Eagles ring in NFL New Year with a bang

Happy New Year everyone.

That’s the National Football League New Year, for those who celebrate. Could it be the Year of the Eagles?

The NFL New Year began on Wednesday, March 13, at 4 p.m. signaling the official start of free agency and the beginning of new contract years for salary cap purposes. The “legal tampering” period, where teams can negotiate and announce free agent agreements, began the previous Monday at noon. For all intents and purposes, it is the NFL New Year’s Eve Party.

For the second straight year, the Eagles were among the first to the party, but for a different reason. D’Andre Swift agreed to terms with Chicago 12 minutes after the tampering period started.

The Eagles had a plan, though. Executive vice president Howie Roseman came to the party with a deal for former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. The Eagles, who traditionally haven’t valued the running back position, have a premier running back to line up in the backfield with Jalen Hurts. Better still, the NFC East rival Giants take a big hit.

If Barkley even approaches his potential with the Eagles, the team is already better.

A trade gave the Eagles some insurance at quarterback by acquiring quarterback Kenny Pickett from Pittsburgh. Pickett has two years remaining on his rookie contract after a failed effort at becoming the Steelers starting quarterback.

Meanwhile, the Eagles made news by extending guard Landon Dickerson for four more years, briefly as the highest paid guard in the league. Then the Eagles brought in Atlanta’s Matt Hennessy, who has experience at both guard and center. With Jason Kelce retiring and Cam Jurgens slated to take over at center, Hennessy is a good insurance plan on the interior line.

The Eagles signed wide receiver DeVante Parker for the veteran league minimum, with New England paying the rest of his salary. They also extended Albert Okwuegbunam, who will move up one spot on the depth chart after the Giants signed away Jack Stoll. It’s safe to expect the Eagles to add more wide receiver/tight end options later in free agency and the draft.

Defensively, the week began with the news that Brandon Graham will return for the 15th season and Fletcher Cox will retire after 12 years. Graham will have a lesser role next year and Cox was arguably the best defender the Eagles had last year.

Fortunately, the Eagles made a splash signing Jets edge rusher Bryce Huff to a three-year contract. Huff is flashy and talented and the Eagles see him as a future star.

Also on the line, edge rusher Josh Sweat reworked his contract to free up cap space and extend his contract. Sweat’s new deal puts the focus on Haason Reddick, who is entering the final year of his contract and is looking for an extension.  

Like running back, the Eagles haven’t valued the linebacker position and it shows. They’re throwing darts at Tampa’s Devin White, plus Zack Baun and Julian Okwara. If one of those guys is helpful, terrific, but there’s more work that needs to be done.

So far only one defensive back has been added to fill big holes at safety and slot corner after the release of Avonte Maddox. Familiar face CJ Gardner-Johnson returns after a year in Detroit. CJGJ brings juice, attitude (pronounced atty-tood) and play-making to a defensive backfield that sorely missed it last year.

In an under-appreciated move, the Eagles locked down the entire special teams core. Kicker Jake Elliott was extended for four years with a contract that puts him on a par with Baltimore’s Justin Tucker. Braden Mann earned a one-year contract to return as punter and holder. Long-snapper Rick Lovato was extended for two seasons. Stability on special teams, especially with placekicking, is as important as almost any other position group and the Eagles have a very good group.

The NFL New Year has come with a lot to be excited about. The Eagles made a splash with some atypical free agent moves but there is still a lot more to come. Roseman and the Eagles have to turn their attention to the second phase of free agency, looking for good fits with players who have fallen through the cracks.

And make no mistake, the Eagles have to spackle over some cracks. The second look at free agency and the fast-approaching draft mean that the Eagles still have lots of work to do.