The Eagles have 20 free agents. Eleven of the starting 22. Eight of the starting 11 on defense. Since the Eagles did not use the franchise tag, every free agent is up for grabs.
That’s an enormous amount of high-profile talent from a 14-3 team that’s going to become available on the open market starting March 15, a week away.
Five of the top 30 free agents, according to Pro Football Focus, are Eagles:
- Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, 3
- Cornerback James Bradberry, 14
- Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, 24
- Linebacker T.J. Edwards, 27
- Right guard Isaac Seumalo, 28
Of these five, four are on defense. All are vital to the Eagles maintaining their second-ranked defense. Losing anyone will leave a huge hole.
- Hargrave patrolled the middle of the line and had 11 sacks.
- Bradberry solidified the Eagles’ secondary, turned it from a question mark to a plus.
- Gardner-Johnson brought swagger and attitude. He also hits in the finest tradition of Eagles’ safeties. He tied for the league lead in interceptions despite missing five-plus games.
- Edwards called the defensive signals and led the team in tackles.
General manager Howie Roseman has a major retooling job to do — “rebuilding” is a bad word in pro sports. He is in strategy mode. Who to keep? Who to cut? Who can they afford? How about other teams’ free agents?
All while trying to hammer out details on Jalen Hurts’ contract, the largest in franchise history.
ALL ROSTER, ALL THE TIME
For Roseman, the crafting of a roster is a year-round endeavor. Players are always evaluated. Improving the team is always the goal.
- “At the end of the day, our job during the season is to prepare for the offseason,” Roseman said.
- “It’s not like we wake up the day after the Super Bowl, and we say, ‘Oh, man, now we have to go figure out the team.’
- “This is what we’ve been doing. We have been doing it during the season, in the offseason.
- “I wake up every morning thinking about this football team, and I go to bed every night thinking about this football team. It’s constant communication about some of the things we are going to do.”
PREPARING FOR NEW PLAYERS
Putting together an NFL roster is like building a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing — the guys who will leave in free agency.
The Eagles will sign free agents. New players bring new skills, different personalities. Some might be better than the players they replaced. Some might not. Nothing is simply interchangeable.
- “We had unbelievable chemistry and an unbelievable group of guys,” Roseman said of the 2022 team. “It is going to be hard to duplicate that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t going forward.”
With 20 free agents, the Eagles likely will lose at least half of them, and probably more.
- “We’re going to prioritize the things that are important to us, that we build our team on,” Roseman said.
- “We’re going to make sure those areas are strong. Are we going to get all the free agents back? We’re just not.
- “We’re not capable of getting all those guys back, but we also understand we’re in a good situation in terms of picks that we have going forward.
- “We have a lot of guys under contract, not only for this year, but going forward. We’re not going to make excuses for the position we’re in.”
The Eagles’ position is strong overall — they have a great offense and franchise quarterback — but uncertain given the free-agent situation. Roseman’s charge is not to just maintain the NFC champion’s roster but to improve it. Getting a taste of the Super Bowl was sweet but not enough.
- “I think it’s hard to make offers that aren’t really in the range of what a player is going to get,” Roseman said about free agency.
- “Our players, what they have done for us and how they have worked and the character that they have shown and the success they have had, we’re just going to be honest with them and basically tell them — if it’s a guy that we’re interested in, we’ll tell him the range.
- “We understand that they put themselves in this position, they’ve taken the injury risk to get in this spot, and just very appreciative of them.”
Roseman made several key defensive signings in-season to plug holes — Ndamukong Suh, Linval Joseph and Robert Quinn. Two weeks before the season, the Eagles traded for Gardner-Johnson, one of their most valuable acquisitions last season.
- “Usually, we like to sign guys early and sign guys during the season, and because of how hot we started, how well we did, and how many free agents we had, we thought it would create a different dynamic if we started to pick one guy and not another guy,” Roseman said.
- “We understood that could cost us in the end, but we felt like it was worthwhile because of the opportunity to potentially win a championship. Unfortunately, we came up short.”