Headed For The Exits
Birds Bracing For Major Free-Agent Departures
The winds of change swirled through the Eagles’ coaching ranks Tuesday, as the team officially announced the hirings of Brian Johnson and Sean Desai as offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, along with filling out ancillary offensive roles.
The sweeping moves marked the beginning of what figures to be an active off-season for the Super Bowl runner-ups.
In two weeks, they face the harsh reality of restocking the defensive cupboard, as six starters and 20 overall Eagles are primed to become free agents when the new league year begins at 4 p.m. March 15.
As the organization prepares to reload for another deep postseason run – while conjuring contingency plans and bracing for inevitable change – Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni and personnel chief Howie Roseman addressed the topic of replenishing the 53-man roster.
“I wake up every morning thinking about this football team, and I go to bed every night thinking about this football team,” Roseman, the team’s executive vice president of football operations, said. “It’s constant communication about some of the things we are going to do.
“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.”
With staff cohesion being crucial, Sirianni and Roseman must determine who on the team’s extensive list of pending free agents qualifies as irreplaceable pieces to the puzzle.
In recognition of the contributions and sacrifices of those eligible for new deals, Roseman said he wouldn’t submit below-market offers to his in-house free agents just to say the Eagles tried their best.
“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. “Our players, what they’ve done for us and how they have worked and the character that they have shown and the success they’ve 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. We had unbelievable chemistry and an unbelievable group of guys. It is going to be hard to duplicate that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t going forward.
In the past, the Eagles have extended the contracts of some foundational pieces during the season.
But Roseman, intent on preserving the team dynamic and culture, strategically back-burnered those discussions amid the team’s Super Bowl run.
“I think just obviously we took a little bit of a different tactic this year,” he said. “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.
“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.”
As reported on Inside The Birds, retaining safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson is a top priority.
At 25 years old, Gardner-Johnson is poised to cash-in on a career season in which he finished as the league’s co-leader in interceptions (6) in his first season as a full-time safety.
Gardner-Johnson performed at his best when the stakes were highest – Super Bowl LVII – where he was arguably the best defender on the field for coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
He also provides positional versatility at nickel corner, a position that was in flux throughout the season with Avonte Maddox available for just nine games.
Free-agent defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, 30, is a more complicated and interesting case.
Although run defense isn’t his strongest suit, Hargrave racked up a career-high 11 sacks and 10 tackles for loss, many of which occurred in critical moments.
A pocket-pushing interior lineman boasting a lengthy track record of production is a valuable commodity for any defense and elevates the ceiling of the entire line.
Losing Hargrave, and possibly veteran Fletcher Cox, would indicate an Eagles defensive line in flux, given the inexperience and uncertainty on the depth chart.
Then there’s linebacker T.J. Edwards and safety Marcus Epps – shrewd, fundamentally sound second- and third-level enforcers who define the term “glue players.”
Both have been tremendous stories of development.
Epps, 27, has continually improved every season – earning the trust of two defensive coordinators – and emerged in his first season as a starter.
Given the team’s ties across the league, Epps could potentially land a lucrative deal on the open market.
Edwards, of course, climbed the ranks to prominence the untraditional route as an undrafted free agent.
Last season, he was tasked with the responsibility of wearing the green dot on his helmet – meaning he maintains constant communication with the coaching staff throughout games –and accumulated 159 tackles (10 for loss), two sacks, and five quarterback hits while accounting for 94 percent of the defensive snaps.
Edwards is a homegrown talent who took on a leadership role, so there’s incentive to retain his services.
But the former Wisconsin product should be in high demand, creating another potential bidding war that Roseman is trying to avoid.
Despite the imminent decision-making, evaluations, and myriad outlooks in terms of valuation, the Eagles’ brain trust maintains a unified and communicative front throughout the comprehensive process.
“We talk about everything,” Sirianni said. “The draft, the free agents, our team. I mean, we’re in constant communication. The best organizations are in constant communication with the head coach and the GM.
“That’s just what we do. I’m in his office pretty much all day at this time of the year watching players with him, talking about players, talking about our team, whatever it is. We spend a lot of time together at this time.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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