FIERRO: Eagles GM off to strong start
Here's the beauty of what Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has already masterfully accomplished to help reverse the roster (not to mention psychological) damage done in his one year out of power: They still have more than $10 million to spend under the salary cap.
Here's the beast: The Eagles will once again have so many new moving parts that it will be almost impossible for them to contend this coming season, especially under a first-year head coach with new coordinators running new offensive and defensive systems.
First, the positives.
Roseman has been the busiest GM in football this offseason, even if he doesn't have that title anymore, or should we say yet?
Whatever he is, he's been busy putting smiles on the faces of players and fans. For a span of nearly two months now, starting with the contract extension given to tight end Zach Etrtz on Jan. 25, and most recently the trade on Friday of Mark Sanchez, which gave the team an additional $1 million in cap savings over the $3.5 million they would have received from having to release him, he's done a wonderful job of accelerating evolution from the Chip Kelly age.
In preying on two of the NFL's weaker links, the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans, Roseman not only was able to unload almost all of the guaranteed money due to overpaid players Byron Maxwell and disgruntled DeMarco Murray, but improve the team's draft position as well.
In signing Buffalo Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin to replace Maxwell, he might not have technically upgraded the position, but he's getting a better fit — McKelvin has played for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz — and a better value with a contract that guarantees McKelvin only $3 million and as much as $6.2 million over two years.
The same could be said for bringing in undersized safety Rodney McLeod to replace Walter Thurmond, who was allowed to leave in free agency because the sides were too far apart on what it would take to re-sign him. McLeod might not be as good as Thurmond was in 2015, but he's definitely been more durable in his career, and he has the speed to help cornerbacks in coverage.
In adding guard Brandon Brooks, they absolutely do get a much-needed upgrade with a $40 million contract ($21 million guaranteed) that only counts $3.2 million against the cap this year.
But maybe the most crucial move of all was signing another former Bill, outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, who excelled on the strong side of Schwartz's 4-3 in Schwartz's one and only year as Buffalo's defensive coordinator in 2014.
That 2014 Buffalo defense surrendered the second-fewest points in the NFL (16.9 points per game), produced a league-high 54 sacks, held opponents to a league-best 33.2 percent third-down conversion rate and allowed the second lowest cumulative quarterback rating (74.5).
That same year, McKelvin contributed what stands as a personal-best four interceptions, and Bradham added personal highs of 104 tackles, 21/2 sacks, seven passes defensed and an interception in 14 games.
With the Eagles switching back to a 4-3 base on defense, getting a linebacker like Bradham is huge.
A third individual from that defense, cornerback Ron Brooks, also was signed by the Eagles. He could compete to be their nickel corner, but in Buffalo he was mainly a special-teams player.
New backup quarterback Chase Daniel is more of a mystery. They may not have upgraded there, either, and they're paying him considerably more than what the more-accomplished Sanchez was due to make.
However, he has experience with head coach Doug Pederson's offense, which is more than can be said of anyone else on the team.
Now, the caveat.
All these new faces and new personalities will take more than a full offseason and preseason and maybe even more than a full regular-season to fit together completely.
History has taught us that, particularly when it comes to this team, but with every other franchise too.
In 2016, the Eagles probably are looking at new starters at both guard and cornerback spots, wide receiver, running back, safety and outside linebacker. That's seven newbies alone, not counting Connor Barwin switching back from a 3-4 outside linebacker to an end and at least three new rotational defensive linemen and a new nickel corner joining the mix.
And we haven't even talked yet about the NFL Draft, in which Roseman's track record is not nearly as good or trustworthy as it's been on the business side.
Put it this way: In the last five years alone, the Eagles have been in similar positions twice — in 2011 and last year. Each time, the massive changes backfired so spectacularly that they led to the firing of the head coach, although the Eagles let it fester for another full season under Andy Reid.
This year is different only in that the head coach is new too, so there will presumably be more patience. But that could even make it worse. It likely will take the Eagles three more years minimum to find out if Pederson was the right hire and if restoring Roseman to power was the right thing to do.
And if it turns out they were wrong, they'll be in a world of trouble like no fan alive has seen for this team.
For now, they're not. The glass is half full.
Which way the team goes depends on Roseman proving himself as a personnel man and Pederson proving himself as a head coach.
Since that hasn't happened yet, now is no time to exhale.