Balancing Eagles' veteran depth with youthful impact no easy task

Balancing Eagles' veteran depth with youthful impact no easy task

Eagles

Balancing Eagles' veteran depth with youthful impact no easy task

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I was reading up on Bert Bell the other day, you know, the well-to-do gentleman from the Main Line who bought the rights to own the Philadelphia franchise in the NFL for $2500 back in 1933. Bell of course was soon drafted by his fellow owners to become the commissioner of the league. What I didn’t realize was, after two decades of overseeing the growth of the league well into the burgeoning TV stage of pro football’s growth and popularity, Bell was planning to step down from the commissioner’s office in order to resume ownership of his beloved Eagles. That plan ended abruptly when he got so excited watching a long game-winning TD pass caught by Tommy McDonald in 1959 that he suffered a fatal heart attack.

That’s probably the quintessential example of a die-hard Eagles fan. It’s also a real-life case of putting your money where your heart is.

If Bell were alive today I think he’d like what his Eagles were doing this offseason so far. They’ve been careful and selective in free agency. They brought players back like DE Brandon Graham, CB Ronald Darby and DE Vinny Curry on extremely team-friendly deals. Likewise a new and cheaper contract gives ancient LT Jason Peters another go-round. They got veteran depth additions like safety Andrew Sendejo and linebacker L.J. Fort at bargain value. They made prudent decisions to let QB Nick Foles and WR Golden Tate (and DE Michael Bennett by trading him) seek their fortunes elsewhere.

And as Chris McPherson of PE.com points out:

ESPN polled its team of writers on a number of free agency-related topics and one of them was to name the team, outside of the Cleveland Browns, that is the most improved. Kevin Seifert chose the Eagles.

“Let’s not forget what the Eagles have done, amid outsized concerns that they would be too tight against the salary cap to do much,” Seifert wrote. “They signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson to play alongside Fletcher Cox, as potent an interior pairing as there is in the NFL. And they brought back receiver DeSean Jackson, who is still one of the NFL’s top deep threats and is adept at the routes quarterback Carson Wentz throws best.”

What possible complaints could there be?

PE.com poster Hot Rod 71: “I don’t know how much improved we are. Definitely some, kinda depends on which Malik Jackson we are getting, the one that got benched last season or the player from 2 seasons ago. I kind of feel that we overpaid a little for most of the guys we signed and I don’t like losing Bennett (was great last year with a team friendly salary). That trade made no sense to me, considering we got next to nothing. On the bright side, I think Howie has done a great job getting us into a position to take the best player available approach in the draft. The only position of need that hasn’t been addressed yet is RB and I think more competition will be probably be added there. LB is also still a need, I think, although we’ve added some depth players. All in all, pretty good FA period so far, but this roster is aging. That makes this draft crucial, have to nail it.”

I don’t disagree with anything Hot Rod is saying there. Yes, the sum of the pieces added has equated to a significant factor of veteran depth, but the undeniable fact is the Eagles are aging at a faster rate than they have provided youthful impact replacement talent. They have to count upon not just this year’s draft to reverse that trend, but also bank on greater progress to come from 2nd and 3rd year players already in the system. Sometimes that bloom and blossom blueprint fizzles out through no organizational fault. In many ways you have to rely upon good luck as much as good scouting to develop young talent. It’s a higher pressure challenge to stay in the league compared to gaining entry into it.

So I like to imagine Bert Bell if he were alive today urging the Eagles to continue their recent trend of recruiting veterans with high character who are more about the winning than the money. But from his vantage point he would also be begging them to get younger and faster wherever possible. Things have to begin opening up a lot more on offense, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a truly mobile attacking defense. I think for all of the competitive improvement we’ve seen in the Eagles over the past three years, there’s still that lingering sense that our approach to sustaining cutting-edge performance is in danger of becoming stagnant. For all his wheeling and dealing, Howie Roseman is basically a  very conservative general manager. I can almost hear Bert Bell whispering in Howie’s ear: “Loosen up a little—predictability is often overrated in football.” Bert Bell would know—he shook up a lot of older “proven concepts” in football to help get the NFL to where it is today.

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