INDIANAPOLIS — Doug Pederson created a circle with his fingers, indicating that the Eagles, like the rest of the NFL, are 0-0.
In the eyes of the Eagles' decision-makers, the 2018 season has started now that they're here for the scouting combine. They might be defending Super Bowl champions, but they're trying to build a roster that can repeat. That presents its own challenges, especially with less salary-cap space and fewer draft picks than in most seasons. The Eagles have 14 free agents, and it sounds as if top executive Howie Roseman is prepared to lose at least some of them.
In most years, the big questions entering the offseason are about what the Eagles must add or upgrade. But this year, Pederson and Roseman were peppered with questions about how they can keep a Super Bowl roster intact — and keep those players happy.
Yet the Eagles did not come to Indianapolis trying to preserve the status quo. As lovable as the 2017 Eagles might have been, they must make changes. And one of the challenges for Roseman and the Eagles will be to avoid sentimentality when making roster decisions in the coming weeks.
"It's hard to avoid looking at those guys, guys who did unbelievable things for your football team and have unbelievable character, and separate it from what we need to do going forward," Roseman said. "By the same token, this is a unique position for us, and certainly for me personally, in the fact that we need to make these decisions coming off a championship year. But we want to get better. We want to continue to be in a position to get better, and we're going to have to make tough choices. It's not like we can just bring the band back together and expect the same results."
The most polarizing decision will be what to do about Nick Foles, who won a Super Bowl MVP award but will be relegated to No. 2 quarterback when Carson Wentz returns from a torn ACL. Whether or not the Eagles trade Foles will depend on Wentz's recovery and what compensation teams will offer in a deal for Foles. Roseman and Pederson were purposefully vague when discussing a potential Foles move on Wednesday. But the Eagles certainly didn't commit to Foles to wearing an Eagles jersey next season. At the least, the team will confer with Foles and his representatives to see what he is thinking.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham headlines the Eagles' pending free agents. Bradham has been a key player for the defense during the last two years, expanding his role last season after Jordan Hicks' injury. Bradham and the Eagles seem to be an ideal match for each other, and the team wants him back — but Roseman emphasized it must be at the right price.
"We're not going to just be an empty vault for any of our players right now," Roseman said. "We just don't have that flexibility."
Other free agents include tight end Trey Burton and defensive tackle Beau Allen, who have both been valuable reserves with the team for the last four seasons; and key veterans such as running back LeGarrette Blount, cornerback Patrick Robinson, and safety Corey Graham, who signed one-year deals last year. The Eagles are preparing for an exodus because Roseman acknowledged that the team expects compensatory draft picks in 2019.
"We have so many free agents at this point, I think it would be almost impossible for us not to get compensatory picks, unfortunately," Roseman said. "It's just the nature of the beast. … I don't think it's going affect our strategy just because of the amount of free agents we're going to have and naturally, some of them are going to leave."
The Eagles' starting roster is well-stocked with returning players. Even if there are salary-cap casualties or potential trade candidates, the core of the roster will remain. But it's unknown how the Eagles will fill the gaps. They have been active in free agency in recent seasons, and they benefited from focusing on veteran free agents to fill depth roles in 2017. Pederson would like to have an internal pipeline that allows them to draft and develop players, but he also noted the importance of finding veterans for areas where young players are not ready.
"You'd love to be able to do it through [the draft] and add to a young quarterback going into Year 3," Pederson said. "You still want to add that youthfulness around him. We also know that in order for us to get to the final game again you're going to need some veteran players to help you get there until that young player's ready to go. A great example — just look at the Minnesota game. Everybody that had an impact on that game. Scoring a touchdown or affecting a passer were all our free agents. … So there's the value in that, but at the same time we do know that we want to add the additional talent through the draft."
The Eagles have only six draft picks and don't have a pick in the second or third rounds. Roseman will be aggressive trying to change that, but it would require either moving back in the draft or dealing a player. That's all part of what could be a more active offseason than expected for the Eagles — even if they're coming off a Super Bowl. Because Roseman and Pederson made it clear on Wednesday: They went 13-3 and hosted a parade, but every team at the combine has the same record.
"From our perspective, we have to find a way to get better," Roseman said. "We understand that nothing is given to us in 2018. If we say, 'Hey we're going to bring everything back and do everything the same,' we're going to get our ass kicked."
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