Getting a read on the Eagles' offseason plan

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The Philadelphia Eagles got their 2014 offseason underway Wednesday, announcing an extension for left tackle Jason Peters. Officially, the contract lasts until the 2018 season, and has about $19 million in guaranteed money. It also lessens Peters’ 2014 cap hit by about $2 million.

What do the Eagles plan on doing what that extra cap room? It appears that they will continue to take care of their own players before free agency begins on March 11. Reports are now emerging that the team is close to new contracts for free agent wide receiver Riley Cooper and center Jason Kelce, who has one year left on his rookie contract. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is also still expected to return on a one or two-year deal.

While some may disagree with a move or two here, it is hard to argue that they all make some sense for the Eagles. Peters’ deal gives them cap relief and ensures the left tackle position is in good hands for at least a couple more years, and Kelce’s deal locks up a budding Pro Bowl center. Bringing back Cooper rewards a late bloomer who works well with quarterback Nick Foles, and Maclin’s deal is a low-risk test run on a known commodity coming off surgery.

Really the only thing of note here is that the Eagles did not choose Maclin or Cooper, deciding instead that they desired to bring back both. It had been speculated, based on reports coming out of the Eagles front office, that the Eagles would choose one of the receivers and then look to fill the other spot in the deep 2014 NFL Draft. Instead, it appears that the trio of Jackson, Maclin and Cooper will be returning.

It makes sense that the Eagles, who are reaping the rewards of their new “best player available” strategy after two seemingly successful drafts, want to enter the draft with as few “positions of need” as possible. Having Jackson, Maclin and Cooper along with the also recovering Arrellious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl means that the Eagles have the ability to put together a very respectable wide receiver depth chart in 2014 without making another move at the position. Entering the draft in May needing a wide receiver is limiting.

That said, don’t expect this to keep the Eagles from looking at the position heavily on draft day. This is one of the deepest wide receiver classes ever, and with the likely release of Jason Avant looming on the horizon, it’s not as if the Eagles don’t have room on the depth chart for more talent. If the best player available in a given round is a talented wide receiver, Philadelphia is not going to be pass up on that player.

In fact, that idea probably applies to nearly every position on the roster. It makes little sense in today’s NFL to draft for the needs of a specific year. Nearly every move needs to be made with several years in mind. Many expected the Eagles to go defense heavy in the 2013 draft, but three of the first four picks were offensive players, including at positions that seemingly weren’t “needs:” quarterback and tight end.

So while I don’t expect the Eagles to use a pick on a running back or tight end, nearly every other position is on the table. With Michael Vick likely to be gone and questions surrounding Matt Barkley’s ability, there is a backup position available. Three of the five stating offensive linemen (Peters and guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans) are in their 30’s, and if a good offensive line prospect is available, a replacement may be drafted for grooming. This is especially true for Herremans, who could be cut to save a decent amount of money after the 2014 season if his pass blocking continues to decline.

Unlike the 2013 draft, there seems to be more depth at important defensive positions in this draft. Few would be surprised if the 22nd overall pick is used on a linebacker, cornerback or safety — all positions of need. Those positions will likely see a new face or two through free agency, but high profile players like Jairus Byrd, TJ Ward or Brian Orakpo are unlikely to sign with Philadelphia. Good, young talent will be welcome regardless.

At the end of the day, it’s simply a matter of comfort for the Eagles front office. The cap situation is good, the free agent market not what it once was, and the draft goal rather unchanging regardless of how free agency shakes out. Improving the wide receiver position is a positive and doesn’t keep the team from being in a talented young receiver.

General manager Howie Roseman, head coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles have a plan, and so far it looks like a good one.

Photo: David Maialetti/Philly.com

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