How Will the Eagles Approach the Draft?

The Philadelphia Eagles’ approach to free agency this offseason is almost diametrically opposite to their strategy last year. Instead of pursuing big-name free agents and signing former Pro Bowlers, the Eagles are taking care of their own. They extended two talented and respected veterans in Todd Herremans and Trent Cole, and also negotiated deals with Drew Rosenhaus to bring DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis back to Philadelphia. And then, while pundits across the nation predicted that the Eagles would bring in Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton to man the middle linebacker position, the Philly front office pulled some strings and got an even better player in DeMeco Ryans, whom they acquired in a very good deal from the Houston Texans.

It’s hard to pan any of the Eagles’ moves so far this offseason. They’ve done a very good job of not only filling in some of the current holes in their roster, they’ve consolidated talent at other positions for the future as well. By doing so, they head into the draft with no glaring needs on their roster (the only position where they might need to upgrade is at strongside linebacker). This gives them a freedom we haven’t seen in recent drafts, and allows them, as general manager Howie Roseman put it, to draft the best player available.

Because of this freedom, it’s difficult to predict how the Eagles will draft. There are a few different approaches they could use going into April. On one hand, they could draft for quantity over quality, an approach they have used to some success in recent drafts, regularly trading back to accumulate picks. However, considering how close the team sees itself to its first Lombardi Trophy, and in the wake of last year’s spending spree, after which many experts claimed Philadelphia was “all-in,” could they take another approach this year and try to get as many good players as possible?

The team has often followed the former philosophy in regards to drafting, trying to accumulate a number of picks, giving them multiple options if players do not pan out (the only exception is in the first round, where the Eagles actually traded up in 2009 and 2010, after trading out entirely in 2007 and 2008, unfairly giving them the stigma of not caring about obtaining quality players).

Last year was no exception, as the Eagles acquired eleven players (including four starters, a few more potential starters, and several quality role players). The 2011 draft class was widely panned, but in retrospect, it seems as if the Eagles had a relatively successful draft. In theory, they could do the same this year, and Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz argued that Philadelphia might actually try to stockpile picks for next year, so they could trade up for a future franchise quarterback.

So why should we expect 2012 to be different? It’s in part because a few quality players who can make an impact this year could help put this team over the top, and because acquiring surefire future starters can help the team transition as many of its current stars age. The draft is deep at a lot of positions the Eagles like to draft for (defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver, and yes, linebacker), meaning that first-round talents could be available even in the second and third rounds at these positions. The Eagles don’t have many holes to fill, so why shouldn’t they look to fill the ones they do have with the best players possible? Remember, while these draft picks may only be role players for the next few years, they will be talented ones at that, and future starters and stars.

And, of course, there’s the “all-in” mentality that permeated Philadelphia before the start of the 2011 season. Although the team tried to distance itself from that label (and the unfortunate moniker of “Dream Team”), it is very applicable this season, especially in the wake of Jeff Lurie’s press conference where he turned up the heat on Coach Andy Reid. So much is riding on this season, and the Eagles have a short window of opportunity where they can capture the franchise’s first Super Bowl. So why shouldn’t the Eagles look to draft for quality instead of quantity?

They have every incentive to do so. Four picks in the first three rounds, a fifth if Asante Samuel commands a third in a trade, the pressure to get as talented a roster as possible in order to make a run at the Super Bowl, a team with few holes, one that requires more talent for the present and future instead of seventh-rounders and camp bodies.

Without a doubt, the Eagles will be best served if they look to trade up and not down, and draft for quality, not quantity.

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