Doug Pederson is excited, and he should feel that way. The Eagles added to the offense in free agency with the signings of wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, along with guard Chance Warmack and quarterback Nick Foles. That side of the ball, potentially, has gotten a whole lot better and Pederson isn’t afraid to say so.
“I think it’s two great additions to our football team,” Pederson said, first addressing the new wide receivers. “We’re always looking to bring in not only competition, but talent. It really makes us a better football team at that position. It’s a good mix with the older guys and the younger guys, it’s a good blend. We’re excited to get them in and get them to work next month (April 17, when the offseason conditioning program begins) and get it going with all of our players.”
Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich have met and discussed, in the very early stages, ways to incorporate the talents of Jeffery and Smith into an offense that soared early in 2016 and then had its troubles with big plays and with consistency in the passing game. Jeffery is a big target the Eagles will use to go up and catch Carson Wentz passes, while Smith has the speed to stretch defenses.
Both components, the size and speed elements, were just not there on a week-in, week-out basis for the Eagles last season.
“Alshon is a presence with his size,” Pederson said. “He has some good years ahead of him. He’s strong, he’s physical to the ball, he catches the ball away from his body, he can high-point the ball and he runs well. He brings an element with that veteran experience at the position.
“You look at Torrey Smith and he’s a faster guy, a quicker guy, a guy you can do a few more things with because of his speed and we’re going to take advantage of that. It’s a good tandem, and then you’ve got Jordan (Matthews) in there, Nelson (Agholor) is in there and DGB (Dorial Green-Beckham) is there. We have a really good mix.”
With Wentz having gained a full season of experience as a rookie and now coming into Year 2 way ahead of the game from a maturity standpoint and a full comprehension of the scheme, and now that he has some established NFL weapons outside with Jeffery and Smith, it’s fair to expect a big leap up for the offense.
That’s the thinking. That’s the hope. And Pederson feels that way, even as he approaches the next steps with the usual coaching caution.
“I think we’re going to be much improved, but we have to see how it goes,” he said. “We have to stay healthy and the ball has to bounce our way, but, yeah, I’m excited to work with these guys and get them out there and see what we have.”
Free agency has slowed to a trickle, but the Eagles are still likely to add some pieces between now and the draft in late April. Pederson would not get specific on what’s happening next, or who the Eagles might be targeting in the draft, but it’s safe to say the level of optimism is high.
The opportunity is there to have a second straight draft to gain some immediate impact and add to the young core of talented players.
“Our philosophy is best available player,” he said. “It’s a matter of finding it. Last year, we had five guys contribute to our team from the draft and we’re excited about those players going forward. We just have to keep building, keep adding and see where we go.
“I like the direction we’re taking, but by no means are we finished.”
Pederson and the Eagles have a month to go before the draft, so what happens between now and then? Are there some players on the street who can help, particularly on the defensive side of the ball where the Eagles have obvious needs at every level? Can the team score some play-right-away help in the draft? Is a veteran like Warmack, signed to a one-year contract in free agency, capable of working his way into a starting role at either guard position?
“We like the competition we’re building and that’s the goal,” Pederson said. “We’ve gotten better as a football team in free agency. We’re going to keep adding to that. I’m excited about this and the way it’s all coming together.”
Once the NFL Annual Meeting ends on Wednesday, Pederson and the Eagles’ brass return to Philadelphia to make the final push, to host players at the NovaCare Complex, and to tweak the draft board. It’s crunch time, and Pederson knows just how crucial it is to make the right decisions.
“We have to improve as a football team in every area and that’s our goal in the offseason,” he said. “Our offense, I think you’d have to say we added some pieces who we think can really help what we’re trying to do. But we’re not finished, and that’s what I’m looking forward to getting done when these meetings are over and we’re back grinding and looking for more players to help us win.”
Credit: Philadelphia Eagles