So far, so good for Eagles this off-season

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So far, so good for Eagles this off-season
March 23, 2012, 7:51 pm
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Free agency has been a slam-dunk success for the Eagles so far. And they havent even signed any free agents.

Ten days after the start of free agency, its impossible not to feel better about the Eagles than a couple weeks ago.

A lot better.

The Eagles had two things they absolutely, positively had to do. Somehow find a legit linebacker they could stick in the middle. And somehow re-sign DeSean Jackson or find a replacement whos just as explosive.

And theyve pulled off both. They had another handful of things that were fairly important. And theyve done most of them as well.

Theres more work to do, but so far, so good.

The centerpiece of the off-season was the acquisition of DeMeco Ryans, and oft-maligned general manager Howie Roseman deserves credit for pulling off what looks like the steal of the spring.

Roseman said one thing the Eagles do whenever a team makes a fundamental philosophical shift like the Texans going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 after the 2010 season is examine that teams personnel and determine if there are any players who dont fit that scheme anymore who could help the Eagles.

The Texans didnt approach the Eagles. The Eagles looked at Ryans and realized that not only did he have a big contract that the cap-strapped Texans couldnt afford but that as a classic 4-3 MIKE linebacker, he just didnt fit in anymore in Houston. And could help solve one of the Eagles most desperate needs.

The Eagles approached the Texans and a few days later, the Eagles had their first legit linebacker since Trott was in his prime.

The deal never would have happened if at the start of business on Tuesday the Eagles werent 22.36 million under the cap, and the Texans were just 6.189 million under their cap.

People love to blast the Eagles for keeping money available under the cap. This is why.

When a guy like Ryans becomes available, you immediately have room to fit his large salary base salaries of 5.9 million this year, 6.6 million in 2013 and 6.8 million in 2014 and 2015. You dont have to ask players to take pay cuts or start shedding salaries. You can just negotiate and make the move.

You go back, and you look, and you say, OK, scheme change, Roseman said. That's a big factor right there. Then you look at their team situation, and you figure out what they're trying to do and they've got a lot of good players on their team they're trying to keep. Obviously, with salary cap you can't keep everyone.

So now they have the opportunity to get good value for a good player and maybe it makes sense for both teams. So thats why we started the discussions and why we went in this direction. Making sense for both sides, those are the best trades.

Trades have become a real strength of Rosemans game. He got a second-round pick and a four for Donovan McNabb and turned that four into two fourth-round picks, one in this years draft. So even though McNabb has been released twice since the trade, the deal is still paying dividends for the Eagles. He also acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick for Kevin Kolb.

Think about this: For two quarterbacks who werent going to play, the Eagles got two second-round picks, two fourth-round picks and a Pro Bowl cornerback. And McNabb and Kolb are a combined 9-19 since leaving Philly.

Roseman also got Ryans for virtually nothing, and he even was able to unload Winston Justice and his massive contract on the Colts, unburdening the Eagles of Justices salary and huge 2012 and 2013 cap hits.

You also cant understate how important it was for the Eagles to re-sign Jackson. Without him, this just isnt the same offense. His big-play ability, his field-stretching speed and his relationship with Michael Vick made it imperative.

But the meaning of the Jackson deal goes way beyond just getting a great receiver back. The Eagles had to show that they were serious about keeping their terrific young players. It would have sent a terrible message to fans and players alike had the Eagles let Jackson leave, either as a free agent or via a trade.

Nobody in Philly has gotten over Brian Dawkins departure yet, and its been three years. Heck, nobody in Philly has gotten over Reggie White leaving, and its been 19 years. Not that DeSean is a Dawk or a Reggie, but the Eagles had to make a statement that keeping their offensive nucleus was crucial, and they did it.

Seems like a lot of people are down on D-Jack these days. Yeah, last year was a tough one, and he made mistakes and he paid a big price and so did the team. But his best days, his best years, are ahead of him.

On top of all that, the Eagles kept Evan Mathis, their best guard since Shawn Andrews was an all-pro, which essentially keeps their terrific offensive line intact for a few more years. And they gave Todd Herremans and Trent Cole deserving contract extensions. Two more sound moves.

Now, this is a crucial draft for the Eagles. They must land a couple impact defensive players, something they havent done in half a decade. They must get younger at defensive tackle, add depth at linebacker and gain some options at safety. A backup tailback wouldnt hurt.

The Eagles have three of the first 51 picks in the draft, which gives them tremendous flexibility and a real opportunity to beef up the defense even more.

Good start to the off-season. All the Eagles need now is an equally strong finish.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

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