Combine a reminder that Eagles need to get younger

Carson Wentz and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie embrace at the beginning of the press conference Monday night at the NovaCare complex to announce Wentz' contract extension. Photo by Andy Lewis

The first rite of the National Football League spring is the annual Combine in Indianapolis.

All 32 teams arrive for the annual cattle call for aspiring future players, who get prodded, measured and displayed over the course of a long March weekend in sunny Indiana. And yes, it is exactly as glamorous as it sounds.

Traditionally, it is also the first real chance for fans to hear from Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman and head coach Nick Sirianni with the benefit of distance and, hopefully, perspective from the previous season.

The Eagles’ near-historic end-of-season collapse puts a finer point on the challenges ahead for the team. The Combine is a reminder that finding new, younger talent is the unending Job 1 of every team.

The Eagles must get younger and the young players already on the roster must become the core talent the team builds around.

The Eagles defense, especially, needs to get younger. Fletcher Cox was arguably the Eagles’ best defender last year. Darius Slay is another year older in the secondary. The entire linebacker corps needs to be overhauled.

Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter are two cornerstones of a future defensive line. Nolan Smith has to be counted as a disappointment last year after seeing only limited action as a first-round edge rusher. Smith will have to make a much bigger impact this fall. Cox and Brandon Graham, if either or both return, can still be productive players but the Eagles can’t expect them to be the focus of an effective defense.

James Bradberry is the best example of just how fine the line is between veteran and retired. Bradberry lost half a step and that was more than enough to make him a liability for the team. That’s the cruel calculus of NFL aging. Elsewhere, Avonte Maddox needs to prove that he can stay on the field long enough to be an effective answer in the slot. Reed Blankenship is still a young, effective safety, but he’ll need help.

The Eagles have taken a volume approach to developing young corners but a rookie star corner would be a definite upgrade, especially with Big Play Slay closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

Offensively, the Eagles are nearly at a crossroads at every level. Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson were both among the very best at their positions last year but that time is nearing its end. Jordan Mailata is in his prime but thoughts about his replacement need to get serious. Landon Dickerson and Cam Jurgens are being developed as the next wave of elite Eagles linemen. Expect the team to add more depth and youth there.

Tight end Dallas Goedert is probably in his prime but he’s also missed portions of the last two seasons. His replacement is not on the roster, which is surprising considering he’s older than Zach Ertz was when Goedert was drafted. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are in their primes but the need for a third wide receiver and/or a second tight end was never more apparent than last year.

Kenneth Gainwell and D’Andre Swift play a position the Eagles don’t prioritize. A return from Swift would mean the free agent market didn’t value him highly. Regardless, don’t expect major news from the team on the running back front.

That leaves just one position group where the Eagles could and should look for youth. Jalen Hurts was famously drafted when it was assumed that Carson Wentz would lead the team for the long term. Hurts may be better suited for the franchise quarterback role but there’s never a bad time to stockpile QBs for the future.

The Eagles saw a taste of the future in Indianapolis. The question is, are they smart enough to add enough young talent to make a difference next fall? ••