A new NFL year is upon us, and with it brings Stage 6 of the Seven Ways to Celebrate an Eagles Super Bowl Win: the reality that changes are here, a new roster is going to be put in place, and that you are going to have to embrace the changes – releasing Brent Celek on Tuesday is one of the changes that is a tough part of the business.
It’s not easy saying goodbye to players to whom you’ve become attached, players who held a key role in the Super Bowl LII triumph, players who are “Eagles.” But it’s the way it has to be in a league with a hard salary cap and for a team that has done so very well building a championship roster that showed how much depth it had a season ago.
At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, we find out which of the many reports circulating are true. We begin to learn how the Eagles plan to ramp up the roster for another Super Bowl run. This thing isn’t going to be over for a long while – as 2017 proved with the Eagles adding to the locker room right up to (trading for running back Jay Ajayi) and through (special teamer Bryan Braman and offensive tackle Will Beatty) the midseason NFL trade deadline – so the initial jolt may be shocking. Good players are leaving for big paydays. The Eagles are going to work the trade market, as has been reported so heavily in the recent week. They’re going to rearrange contracts to create salary cap space this season.
“Creative” is the word Howie Roseman used at the NFL Scouting Combine a few weeks ago, and creative the Eagles will be. The end result? We will see, but this much we know: The Eagles have a lot going for them as the current roster stands, and there is every reason to expect the team to be in prime position for the season ahead.
- No team in the league has a better quarterback situation than the Eagles. Carson Wentz, The Franchise, is working hard on his recovery from a left knee injury. There is no timetable for his return, but understand how diligent Wentz is and how hungry he is to return for the start of the regular season. Nick Foles is under contract through this season and, of course, we know Foles and his capabilities. Nate Sudfeld has a full offseason to get into the system and continue his development. The Eagles are high on his progress.
- Even with LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, and Kenjon Barner scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, the Eagles have a strong running back picture led by Ajayi, who played so well for the Eagles since he was acquired via trade from Miami on Halloween. Second-year man Corey Clement will really benefit from a full offseason of conditioning and he’s got versatile skills that say he will only improve after an outstanding rookie season. Then there’s Wendell Smallwood, who has battled injuries in his two seasons and who has, frankly, not lived up to expectations. He needs to stay healthy to make this roster. The Eagles have kept him around for a reason, remember. He’s got a lot of talent.
- The lines of scrimmage, where the games are won and lost, are in terrific shape. The entire offensive line returns intact, but at some point, the Eagles will add some prospects. They’re also, it appears, counting on Jason Peters to return, and if he can pull that off and play at the high level he played before suffering his season-ending knee injury, the offensive line will be a very, very strong point. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles are going to have some changes. That appears to be a certainty, and the pre-free agency reports indicate some turnover. That can be a good thing, and if the reports come to fruition, it will be a good thing. Beau Allen looks to be headed toward free agency. The Eagles already have a lot coming back and are going to add. As good as it was last season, the defensive line can be better and the Eagles look to be serious about making it better.
- Some faces are going to change among the pass catchers, but that’s the way of life in the NFL. Tight end Trey Burton is reportedly a highly sought-after player in free agency and he deserves the chance to make some money. So the Eagles are going to need to replace Burton, who caught 23 passes last season. Celek had his role, however reduced on the field. Some young receivers, notably Mack Hollins, will have chances to step up and the Eagles will add players there. Don’t worry about the weapons in the passing game. The Eagles have the opportunity to be more explosive and more versatile.
- The defensive secondary has a lot of young, budding talent and it’s going to be exciting to see how it all comes together with second-year man Sidney Jones on the field full time, and with fellow second-year man Rasul Douglas pushing for playing time and with Ronald Darby an Eagle for a full season. Cornerback is a loaded group, with more players coming. At safety, the Eagles have veterans Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod and that’s good to know. More help? Sure. This defense was good last year, but it wasn’t great. And some of the quick-passing teams hurt the Eagles in these last two seasons – Green Bay in 2016, the Giants and the Patriots in 2017 – so the Eagles need to be better up front and in coverage.
- Linebacker is an area to watch if, as it appears, Nigel Bradham reaches free agency and tests the market. Losing Bradham would create a significant void and he would need to be replaced. Jordan Hicks returns from an Achilles injury and the Eagles have to make sure they are covered given Hicks’ injury history.
- Special teams is an area to be addressed as well with punter Donnie Jones retiring, with punt returners Sproles and Barner potentially leaving, and with a key core special teamer in Burton on the market.
Nothing is etched in stone and we know how Roseman gets deals done and challenges the roster. He isn’t one to lay back and let the market come to him. On Wednesday, we will see just what the Eagles have in mind, at least the start of the plan, as the 2018 NFL year officially begins.