Eagles feel they can improve on 2013 through draft, free agency

Posted: January 07, 2014

The Eagles won their first NFC East championship since 2010, although recent history is against them repeating in 2014. No team has won back-to-back division titles since the Eagles in 2003-04.

The front office is confident in the direction of the franchise under coach Chip Kelly. The Eagles are positioned to build on their success, general manager Howie Roseman said after Saturday's 26-24 playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints.

"First, you have to make sure you're sufficiently positioned in terms of resources," Roseman said. "That means you have a healthy cap situation and a good amount of draft picks. . . . I think when you look at those two aspects of the operation, we're in pretty good shape."

The Eagles have 46 of 53 players on the active roster under contract or team control for next season. The only unrestricted free agents are quarterback Michael Vick, wide receiver Riley Cooper, defensive lineman Clifton Geathers, safety Nate Allen, safety Kurt Coleman, and punter Donnie Jones. Injured wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and linebacker Phillip Hunt are also free agents.

Maclin, Cooper, and Allen are the biggest decisions. The team was bullish on Maclin's prospects before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. He is 25 and remains a promising player, so there will likely be a robust market for him.

Cooper had a breakout season starting in Maclin's place. The Eagles must determine if there is more upside or if Cooper was the product of Kelly's system. It's conceivable that both players could return.

Allen played well in his fourth season in Philadelphia and remained healthy, although there will be competition at safety on the market. Jones is a likely candidate to return. Don't expect Vick to return in 2014 unless he fails to find a spot elsewhere that offers an opportunity for the starting job.

The Eagles will have roughly $18 million in salary-cap space after accounting for the money allocated to draft picks. However, they have up to a dozen veterans who might need their contracts restructured in order to stay in Philadelphia, if they'll stay at all. Franchise stalwarts Jason Avant, Trent Cole, and Brent Celek are in that group.

The Eagles cannot extend the contracts of any player in their talented 2012 draft class, so Nick Foles and Brandon Boykin must remain on their rookie contracts. Players from the 2011 class can receive extensions, with center Jason Kelce the only possibility.

If the Eagles are active in the free-agent market, there are appealing options at positions of need. Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd and Cleveland safety T.J. Ward, both of whom were second-team all-pro at age 27, are free agents. Both played for Kelly at Oregon.

The Eagles' first-round pick will be No. 22 overall. They will have seven draft picks: their original picks in the first five rounds, and their seventh-round pick. The Eagles also will have the New England Patriots' fifth-round pick, acquired in the Isaac Sopoaga trade in October.

Look for the Eagles to add to their defense. They need an outside linebacker to bolster their pass rush and still require help in the secondary.

The Eagles have studied teams that have had one-year breakouts and regressed. They found that those teams lacked the assets or resources to build on their success. Roseman said that's not the case with the Eagles, who can add to a 10-6 roster.

"It's a very young team, and at the same time, they already learned what it takes," owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "Now they just have to execute a little bit better, have a better start of the season, and I think that they clearly feel as though they have what it takes."

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