Marcus Smith Sounds Smart

Posted: February 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 238 Comments »

No matter what you think of Marcus Smith’s future, we all agree that his rookie season was a complete disappointment. He never came close to pushing for time at OLB. He got moved to ILB due to injuries and failed to impress there (although that isn’t a big deal since he wasn’t trained to be an ILB). Worst of all, Smith couldn’t earn a regular role on the STs.

One reason I’m not as down on Smith as others is that he lost out to really good players. The OLBs ahead of him were Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. Two of those guys had career best years. The guys that Smith failed to beat out on STs were guys like James Casey, Bryan Braman and Trey Burton, who happen to be 3 of the Eagles best STers.

As a point of comparison, it is more concerning to me that Jaylen Watkins failed to more seriously challenge for playing time in a very bad secondary.

Back to Smith. He became a hot topic when Tra Thomas recently criticized him for having a high school type of body. I was curious to see how Smith would respond to this. We got out answer the other day when he was interviewed on 97.5.

“What I’ll say is … Tra was right,” Smith said. “My body type has to change. I can’t look like a quarterback forever. That’s what I used to play. I’m still, during the season trying to look like that type. Right now I’m 265 [pounds], I’m really eating well, trying to maintain that weight … I’m running with that weight and I’m feeling really good right now.

“Everything that Tra has said, he’s already told me before. When he says that,It’s just the truth. I just have to get bigger and stronger and be productive at that weight so the coaches can be impressed.”

Smith is taking the right approach to this situation (his poor rookie season and Tra’s comments). He could moan and groan about how the coaches weren’t fair to him. He could rip Tra. Instead, Smith is trying to take ownership of the situation.

Saying the right thing is important, but only if it is truly followed by actions. Smith says he is 265. That’s possible. It has been 5 weeks since the season was over. He could have added 10 pounds in that time frame. The key is making sure he has the right 10 pounds (combination of muscle/bulk).

I was really impressed to read that Marcus is working with Chuck Smith, a pass rushing guru, down in Atlanta. Check out this video to see some of Smith’s clients and training.

Marcus is a talented prospect. People obsessed on whether he should have been a 1st rounder, but even if the Eagles passed on him, Smith wasn’t going to last much longer. Daniel Jeremiah reported 2 weeks before the draft that he was hearing Smith and other pass rushers could go earlier than some expected. QBs go quickly in the draft. So do pass rushers.

Smith is a gifted athlete. He needs to get bigger and stronger. He also needs to develop his pass rushing skills. So far this offseason, Smith is doing both. A year ago he was doing Combine training. This time around he is developing his body and his game for a specific role with a specific team. That kind of focus can make a big difference.

I can’t guarantee you anything about the results, but this is certainly encouraging news.

The players who succeed in the NFL are the ones who learn from their failures and work hard in the offseason to fix the wholes in their game. Smith must become a more polished pass rusher if he’s going to thrive as an OLB so it is good to hear that he’s being realistic about what needs to be done and then putting actions behind those words.

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Understanding Evaluation

Posted: February 8th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 228 Comments »

As we talk about Chip Kelly and Ed Marynowitz running the personnel side of things for the Eagles, one big topic is player evaluation. I think there is some confusion as to exactly what this means and what their roles are.

The draft process starts every spring. Most teams belong to BLESTO or National Scouting, the two primary scouting services. Those services begin looking at rising Seniors. They build lists of draft eligible players. They offer heights and weights. If available, they will provide 40 times and some other simple info from when players worked out at Junior Day. The services grade players based on their Junior tape.

I don’t know which service the Eagles belong to or if they are one of the teams that does the work on their own.

This is happening in April and May, as the current draft is coming to a close. The services then get the information to teams so that they can then have their scouts make plans for the summer and fall. BLESTO has a big meeting in Orlando where they actually present the information to their clients.

Team scouts take over in the summer and begin visiting schools to evaluate the players on their lists. There could be as many as 1500 to 2000 players to start honing down into a final list of 150 draft targets. It is pretty easy to eliminate a lot of guys. A Safety who is 5-10, 191 and runs 4.97 isn’t draft material. You can watch an OT prospect for 5 minutes and see if he has enough athleticism to be an NFL prospect.

The scouts already have preliminary grades from the spring scouting, but those are just a hint as to who to focus on. What a player does as a Senior is the focus of his final draft grade.

Scouts make their school visits. They write reports and make evaluations. Big schools get multiple visits from cross-check scouts. You never have a key prospect evaluated by one scout. Higher-ups will go to games to scout players during the fall when time permits.

Teams begin compiling the reports and putting together grades on prospects. As the list gets down to 350 to 500 players, things get tougher. Teams want to cut that list down further,  to anywhere from 100 to 200 specific draft targets. Most of these players are highly accomplished. Most have the right size. Most have the right speed.

At this point Chip Kelly hasn’t had a ton of involvement in the process. He’s been busy coaching the Eagles during the 2015 season. Kelly gets reports and might go to some local games on Saturday, but he’s not grading players like a scout would. Ed Marynowitz is doing some scouting, but is limited as well. He is working with college and pro scouts and has some administrative duties.

Kelly and Marynowitz become fully involved with the evaluation process at the Senior Bowl, unless Kelly is still busy coaching the team in the playoffs. The scouts have been the ones on the road, grinding away day after day. They have watched tape, done interviews and gathered as much info as possible.

Check out this info that former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah had in his report on Nick Foles. Here is one sample (but go read the whole piece).

“Everybody loves Nick here. Has the wide receivers over all the time to watch the tape and eat at his apartment. Pays for their food and buys them supplements. He’s taken Juron Criner, who was drafted by the Raiders, under his wing. Criner doesn’t trust a lot of people, but he trusts Foles. Foles is the clear leader of the team.

“Talked to two more sources with the program. Everyone says the same thing about how much they love Nick. Very well-liked and respected. His attitude’s been great through a very trying season in Tucson.”

Scouts gather as much information as humanly possible. That info can be as important as the film study. You’re drafting a person as well as a football prospect. While he doesn’t have to be a saint, he does need to be able to function on a team and succeed in pro football.

The scouts are the key to the draft process. Their information is what enables the decision-makers to make the right decisions. I think some people are under the impression that Kelly and Marynowitz would almost be out there looking for good players.

They will evaluate talent, but it will be more of a confirmation than anything else. They will have already read the scouts’ reports. They will be given cut-up tapes to watch so that they can get a feel for the prospects. This is very different from getting out in the field and finding talent. Marynowitz and Kelly will play a huge part in doing interviews and figuring out which prospects are the best fits for the Eagles.

The biggest challenge for Kelly and Marynowitz will be making tough decisions. Do you have WR Dorial Green-Beckham on your board? He has elite talent, but was kicked out of Missouri due to multiple drug arrests and an incident where he was accused of pushing a woman down some stairs.

How do you grade RB Todd Gurley? He is an elite talent, but missed time in 2013 due to an ankle injury and then missed time in 2014 due a torn ACL. Some risk, but potentially big reward.

How do you grade Nick Marshall, the Auburn QB who will move to CB in the NFL? He played CB early on at Georgia, but moved to offense at Auburn. Major projection, but a talented prospect.

What do you do with Preston Smith, the DE/OLB tweener? Jerry Azzinaro will argue for him at DE. Bill McGovern will want him at OLB. Who makes that decision?

What do you do with Jamison Crowder, the WR/RS who looked so good in Mobile? He’s only 5-8, 174, but is he too talented to pass up for someone who is less talented but 6-1, 200?

Small school prospects can be tough to grade. Scouts can go study them, but the tape is tough to use since the player is likely much better than the guys he’s going against. The Senior Bowl and Combine will help, if the player is invited, but there is still a lot of projection involved.

Kelly and Marynowitz don’t have to go out and find talent. They have to be able to make tough decisions based on the data that is given to them. They will watch tape and fall in love with some prospects. As long as they don’t ignore the scouts work and focus on their own opinions, this can work just fine.

* * * * *

Paul Domowitch wrote a good piece on Kelly and Marynowitz. Here are some blurbs.

“Ed’s one of those guys where you’d walk out of his office at Alabama and say he ought to be somewhere [better],” an NFC scout said. “He’s an extremely bright kid.

“From what I’ve heard about how Chip is going to use him, it’ll be perfect for him. He may be young, but young doesn’t mean you can’t do it. He’ll get a chance to grow in that role. I don’t think Chip will ever have to say, ‘I couldn’t get the answer or couldn’t get the information I need.’ “

Said another NFC scout: “[Marynowitz] essentially will be an organizer. He’ll get the scouts organized. He’ll relay to them what Chip wants. He’ll make sure the [scouting] reports are done right. He’ll walk through the players with Chip. Who do I need to be looking at at the combine, those kinds of things.

“I think they’re going to be OK. We’ll have a better idea after the draft, obviously. If Tom Gamble were still in the building, we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion. But because of Ed’s age and inexperience, there are going to be some initial questions. But he’s a smart kid. And they’ve got other experienced guys there. They’ve got [senior football adviser] Tom Donahoe.”

And

“If Chip is not as good at [evaluating] personnel as he thinks he is, this could be a recipe for disaster,” an NFC personnel man said. “But Chip’s football smart. He knows talent. He knows what he’s looking for. I’m not saying he’s going to replicate Belichick. But I think he has a chance to do a pretty good job. I think it can work.”

Said an AFC personnel executive: “Chip knows how to utilize talent. He figured out how to get to 10-6 last year with [Mark] Sanchez and Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen and an offensive line that had a lot of guys hurt for much of the season.

“Because he knows how to utilize talent, he’s really at an advantage, because whoever he picks [in the draft], he’ll know how he wants to use them and play to their strengths. That’s why I really would like to know who made the decision on Marcus Smith last year. Because Marcus didn’t have any special attributes. He was just a guy. I would really like to know the dynamics of how they settled on him [in the first round]. Was it Kelly’s decision? Was it Roseman’s?

“Belichick has won with guys you can’t even name at wide receiver and running back. It’s like he says, ‘OK, give me 53 players. And if they’re the 53 I want, I’ll figure out how to utilize them and carve a team out of them.’

“I think that’s what Chip can do. If it were Dan Quinn or Todd Bowles, I’d say no way. And I have tremendous respect for those guys as coaches. But Chip is different. He’s innovative. He’s creative. As a guy on the outside looking in, I’m not as concerned as I would be if it were some other third-year head coach and first-year young [personnel] guy.”

* * * * *

The key to all of this is for Kelly and Marynowitz to listen to the scouts and trust the people that are doing all the grunt work in this process. Kelly does a great job of letting his assistant coaches do their thing so that offers hope that he’ll listen to the scouts.

Marynowitz has been part of the scouting staff the past 3 years. He also did a good job of working as part of a staff at Alabama. I don’t see him ignoring the scouts or short-changing the process.

That said, these are human beings. You never know how they’ll handle a situation until they actually go through the experience. There is absolutely risk in going with Kelly and Marynowitz. But think about the two men you’re taking the chance with. One is a great coach and the other is a young executive with a strong background and big reputation. This isn’t the same thing as Jeff Lurie throwing blind faith behind a rookie coach and some complete unknown.  This risk has a legitimate chance to succeed.

Risk isn’t a bad thing. Dumb risk is. Lurie is far from perfect, but he’s not dumb. Nor is Kelly or Marynowitz. Lurie is trusting his coach and best young executive to make the moves that will put the Eagles over the top. Time will tell if this was the right move or not. But I do think it was a risk worth taking.

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Hot Air?

Posted: February 7th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 291 Comments »

The offseason is a lot of fun, but one annoying part of it is all the crazy rumors and reports that pop up. The other day a local writer mentioned that the Eagles “may have interest in Jake Locker “. This feels like agent–speak 101.

Agents love to leak “rumors” to writers to get their client’s names out in the media. And you never know if some other team will be fooled by this. “Chip Kelly likes Locker? Maybe we should give him a look.” I prefer to think NFL teams are smarter than that, but history shows there are some teams that aren’t so bright.

As to Locker, could the Eagles actually have some interest? Sure. He’s 26. He is a very good athlete. The price will be right. But let’s also understand he would be a step back from Mark Sanchez. Let that sink in for a moment.

Locker has always been more athlete than QB to me. At Washington he was able to run the ball and help his team to win with leadership and toughness. The Huskies lost to Nebraska 56-21 in a game where Locker went 4-20 with 2 INTs. They had a rematch in the bowl game and UW won 19-7. Locker was only 5 of 16 in that game, but he ran the ball well and made a couple of clutch plays.

Locker did show some growth as a passer early in 2013, but then got hurt (a recurring issue with him). Like the entire Titans team, Locker struggled in 2014.

It is possible that Kelly could have liked something he saw out of Locker from the UW-Oregon days, but there is no guarantee to that. Locker finished his college career with 53 TD passes and 35 INTs, and a losing record. He flashed potential on a regular basis, but his play was erratic.

I would love to have Locker come in as the #4 QB and compete for a spot, but this rumor feels more like Locker’s agent trying to get his name out more than anything.

* * * * *

Tra Thomas was interviewed on 97.5 and had some things to say.

Asked about the Marcus Mariota possibility, Thomas said: “Coach Kelly really likes to have as many Oregon players on the team as possible just because I think they understand his system.”

Someone asks about Mariota and that’s the answer you give? Ugh. 32 teams have interest in Mariota because he is a very talented QB. He’s a great fit for the Eagles because played in the Kelly system at Oregon, but that’s hardly the number one reason to want him. He’s a great athlete with good size and a good arm. This is someone who looks like an NFL starting QB.

Asked later about the scheme, Thomas added: “You’re gonna need a running quarterback if you’re gonna run this type of offense.”

Ugh. Didn’t he watch what Foles did in 2013? Yes, it would be great to have a running QB. That would allow the scheme to operate at its peak, but it isn’t a need. The offense can adjust to the QB’s strengths and weaknesses.

Thomas didn’t get brought back as a coach. If this is the level of analysis he was feeding the Eagles, I can see why. Thomas had a reputation for being a smart player. This is really simplistic insight and offers nothing of real value. Very disappointing.

* * * * *

Thomas talked to Comcast Sportsnet about LB Marcus Smith.

“He’s definitely going to have to get a little stronger out there because when you look at even his body type, he has the build of like a high school athlete still — a young college athlete,” Thomas said on Comcast SportsNet’s Friday edition of Philly Sports Talk. “He needs to put on probably about a good 15 to 20 more pounds so he can really execute and be a effective out there.

“He has the same movement pattern as Connor [Barwin], where you can teach him how to work and throw his different moves in and how to help him with his timing.”

This is more useful info, but a bit of hyperbole, perhaps? Smith has a high school body? The guy led the nation in sacks per game as a Senior at Louisville. That wasn’t all some magical scheme and total luck.

And he went to the Combine and measured in at 6-3, 251. He ran 4.66 and did 23 reps. He had a 35-inch vertical jump. There is nothing remotely “high school” about those numbers.

I have no problem with Thomas saying that Smith needs to get bigger and stronger. Look at Brian Dawkins. He came to the NFL at 190. He left at about 201 and with muscles on top of his muscles.

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More on the Front Office

Posted: February 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 345 Comments »

A few of you have asked questions or expressed concern about the front office. Can Chip Kelly and Ed Marynowitz really handle free agency and the draft? Can they do a good job of fixing problems and adding talent? Aren’t they just too young/inexperienced? They know college, but this is the NFL. Right?

I was a strong advocate of the Eagles going after Chip Kelly when it became clear Andy Reid was headed out the door. I looked long and hard at coaches around the NFL and in college football. I felt the Eagles needed to take a chance on greatness if possible. Kelly jumped out at me the more I studied him. He reminded me a bit of a modern day version of Jimmy Johnson.

Some of you don’t remember Jimmy. He was the head coach at Oklahoma State and then Miami. He built the Canes into a powerhouse and then took over the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. Jimmy didn’t know squat about the NFL. Jerry Jones hired him because they had been teammates at Arkansas in the early 1960s and had a bit of a friendship.  And Jones saw how successful Jimmy was at Miami.

Jimmy took over the Cowboys and brought a lot of his college assistants with him. He hired some NFL guys, but wasn’t concerned about perception. Jimmy was going to do things the way he wanted. He had total control over the staff and the team. He studied the way the NFL did things. Some ideas Jimmy adapted, but he ended up doing a lot of his own things.

He created the draft value chart that we all use to this day. It’s been tweaked, but the thinking is largely the same. Jimmy wanted to do some trading and needed that chart to help him. Jimmy believed in volume drafting since he was trying to rebuild a team. Trade down, add picks and have a big class.

From 1989-1991, the Eagles had 28 picks. They added starters William Thomas, Andy Harmon, Antone Davis, Fred Barnett, and Calvin Williams. RB Heath Sherman started some games, but injuries ruined his career.

From 1989-1991, the Cowboys had 39 picks. They added starters Troy Aikman, Steve Wisnewski, Darryl Johnson, Mark Stepnoski, Tony Tolbert, Emmitt Smith, Jimmie Jones, Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Kelvin Pritchett, Dixon Edwards, Erik Williams, Leon Lett and Larry Brown. LB Godfrey Myles started 11 games one year due to injuries.

The Eagles were run by NFL guys. They did things in a conventional way. Jimmy was a college coach who took a college approach. He couldn’t go sign 25 recruits every year, but he could load up on draft picks. He loved rounds 2-4. He wasn’t afraid to be wrong on a pick. Jimmy wanted speed, youth and competition.

Jimmy changed the game of football. His emphasis on speed was seen as different from the NFL norm of wanting size and strength. He rotated DL in a way that was very uncommon.

A lot of people, including me, laughed at Jimmy and some of his ideas. “Go back to Miami, Mr. College. This is the NFL.” I was wrong. Dead wrong.

When you have someone who is a truly great coach and who has a specific vision for a team, you need to let that man do his thing. Steve Spurrier is a great play-caller, but he’s never been a guy with a vision for his teams.

Chip Kelly, like Jimmy Johnson, is a man with a vision. He has very specific ideas on the players he wants, the systems he wants to run, how to practice, how to train and just about anything else you can think of. Chip is trying to make his vision come to life. It does that here and there, but not with any consistency.

The whole point in hiring Chip Kelly is for him to be Chip Kelly. Don’t ask him to be a conventional coach with a conventional GM doing conventional things. Let Chip be Chip. Let him hire who he wants and build the Eagles according to his vision.

Can he fail? Yes, absolutely yes. But he can also succeed. And if his ideas work, he could build the Eagles into something special. There is no such thing as a safe hire. Matt Millen had a great NFL background and was a complete failure as a GM. Scott Pioli was a proven GM when the Chiefs hired him and the results were absolutely awful. Phil Emery was an NFL scout/executive for 14 years when the Bears hired him in 2012. He was there for 3 seasons and delivered pedestrian results. He just got fired at the end of the 2014 season.

I understand the desire to see someone with a proven NFL background in one of the top 2 spots, but that is about being comfortable with the guys being hired and not whether they will succeed. Every year we see guys with a great track record do something dumb or get fired.

The key was to give Kelly the power and then find someone that could work well with him. Marynowitz is that guy. Kelly looked around the league and tried to talk to some very good people, but he was denied permission by several teams and had some candidates pass on the offer. Those guys were over-qualified for the job and knew it. When Kelly wasn’t going to someone he really liked from outside the team, he went with someone he really liked who was already on staff.

Kelly could have hired Chris Polian or Chris Grier. He could have taken a run at Alonzo Highsmith or someone like that. Those guys have NFL backgrounds, but they weren’t compelling candidates. Marynowitz might be young, but he’s very accomplished and he has some traits that Kelly can admire (because Chip has them as well).

Think about what Chip is looking for.

* driven person

* someone who isn’t afraid to take chances

* someone who can work with a strong-willed head coach

* someone who can identify talent

* someone who is willing to buy in to Kelly’s vision of total football (tempo, smoothies, practice, etc.)

Marynowitz is all those things.

I know some of you wonder about Marynowitz as a talent evaluator. He did a great job of helping to build Alabama into a championship power. And he has worked as a scout for the Eagles for the past 3 years. He has evaluated free agent targets and draft prospects. Marynowitz has gone to colleges, the Senior Bowl, the Combine and done all the grunt work that it takes to evaluate players and write detailed reports.

He has yet to be a key decision-maker in the NFL, but that would have been true of just about anyone the Eagles hired. You need to be a coach or GM to be a decision-maker. Kelly was looking at pro and college scouting directors.

The Eagles front office isn’t just Kelly and Marynowitz. Jake Rosenberg is very good with the salary cap and contracts. He will be a big help when it comes to the financial side of things. Anthony Patch runs the college scouts. He has done this for a few years and knows his stuff. Rick Mueller runs the Pro Personnel Dept. He’s a longtime NFL executive who can offer advice. Tom Donahoe is still listed as a senior advisor. He’s seen just about every situation you could ever want.

I’m excited to see what Kelly and Marynowitz do. There will be some bumps in the road, but I think they can do great things. Both guys started off in small college football in the northeast and made their way to major college football powers before ending up in the NFL. They got their jobs through accomplishment and hard work. They weren’t star jocks and didn’t have famous dads.

Conventional guys are available every single year. This is a shot at greatness. Let’s see what happens.

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Understanding the Offseason

Posted: February 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 316 Comments »

The Eagles must spend their first 3 picks on defense!!! They just have to. Anyone who saw that defense this year knows the only answer is to load up on defense. Right?

Wrong.

The offseason starts in early March with free agency. This is when teams try to fix clear holes in their roster with immediate solutions. You don’t build through free agency, but you have to use it to plug holes. There are always going to be roster issues that need to be addressed. Maybe a draft pick didn’t pan out as expected. Maybe there was an injury late in the season to a key starter that will carry over to the following season. Retirement/age or salary issues can force a team to make cuts, which open up starting jobs. Free agency is a way of repairing the roster.

The draft is all about long term thinking and roster building. You cannot go into a draft thinking “We must address this, this, this and that.” There are some occasions when a team has to force a pick because free agent plans didn’t work out, but even that isn’t recommended.

The best teams focus on talent when it comes to the draft.

Let’s not turn this into a debate on semantics. If 2 players are equally rated, of course you will take the one who fits a need. If one player is rated slightly lower and the need is great enough, you can make an exception in that case. The point isn’t to go into the draft thinking “We must come away with players at these positions” but rather to go find good players you believe in.

Finding the right guys is more important than filling the right positions.

The Dallas Cowboys fielded one of the worst defenses in the history of football in 2013. They added some help prior to the draft, but not much. Then they spent their 1st round pick on an OL, Zach Martin. He stepped in at RG as a rookie and played at an All-Pro level. That helped the offense to play better. That helped the run game to become dominant. That helped the offense to stay on the field and keep the defense off it. That helped Dallas go from 8-8 to 12-4.

Most people were screaming for Dallas to draft defensive help. It was the obvious need. Instead they showed great discipline and went with the best player.

The Eagles had the best secondary in the NFL in 2002. And then they turned around and spent their top 3 picks on DBs (Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis and Sheldon Brown). Andy Reid, Jim Johnson and Tom Heckert knew the secondary was aging. They had 3 draft prospects they liked and drafted them. Those guys made the transition from Bobby and Troy a seamless one. They also were a big reason the Eagles went to the Super Bowl in 2004.

I was shocked when those picks were announced. I just knew the Eagles would draft a WR or maybe a stud LB. Maybe a DT to pair with Corey Simon or a young TE. DBs? No way. But the Reid and Heckert made the right call.

Every human being on Earth and even people as far away as Pittsburgh will tell you that the Eagles need defensive help. No one disputes that.

The Eagles need to focus on free agency and trades with finding immediate help for the secondary. I do think they will spend draft picks as well, but those players will be for the future, not 2015. If the Eagles are looking for a starting CB at pick 20, then 2015 is not going to be the kind of season I want it to be.

I’m not saying a rookie can’t play his way into the lineup. Obviously you love when that happens. You don’t want to be counting on a rookie to solve a big problem. That’s when you are in trouble. Even a really talented rookie is still a rookie. He’s going to make rookie mistakes. You’re better off with a veteran starter if that is possible.

Both free agency and the draft are critical to building a championship roster. The Pats don’t win a Super Bowl without great picks like Brady, Wilfork, McCourty, Collins, Edelman, etc. or key signings like Revis, Ninkovich, Browner, Blount, etc.

The Eagles will want to sign free agents to help the defense and if that goes right they can draft the players they want rather than focusing on needs.

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