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Offseason Heats Up Starting Now

Posted Apr 20, 2014

Free agency was a heck of an appetizer. All of this pre-draft chatter has been quite a tease. The intensity for the offseason increases right now, as the Eagles begin their offseason conditioning program ahead of the NFL draft ...

The NFL offseason is a long and winding road leading into training camp and then the preseason. We are apt to judge quickly and react instantly, and the frequent glances we take at the Eagles' roster raise plenty of curiosity, questions, anticipation and a tremendous amount of excitement.

We're at the point where NFL teams are juggling many responsibilities. Free agency continues, at a trickle's pace. The time is closing as the NFL draft begins on May 8. Conditioning programs are happening around the league as players ramp up their preparation for the 2014 season.

From the Eagles' perspective, there is a ton happening. Lincoln Financial Field continues its Scaling Project. Players are in town for the voluntary offseason conditioning program. The draft is right around the corner.

Some thoughts from this perspective as the latter days of April melt into May and the roster rounds into shape ...

FREE AGENCY

Is it over for the Eagles? Could be, but general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly are constantly looking for ways to add to the roster, so you never know. In 2013, for example, the Eagles signed punter Donnie Jones just a month prior to the draft. They traded running back Dion Lewis to Cleveland for linebacker Emmanuel Acho two weeks before the draft began. A handful of players were released a couple of weeks prior to the April 25 opening draft night that netted right tackle Lane Johnson.

In theory, yeah, there aren't impact players remaining on the streets. But there are veteran players who have very little leverage who want to find a team before the draft closes out so many chances for roster openings.

Maybe it happens. The Eagles are keeping their eyes open. According to OverTheCap.com, the Steelers ($357,896 under the cap), Lions ($1,325,941), Panthers ($1,694,129) and Redskins ($2,754,886) are cap challenged. Will those teams, or any other team, look to shed some salary to become more comfortable within the cap prior to the draft?

CONDITIONING PROGRAM

The Eagles aren't conducting practices during this time -- the first team practice comes after the draft -- and they aren't having positional meetings or anything of that sort, but the conditioning program is an important time for players and for the team.

We haven't seen most of the roster since the day after the January 4 playoff loss to New Orleans, and we'll see who has taken the most positive steps physically since that time.

How a player looks in the weight room and how his measurables stack up with last year's numbers are important, but they don't necessarily mean success or a step back on the football field.

That said, I want to see how three players look walking around in a tee shirt and shorts and talk to them about the months that have passed since the playoff defeat. They are:

  • Earl Wolff, safety: A disappointing end after a promising start to his rookie season launched Wolff into an extremely important offseason. Wolff was inactive for five of the final six regular season games because of a knee injury, and while he was active for the playoffs, Wolff didn't play. He needs to prove that he can withstand the rigors of a long NFL season and of the physical play in this league. How much did Wolff put into this offseason?

  • Bennie Logan, defensive tackle: The coaching staff really likes Logan, who stepped in and played well as a starter in his rookie season. He is not a prototype nose tackle in terms of size, but Logan has a strong lower body, excellent technique and terrific effort. What does Logan need to take his game to a new level? How effective can he be on the nose in this defense?

  • Lane Johnson, offensive tackle: After a very strong rookie season, Johnson wants to get to the next step in his ascension. He needs to continue to gain strength -- remember, he was a quarterback in college four years ago -- and improve every phase of his game to become one of the league's best right tackles. Johnson was on the draft circuit a year ago -- same as Wolff and Logan -- and he lived up to expectations as a rookie. A big offseason can push him to the next rung in the ladder to stardom.
NFL DRAFT

It opens on May 8 and this much we know: The Eagles hold the 22nd pick that night in the first round and they have six selections total in the seven rounds. The Eagles are tight-lipped about their intentions and that adds to the intrigue for draft weekend.

The needs on this roster are not limited by what most draftniks suggest. The truth is that Kelly wants to continue to challenge every part of the roster. He's not going to leave any stones unturned.

Can the Eagles wheel and deal to acquire more draft picks? Will they move in the first round? How can they fill their needs during the draft, and then sign some post-draft players who will come in and challenge for roster spots?

This is crunch time for Roseman, for Kelly and for the personnel department. The Eagles are thorough in their preparation and they are going to look to follow up on the draft success they had in 2012 and 2013 and create every imaginable scenario to make the roster as good as it can be for 2014 and beyond.

Who will they take in round 1? It's a guessing game for all of us, Eagles included. There are too many variables to know for sure, which is why the next couple of weeks are so critical to make sure the Eagles have a strong understanding of what other teams are going to do, what those teams might be willing to do in terms of a trade, and that the Eagles have their final draft rankings and board in perfect working order.

The heat is here. The offseason is enters a most important period on a lot of fronts.

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