmakers for the quarterback.
He said that “playmakers” enveloped several positions, including running back, wide receivers and tight ends, and that there’s still a long way to get this offseason. Howie said that they’re going to continue working on it, but that he does like a lot of the young players the Eagles have on the roster.
Howie later talked a bit more about the young guys they do have, and reiterated that they have a lot of confidence in that group. He noted that Corey Clement was a big contributor during the 2017 Super Bowl run and during the Championship win, Josh Adams showed in flashes what he can do last season, and both of those guys are coming off injuries. So, a big part of their potential this year is getting them back into the swing of things and seeing what they can do.
He mentioned that both of those guys are coming into important years, where the jump in production should be noticeable. Howie also mentioned Wendell Smallwood, and that when he’s been called on has done what’s been asked, and Boston Scott who they signed off the Saints practice squad who has potential for development. (There was no mention of Donnel Pumphrey.)
Roseman did, however, note that they are still looking to add to the position and that the three backs who helped most during the Super Bowl were guys they acquired after the draft in 2017 (signed Corey Clement in undrafted free agency, signed LeGarrette Blount in May, dealt for Jay Ajayi prior to the NFL trade deadline). The talent acquisition period is definitely not over.
Should the Eagles not end up making any more roster moves before the draft, Howie said that wouldn’t pressure them to take a running back early in the draft. He said that they’ve been able to win games with the rushers on the roster and have been able to add value to the position throughout the offseason and up until the trade deadline, as well.
Howie did acknowledge that the compensatory picks process is something that goes into the equation when trying to decide whether or not to sign someone in free agency.
He stressed the need for extra picks after only making seven selections in the first three rounds of the draft since 2016 because of the Wentz and Darby trades. Howie said it was important for them to find a way to get more young players in their system and this is a way to do that.
Roseman also mentioned that they think the Eagles are going to have a lot more picks over the next two years than they’ve had the last three, which is exciting for the team. But, they do try and balance that with adding talent that can come and contribute right away and help them contend.
He was sure to defend that they don’t not sign players in an attempt to stockpile compensatory picks — saying they’ve signed who they wanted to — but rather that the picks go into the evaluation and valuation of a player they are looking at.
Free agency decisions
Howie wanted to be clear that it wasn’t all about compensatory picks either, and that they’ve signed guys this offseason who they think will make a difference, including bringing back Brandon Graham and Ronald Darby, bringing in Malik Jackson and DeSean Jackson, and keeping Jason Peters.
Signing older players
On the age of the players that the Eagles have signed this offseason, Howie explained that if you look at the league, the 26-27 year olds are the players getting re-signed early on and teams are doing a better job of keeping their young players. He noted that it has shifted the value from that group of guys to older players, specifically pointing to the Rams last year adding five key players who were all over 30 years old.
Howie also said that guys are playing longer and the science is now at a place to keep those guys healthier than before, so there is still value in guys who are 28-32 years old. He also said they’d rather have really good players than lower level starters or rotational guys that are maybe two years younger.
The defensive line moving parts
He also talked a bit about the decision to trade Michael Bennett, and said there was a lot of money involved in their plan for the defensive line, including re-signing Brandon Graham and being able to get compensation for Bennett, and also down the line being able to get Vinny Curry back. Overall, they just thought it was a good decision, but Howie did note that Bennett was a good contributor for the Eagles in 2018, and sometimes you just have to make tough decisions.
He then talked a bit about bringing Curry back, and he said it goes back to the team’s commitment to bolstering the defensive line and that they knew how the former Eagle would fit in the system. Howie said that Curry was stifled a bit last season with a high ankle sprain, but ultimately he knows the defense and they know how he fits in the scheme, so they know what his potential is.
In terms of Chris Long, Howie didn’t divulge too much as he notes that they like to keep those conversations internal.
“Couldn’t have more respect for him as a player, and as a person, NFL Man of the Year. We just kind of let him take his time and make the decision, and we’re just really appreciative of the relationship we have with him.”
Bringing back DeSean Jackson
Howie said that they’re job is the evaluate all the potential free agents available and they were looking for a player to fill a specific role — which is helpful as they navigate the market. He said they were looking for someone who could stretch the field, and compliments the wide receivers they already have on the roster.
He went on to say that they know the type of player Jackson is, and they times they’ve played him over the past few years, the defensive coordinator and defensive players have had to account for him and know where he is at all times.
Beyond that, Howie said that the know DeSean as a person and as a player, and they know what motivates him.
“He’s incredibly motivated to come back and compete for championships in Philadelphia, to cement his legacy in Philadelphia as a Philadelphia Eagle. He’s changed where he is with his life. He’s in the office and he’s running around with his kids, and chasing his kids. It’s fun to see guys grow and develop.”
Howie said it’s been cool to see Jackson develop since he was an early draft pick fresh out of college.
Howie said that former Steelers linebacker L.J. Fort was someone they were really excited about acquiring and was a guy they had their eye on all season. They feel like he’d be a really good fit in their scheme, along with Paul Worrilow, who unfortunately missed last season due to an ACL injury.
He said they have Nigel Bradham back and Kamu Grugier-Hill is a young guy who is still developing and Nathan Gerry is a guy they want to see take another step.
They are, however, still looking at other opportunities to add to the roster through either a trade, the draft or free agency.