April 18, 2022
The goals of free agency in the NFL can vary from organization to organization for many reasons, everything from market size and desirability to a team’s perception of its own contender status or salary cap health.
Free agency is always fluid depending on circumstance but one commonality does exist and it’s rooted in a time-tested sentiment: need is the worst talent evaluator in sports.
Every organization in the NFL, from the best-run outfit down to the one whose chief strategy officer is more consumed with running a secondary professional wrestling promotion than finding the right fits for Doug Pederson, wants to have at least a Band-Aid in place at every position by the time of the draft.
The goal is to fight human nature and the desire to reach for a need so obvious that it turns into a compulsion on the big day(s).
By that measure, the Eagles’ pre-draft free agency snapshot in 2022 has been a failure with the needs only growing more obvious and plentiful over the previous weeks.
A disciplined approach has failed to bear fruit at receiver (unless Nick Sirianni is right and everyone else on the planet is wrong when it comes to Zach Pascal), cornerback, or safety while the splash signing of the unique Hason Reddick, coupled with the unpopular run-it-back philosophy with Derek Barnett, has stopped exactly zero outside observers from pointing to the still obvious need at edge rusher.
To be fair, the Reddick move could be significant and players like Barnett, Anthony Harris and Kyzir White are the competent Band-Aids we spoke of so there is no downgrade there.
So maybe the bigger concern is the Eagles' failure on multiple fronts to get buttoned up for the draft.
Failures on the trade market (Calvin Ridley, Robert Woods) and free agency (Christian Kirk, Allen Robinson) mean Plan A at wide receiver – the third-day back-burner – turns to the now annual ritual of wideout at the top of the process for Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, over a 24-hour period last week, the Eagles lost their safety net at CB with Steve Nelson getting a two-year deal in Houston and then watched a potential upgrade in Stephon Gilmore choose Indianapolis after a reported “hard play” by the Eagles.
The Eagles have also been keeping a keen eye on the versatile Tyrann Mathieu at safety after being outbid early in the process by Baltimore for Marcus Williams. It’s pretty clear, though, that if the “Honey Badger” had his way, he’d either go home to New Orleans or perhaps join the Super Bowl champs to play with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
What we’re seeing is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“I think I said last year was a transition year, and I meant it,” Jeffrey Lurie said at the NFL’s spring meetings. “I think right now, we’re at a point where we build for the present and build for the future. That’s what smart management does. You balance both. You don’t want to sacrifice the future, but you want to maximize the present. That’s always the goal. I think we can do both at the same time.”
The Eagles are straddling the fence, hedging their bets on Jalen Hurts by pushing one of their three first-round picks into 2023. They're doing so while also carefully examining once-expensive used items in hopes of finding the one grand bargain at the bottom of the bin at a sharp discount.
“It’s about building the roster and building it for now, and for the future. That’s how I see it,” Lurie explained. “No timeline.”
The open-ended optionality that Sam Hinkie once espoused has crossed over Broad Street to the NovaCare Complex. At least the Eagles’ acceptance of stasis was born after pursuing and winning championship, however.
“We won the Super Bowl,” Lurie haughtily reminded reporters before playing the you-never-know card.
“What were our odds on to win the Super Bowl?" He asked rhetorically." … I’m not smart enough to know that. But I do know that if you’re disciplined, and focused on maximizing the present and the future at the same time, you have a chance to build a really good roster.”
Lurie is correct but there are also unintended consequences to the Eagles’ current path. It looks like the theme of the offseason to date is that Philadelphia's high standing around the league has been downgraded by many.
To borrow a baseball analogy, if you act like a small-market team people might start treating you like one. Perception can overwhelm reality.
Each story is its own.
Russell Wilson didn’t want the East Coast and neither did Deshaun Watson. Robert Woods chose Nashville when given the chance and Gilmore decided the Midwest and the tougher AFC road was his better path. Kirk and Williams took the biggest bag and Robinson went with the best team of them all and seems to be chasing a ring.
Howie Roseman is always quick to remind you that talent-gathering season is a marathon, not a sprint. He's correct, but there are landmarks along the way and the draft is the biggest one.
Maybe the Eagles find three quality players in the top 51 at positions of need and are able to wait out a depressed market and land Mathieu. All of a sudden the offseason gets a fresh coat of paint and starts looking shiny and new.
But the butterfly effect of failing in March and April could have already taken better unknowns off the table out of necessity.
The Eagles are trying to win in the margins and the organization seems to have lost sight of the fact that talent doesn’t have to worry about counting cards or gaming any system.
John McMullen is a contributor to PhillyVoice.com, and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Media. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow John on Twitter here.