A year ago, I ran the rule over the tendencies of the Eagles’ pro personnel department. Howie Roseman’s history is long enough to give us a window into his preferences. Through the looking glass, I argued he has two primary principles – build through the trenches while avoiding significant investment in skill-position players. Going individually through 2019’s transactions, however, might provide evidence to the contrary.
Building on a Strength
Undoubtedly the most significant roster move, in terms of impact on the 2019 roster, was the free agent signing of defensive tackle Malik Jackson. Alongside Fletcher Cox, Jackson has been amongst the best interior pass-rushers of the past half-decade. He made a living brutalising opposing offensive lineman, and now partners one of his only peers who could compete in terms of quality and production. Michael Bennett was clearly dissatisfied in his role as rotational edge and situational tackle, so Roseman opted to churn the defensive front once more. Vinny Curry, and the accompanying versatility, also returns to the edge pool to join Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. Injuries undoubtedly hurt the defensive line a year ago, hampering not only 2017’s first-round pick, but also Timmy Jernigan. The former Raven is crucial to the balance up front with his ability to stuff double teams over the nose. If he’s back to his best, the defensive front will be elite next season.
Tackles take time to adjust to the NFL. Redshirting new recruits is a great way to ease the transition. Andre Dillard exemplifies the foresight of the current personnel department, aggressively targeting the long-term replacement for a Hall of Famer. The Eagles’ backup offensive line is honestly better than some starting units around the league, a huge credit to the scouting department and coaching quality of Jeff Stoutland. The Reid/Banner axis were perhaps negligent in their investment on the offensive front, particularly in the latter years, and the new regime has looked to redress that oversight.
Roseman does share one similarity with his mentors, planning for the future at the most important position on the team. Reid loved drafting quarterbacks, from AJ Feeley to Andy Hall, to Mike Kafka. In some ways selecting Clayton Thorson in the fifth-round was strange with Nate Sudfeld clearly earmarked as Wentz’s long-term backup. But past front offices traded upward in value for those players, cornering some team desperate for a serviceable signal-caller. Nick Foles was never going to be traded. When the Eagles sent Donovan McNabb to Washington they had a better offer from the Oakland Raiders, but allowed the former face of the franchise to choose his own destination. Roseman, like his predecessor, was always likely to show the same loyalty.
Running Backs on the Rise?
The biggest surprise of the offseason by far was the Eagles’ selection of PSU running back Miles Sanders in the second-round. Not since Shady McCoy in 2009 have the team invested such a high-pick in a player for their backfield. Compared with more modest investments in Jay Ajayi (via trade), or Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood, Roseman opted to dig deeper into his pockets this time around. What precipitated such a change? Perhaps it was schematic, and Pederson asked for personnel to revolutionise how they utilise the backfield core to take a new approach into 2019? Perhaps the roster is sufficiently strong and settled to allow the luxury? Or perhaps Roseman remembered the impact of Bryan Westbrook or Shady McCoy, who elevated their offenses with their elusiveness in the open-field. It feels a stretch though to expect Sanders to initiate a complete overhaul of the Eagles’ strategy at running back; using a feature running back rather than a committee (alongside Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement). Investing a two for a player who is likely to represent a long-term role player therefore is a surprise, given Roseman’s previous history.
Conforming to Type
In other respects, the front office were broadly predictable. They added little to a linebacking corps sorely lacking support. Zach Brown arrived on a one year deal just above vet minimum. Safety, although perhaps less of a need with Rodney McLeod returning, received little in the way of reinforcements. In terms of help, the receivers received another gamble of a mid-round investment, JJ Arcega-Whiteside from Stanford. Another physical specimen with a great size/speed combination, Arcega-Whiteside fits much the same mould as Mack Hollins but with more production. That theme certainly persists.