First and foremost for the Eagles: deciding what they will do with their 12 free agents. Jackson, of course, takes precedence, but decisions on guard Evan Mathis, defensive tackle Derek Landri, and at what level to tender restricted defensive tackle Antonio Dixon will be made before the league year begins on March 13.
Which free agents the Eagles intend to pursue from other teams is still being decided. Despite an estimated $28 million in salary-cap space, the Eagles aren't expected to cannonball into free agency as they did last year. General manager Howie Roseman recently said as much.
The lockout and the restrictions the new cap placed on other teams allowed the Eagles to cherry-pick free agents in last summer's spending spree. While some choices panned out, others didn't. The exercise backfired in spite of the Eagles' having what looked like a powerful roster on paper.
It left those in the front office wondering what went wrong. The general feeling was that they deviated too much from their general philosophy, which is to build through the draft and to target a few specific needs through free agency or trades.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, their failures in drafting on defense have led to the patching of holes by other means. And once again, the most pressing needs are on defense, specifically at linebacker.
Cue a skipping record.
The overall devaluing of the position - with low draft picks and nary a free-agent acquisition of late - has left the Eagles with a pile of linebackers who could all be released and replaced this offseason without the missing of a beat.
But that isn't going to happen. The Eagles are likely to zero in on one linebacker - probably in free agency - to fill what even they cannot deny is the team's most obvious weakness.
They could draft a linebacker in the first round, but other than the fact that Andy Reid has never done so, why expend first-round money on a non-premium position? The Eagles need a ready-made linebacker, and there are several unrestricted free agents who should be available in less than three weeks.
To get a topflight linebacker, the Eagles will have to ink one to a long-term deal with a decent amount of guaranteed cash. While Reid hasn't signed a free-agent linebacker in six years, and hasn't signed one to a multiyear contract in eight, he has spent - Dhani Jones, Mark Simoneau, Carlos Emmons - although not always wisely.
Here are the most attractive inside linebackers expected to be on the market, with analysis provided by an NFL scout who requested anonymity because his evaluations are exclusive to his team:
Curtis Lofton, Falcons: Atlanta has said that it wants to keep the 25-year-old, but reportedly only as a two-down linebacker. Lofton, meanwhile, is said to be after a contract similar to the one the Jets' David Harris (four years, $36 million) signed last year. "A tackler, plays downhill, but is only a so-so cover guy," the NFC scout said. "Would be a major upgrade for the Eagles."
Stephen Tulloch, Lions: Schematically he would fit, having played behind a wide-nine defensive alignment with Tennessee and Detroit. Lions coach Jim Schwartz didn't exactly sound optimistic about Tulloch's returning when he was asked about the possibility during the combine. "How [the Eagles] didn't get this guy last year is beyond me," the scout said. "They may have to pay this time."
D'Qwell Jackson, Browns: He missed 26 games in 2009-10 because of pectoral muscle injuries, but was stellar last season. Jackson has said he wants to stay in Cleveland and could be franchised. "He's very smart and would adjust to a 4-3," the scout said. "Best run-stopper I saw last year."
David Hawthorne, Seattle: Slowed by a nagging knee injury, he wasn't as productive as he was in 2010. But he's only 26 and may still have room to grow. "You might be able to get him at a fair price," the scout said. "Not especially fast, but he can plug gaps."
London Fletcher, Redskins: Fletcher, at 36, would be only a short-term solution. Reports out of Washington are that both sides want to work something out, but he may want to play for a contender. "Gets better with age, but you have to wonder how much is left in the tank," the scout said.
The Market for Free-Agent Linebackers
The Eagles, in need of linebacker help, are entering a market that is deep at the position, especially at inside linebacker. Here are the likely free-agent options, both unrestricted and restricted:
Player, team Height Weight Age The skinny
Curtis Lofton, Falcons 6-0 238 25 Gobbles up ballcarriers.
Stephen Tulloch, Lions 5-11 240 27 Knows wide nine.
D'Qwell Jackson, Browns 6-0 240 28 Injury-prone but consistent.
David Hawthorne, Seattle 6-0 246 26 Regressed but still has upside.
London Fletcher, Redskins 5-10 245 36 Aging but plays five years younger.
Dan Connor, Panthers 6-2 231 26 May just need opportunity.
Erin Henderson, Vikings 6-3 244 25 A solid weak-side linebacker.
Rocky McIntosh, Redskins 6-2 232 29 Could be better-suited to 4-3.
Jameel McClain, Ravens 6-1 250 27 Philly native more a run-down LB.
Jonathan Goff, N.Y. Giants 6-2 241 26 Missed all of 2011 with ACL injury.
Player, team Height Weight Age The skinny
Jovan Belcher, Chiefs 6-2 228 24 Impressive against the run.
Larry Grant, 49ers 6-1 251 27 Filled in for Patrick Willis.
DeAndre Levy, Lions 6-1 238 24 Struggled last year at weak side.
- Jeff McLane
Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.