The big Eagles news this year at the combine came out on Tuesday when they announced their two new coordinator hires in Brian Johnson and Sean Desai.
But after hearing a bunch of GMs and coaches talk this week and after spending four days in Indianapolis, there were plenty of Eagles leftovers from this combine.
Let’s get into them:
1. With Quez Watkins’ drop in the Super Bowl lingering in the minds of Eagles fans, it’s fair to wonder if the team needs to upgrade at their WR3 position. Because even before that major blunder, it wasn’t like Watkins was having a great Year 3.
So during his press conference in Indy, head coach Nick Sirianni was asked if the Eagles need to upgrade that position.
“Yeah, I think when you look at that, it's easy to say, well, Quez Watkins didn't have the same year he had last year,” Sirianni said. “Well, he didn't have the opportunities he had last year, and it actually wasn't even close.”
That’s true. In 2021, when Watkins had 647 receiving yards, he ended the season as the Eagles’ No. 2 receiver behind DeVonta Smith after overtaking Jalen Reagor on the depth chart. The addition of A.J. Brown in the offseason pushed him from WR2 to WR3. That’s a big drop. And the Eagles didn’t try to hide the fact that the passing game ran through Brown, Smith and Dallas Goedert. That oftentimes left Watkins out of the mix. But it’s also fair to point out that Watkins didn’t capitalize on the opportunities he did get.
The other interesting part of Sirianni’s answer about the third wide receiver spot was that he brought up Zach Pascal, who was the fourth receiver but had a very defined role that was different than Watkins’ role. While Watkins is under contract in 2022, Pascal is a pending free agent.
“The things that Quez does is [he] stretches the field,” Sirianni said. “The things that Zach Pascal did was [being] our enforcer.”
Sirianni then invoked something he hear 76ers coach Doc Rivers say before: “Some guys are just going to have to get rebounds, and then if you got a chance to put it in, you got to take advantage of that opportunity to put that thing in.”
2. Howie Roseman gave a little preemptive strike on Tuesday when I asked him about the team’s approach this offseason with so many pending free agents.
“Are we going to get all the free agents back? We're just not,” Roseman said. “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.”
In a way, that felt like a warning to fans who are looking at the high-profile names of the Eagles’ soon-to-be free agents like C.J. Gardner-Johnson, James Bradberry, Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Miles Sanders and more. The Eagles might be able to keep a couple of those big-name guys but they understand they’re going to lose a lot of them too. There’s just no way to keep them all, especially as the Eagles transition to becoming a team with a quarterback who has a mega salary.
Roseman said they’ll just try to be honest with the players they’re interested in retaining and tell them the price range. They don’t want to insult these players with bad offers.
How will the Eagles prioritize these free agents? That’s still somewhat unclear but Gardner-Johnson is likely near the top of the list. I just wouldn’t count on the franchise tag, which would give CJGJ a one-year salary of $14 million in 2023. I get a sense they won’t go that way. There’s a reason Roseman hasn’t used a franchise tag in a decade and it really wouldn’t make sense for the current construction of the team. My guess is that if Gardner-Johnson returns in 2023, it will be on a multi-year deal that keeps his cap hit relatively low next season.
3. I got a chance to listen to former Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans speak at his combine press conference as the head coach of the Houston Texans. It gave me flashbacks to the first time I met Ryans at the NovaCare Complex as an incoming free agent in 2012. It was clear then that he was a leader and while I didn’t know immediately that he would become a head coach, it didn’t take long.
Hearing Ryans talk about his philosophies as a teacher was really interesting. Ryans said the best way to know if he’s successfully taught something to one of his players is to figure out if they can teach it back to them. He also sounded a lot like Sirianni with his answer about teaching style. He acknowledged that everyone learns differently and he feels the need to be adaptable to that.
I don’t know if Ryans will be successful as a head coach with the Texans. There are too many other factors at play. But he will give that organization some stability, some credibility and he’ll change the culture. He’ll finally make it a place where people want to work again.
4. Walking down the streets in downtown Indianapolis on Tuesday night, I was surprised when a burly man with a big beard started walking toward me to say hello. It was Jason Kelce.
The Eagles legendary center was in Indy to record a few podcast interviews, among them Roseman and Sirianni. Kelce still hasn’t made a decision on his future or at least hasn’t disclosed a decision publicly. But the Eagles obviously want to have him back and Roseman said there’s not really a timetable to hear his decision.
“When is our first game?” Roseman said. “I mean, he's a special player, special person. I think that whatever his timeline is, we're willing to work with him.”
It still won’t be cheap. Even at 35, Kelce is still the best center in the NFL and was paid like it in 2022 with a $14 million contract. It shouldn’t be any cheaper in 2023. But he’s worth it.
Maybe Kelce can let his brother announce it on national TV. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend. Big brother is pretty excited for him.
5. The Eagles have the No. 10 and No. 30 picks in this draft and they clearly aren’t going to use one of them on a quarterback. So the Eagles hope the teams in front of them do.
Because there seems to be a very good chance that four quarterbacks — Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson — could all go in the top 10. If that happens, it will push some really good players into the Eagles range.
Roseman did everything in his power to help that along on Tuesday.
“I think there are a lot of good quarterbacks,” he said. “It's a quarterback league, and so our assumption is these talented guys — we're not in that market, so hopefully they all go, to be honest with you. But they're talented enough to go.”
6. The Eagles are likely going to lose Miles Sanders this offseason as he hits free agency so they’re going to need to find a new RB1. Unless they think Kenny Gainwell, going into Year 3, is ready for that responsibility.
Roseman was asked if he thinks Gainwell is ready to be a lead back?
“Kenny is an impressive young player,” Roseman said. “When you watch him and his skillset, he has really good vision. He has the ability to get small and get skinny and he can catch the ball, he can protect. He's a good player.
“We've also seen in this league that you need more than one. It's hard to roll with just one running back in this league. I think we're happy with Kenny; we know also that he hasn't hit his ceiling yet. Obviously, he had a good playoff run, but it is a position we are going to continue to add at. We don't have a lot of guys under contract right now, so we will continue to look at players at that position and a lot of positions.”
While it seems likely that Sanders is going to leave in free agency there could be a path back to Philly for him. The Eagles probably aren’t going to pay him a ton to keep him in the first wave of free agency but the longer Sanders is on the market, it’ll leave open a possibility that he circles back to a deal with the Eagles. That wouldn’t be good for Sanders because it would mean he didn’t land the big free agent deal. But if he has to accept a lower offer to play anywhere in 2023, it stands to reason that he would presumably be open to doing that in Philly where he knows the offense and knows the quarterback and run game gives him a great chance of success.
7. As Shane Steichen takes over in Indianapolis as the Colts’ head coach, he’s looking for a new quarterback. That could come in the form of another veteran, but with the No. 4 overall pick, the Colts are well-positioned to draft their next franchise QB.
The process of vetting these quarterbacks is extensive and even with it, plenty of them fail. Steichen was asked on Wednesday why he thinks that is. In his answer, it was clear how much of an impact Jalen Hurts had on him in their two years together.
“Part of it is the obsession in some of these guys. You've got to love it,” Steichen said. “You've got to be obsessed with it. You've got to be the first one in, the last one to leave. As these guys in Philly know, Jalen was in there at freakin' 6 o'clock. He'd be there until 9:30.
“That's what it looks like. You want to play in this league for a long time and be successful? You've got to have that mindset every single day that I'm going to give it everything I've got and give it everything I can.”
8. Sirianni has said often how much Frank Reich prepared him to eventually become a head coach during their time together in Indianapolis. So when he got in the big chair in Philly, he tried to do the same for his coordinators Steichen and Jonathan Gannon.
“What Frank Reich did for me was pull me aside what felt like once or twice a week and said, ‘Hey, when you're a head coach, be ready for this or be ready for that,’” Sirianni said this week. “I was appreciative of that to a point where I tried to do the same thing with Shane and Jonathan and Brian (Johnson) and all the guys that we have on our staff.”
Both Steichen and Gannon seem appreciative of those efforts from Sirianni. Not every coach goes to those lengths.
It’s not like Sirianni is actively trying to push his guys out the door for other opportunities, but most younger coaches in the profession have aspirations to climb the ladder and they’re going to try to do it with or without help. What Sirianni is doing isn’t necessarily helping them to leave but preparing them for when they do.
“Extremely grateful to Nick for bringing me in, looping me in on a lot of those things,” Gannon said. “Like I said, he really taught me how to be prepared to be a head coach and I’m using a lot of things that we talked about throughout the last couple of years and applying those to our team now.”
9. When Roseman admitted that the Eagles will likely lose many of their free agents, he also mentioned the importance of younger players filling those roles. Some of those players will be added when the 2023 draft kicks off in April.
Some of those players are already on the team.
Three of those key players are the Eagles’ first three picks from the 2022 draft: Jordan Davis, Cam Jurgens and Nakobe Dean.
Davis was a rotational player as a rookie, while Jurgens and Dean basically had redshirt seasons. But the Eagles drafted all three for the long haul and there’s a very good chance all three will be starters in Year 2.
“We knew when we were drafting them last year we were drafting them because we thought they were the best players,” Roseman said. “Not necessarily because they were the guys ready to fill spots at a position of need.
“So, as we look at our team this year, knowing that those guys can take a step forward and be part of it, and being comfortable with the young players playing and young players that have talent and that have work ethic and get put in that spot. We even saw it this year when we put young players in spots and how they stepped up. I don't think that's something we're afraid of.”
It’s very easy to see the path to being a starter for all three players. Davis started five games as a rookie and now Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are pending free agents. Jurgens will start at center if Kelce retires; if Kelce returns, Jurgens could then be the replacement for Isaac Seumalo at right guard. And both starting linebackers — T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White — are free agents. That puts Dean in a prime position to see the field a ton next year.
10. As I stood by one of the podiums in the Indiana Convention Center waiting for a head coach with Eagles to hold a press conference, a reporter from a different market remarked that I could really stop by just about any of the podiums.
It’s wild how many Eagles connections there are in the NFL. A lot of that stems from Andy Reid but it’s not limited to him. I went through the list of coaches and GMs who spoke this week in Indy and all of these guys have been in Philly:
Coaches: Sean Payton, Andy Reid, Ron Rivera, Doug Pederson, Todd Bowles, Jonathan Gannon, DeMeco Ryans, Frank Reich, John Harbaugh, Shane Steichen
GMs: Joe Douglas, Brett Veach, Andrew Berry, Jason Licht
The Eagles have also lost several future general managers in the last few years to promotions around the NFL. And with Sirianni’s coaching tree already starting to grow, it doesn’t seem like these league-wide connections are going to slow anytime soon.
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