Perhaps no offseason will test the ability of Eagles general manager Howie Roseman than this one.
The Eagles are coming off a Super Bowl season, but as free agency begins Monday with the so-called legal tampering period, nearly one-third of the 53-man roster will be eligible to sign elsewhere.
Roseman is already on record as saying the Eagles won’t be able to keep everyone, and that is obvious as they have limited salary cap space heading into the new league year. So Roseman will be busy, not only with trying to keep some of his most important free agents, but in finding new players through free agency, trades and the draft to replace many of those who will be leaving.
Here, then, are seven objectives for the Eagles as the new league year begins Wednesday:
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Sign Jalen Hurts
This is a no-brainer, at least on the Eagles’ part. The sooner they can sign Hurts to that extension, the sooner they proceed with their offseason plans. Sure, it will cost the Eagles dearly, especially after Giants QB Daniel Jones signed a deal last week averaging $40 million plus per season with incentives.
Based on that, Hurts’ deal could average more than $50 million per season, making him the highest-paid quarterback − at least until Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, the Chargers’ Justin Herbert and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson sign long-term deals.
By signing Hurts now, or soon, the Eagles can start spreading out that signing bonus onto the 2023 salary cap. As of now, Hurts counts $4.9 million on the cap. By adding $10 million-$15 million of Hurts’ bonus to that, the Eagles will then have an idea of what they can spend on the rest of the roster not only this season, but in future years when Hurts’ cap hit will be much higher.
But it takes two to tango, and Hurts could be leaving money on the table by signing now with quarterback salaries and the salary cap continuing to skyrocket.
Splurge on this free agent CB
The Eagles could be losing both starting cornerbacks in Darius Slay, 32, who reportedly was given permission to seek a trade, and James Bradberry, 30, who is a free agent.
Instead of spending heavily to keep one of them, the Eagles should spend heavily to sign a high-quality free agent who’s younger. And the prime target should be Tampa Bay’s Jamel Dean, who’s 26 years old. He was a full-time starter last season and had two interceptions.
If Slay’s salary cap hit is $26 million pending a restructure or paycut, and the likely cost to keep Bradberry would be at least $12 million, the Eagles could spend Bradberry’s money on a younger corner with his best years still ahead of him.
If past seasons are an indication, Roseman does strike quickly with one player in free agency. Last season it was Haason Reddick, and in 2020, it was Javon Hargrave.
At safety, this UD star could be a fit
It’s hard to fathom seeing three of the top five defensive backs leaving, but it’s very likely that Slay, Bradberry and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will be playing elsewhere in 2023.
Of the three, the Eagles should prioritize re-signing Gardner-Johnson, who’s 25 years old. But his age, along with his ability to play both safety and nickel, makes him so attractive as a free agent. The Eagles won’t, and can’t, engage in a bidding war, so it’s more likely the Eagles will re-sign starting safety Marcus Epps and pursue a lower-cost free agent.
That player could be very familiar to University of Delaware fans in Chargers’ safety Nasir Adderley, Los Angeles’ second-round pick in 2019. Adderley, however, lost playing time to Alohi Gilman. While that might be a red flag, the Eagles can have him compete with Reed Blankenship for a starting job.
The big free agent Eagles should re-sign
Of all the Eagles’ major free agents, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is the one they should bring back. The others are more replaceable, whether it’s running back Miles Sanders, right guard Isaac Seumalo, fellow DT Fletcher Cox and the aforementioned defensive backs.
That’s because the Eagles have only three players under contract for 2023 in first-round draft pick Jordan Davis along with Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu. Hargrave won’t come cheap, however. And at 30 years old, he could be somewhat of a risk.
But Hargrave has had his best seasons in sacks the last two seasons with 7½ in 2021 and 11 last season. The Eagles need a veteran presence in the middle.
Changing the draft strategy
The Eagles have four picks in the first three rounds. Even if they do address some of their needs in free agency, they’ll still have to draft for need as opposed to the past few seasons when they have drafted heir-apparents, such as Davis, center Cam Jurgens and linebacker Nakobe Dean last season.
Expect the four early-round picks to be a defensive end, two defensive backs and running back. Even with Graham’s return, the Eagles will need a defensive end to rotate in with him, Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and possibly even Derek Barnett.
The drafted running back could serve as a replacement for Sanders, rotating in with Kenny Gainwell and perhaps Trey Sermon if necessary. And the Eagles have to develop a corner rather than continually dipping into the free agent/trade market for a high-priced player.
The Quez question at WR
It’s hard to nitpick with a prolific offense, especially with the constraints facing the rest of the roster. So don’t expect the Eagles to spend for a third wide receiver to replace Quez Watkins. And really, why should they? Despite Watkins’ faults, he’s the Eagles’ best pure deep threat by stretching the defense, and allowing more space for A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert.
Granted, Watkins needs to improve, both in ball security and catching 50-50 balls, but he’s not going to be a big part of the offense. Brown, Smith and Goedert accounted for 69% of the Eagles’ targets, and that’s with Goedert missing five games with a shoulder injury.
That’s not going to change. Watkins, a sixth-round pick in 2020, had 33 catches for 354 yards last season. That’s good production for his draft spot and was often more than what the Eagles got from former first-round picks Nelson Agholor and Jalen Reagor.
Roseman was named the NFL’s executive of the year last season precisely because he found key players much later during the offseason.
In fact, Roseman often mentions how he was criticized two weeks into free agency last season for not doing much. Then he traded for Brown on draft night, signed Bradberry in May, traded for Gardner-Johnson in August and signed defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph in November.
All were key players in the Super Bowl run.
That could be the case again this year. There is always a key player like Bradberry who gets released after many teams have already used up their cap space, and thus signs a one-year, prove-it deal at a reasonable price. In addition, Roseman will also have significant draft capital in 2024 to make a trade.
Roseman said the “player-acquisition period,” as he likes to call it, runs right up until the trade deadline at the end of October, and perhaps beyond.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.