Why undrafted free agents will be key, again, for Eagles in 2018
The Eagles have gotten immense success from a bevy of undrafted free agents.
Most of the buzz leading up to next week's 2018 NFL Draft will be about what order the quarterbacks go in the top five, where Saquan Barkley will land and — more locally — what the Eagles will do with the 32nd overall pick.
Lacking any picks on Day 2 (in the second or third rounds), it's likely the Eagles will be interested in trading back to get multiple picks if they can.
“We’re open for business," Eagles President of Football Operations Howie Roseman said. "We're open for business in every round if it's something that we think makes sense for our team, we're going to do it. But at the same time, we're ready to pick. We have 32 guys we feel really good about. We can't operate under the assumption that we're going to bail out, so we're ready to roll."
Who the Eagles select and when is important. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. But the real Super Bowl building happens after the draft, among the undrafted free agents.
The Eagles currently have 25 undrafted free agents fron previous draft classes on their roster and had six start in the Super Bowl. Future Hall of Famer Jason Peters went undrafted, as did starting safety Rodney McLeod and injured special teams sepcialist Chris Maragos. One of the heroes from Super Bowl LII, Corey Clement, went unselected last season as did likely third tight end Billy Brown. And incoming defensive end Michal Bennett also was passed over seven times by every NFL team back in 2009.
With so few high draft picks and with a rich track record, the already stout Eagles' roster will get bolstered by undrafted free agent signings — a part of the offseason emphasized by Roseman and VP of Player Personnel Joe Douglas.
"We’re excited that we have five picks on Saturday, as it stands right now," Douglas said of the Birds' plethora of late round picks between the fourth and seventh rounds, "18 starters in the Super Bowl this year were fourth-round picks or lower, including six of them that were undrafted free agents. So we choose to keep the glass half full on that one.”
Clement is a prime example of what kind of impact smart post-draft scouting and negotiation can achieve. The Wisconsin product said he talked with Duce Staley after he didn't get a call in the 2017 NFL draft. Staley appealed to Clement directly and convinced him to come be a part of something special in Philadelphia. What happened was obviously beyond either of their expectations, as Clement wound up with 100 yards to lead all Philly receivers in a 41-33 upset victory over the Patriots.
"Just keep believing," he said back in February, adorning a "Super Bowl LII Champions T shirt after the game. "Regardless of where you go in the draft or if you don't get drafted. It's not the end of the road. You get to look back and reflect on who passed you. I am grateful to the Philadelphia Eagles for giving me the chance. I've been counted out so many times I really don't understand why I didn't get drafted but now I'm a Super Bowl champion."
Clement's story will certainly be in the minds of the hundreds of NFL hopefuls who won't hear their names called next weekend. But the 2018 Eagles aren't the 2017 Eagles. It's one thing to be a middling franchise looking to build something great from scratch. It's another to have a stacked roster and a target on your back.
Douglas, as he and Roseman spoke to media members Thursday shared a concern about the team's ability to sign quality UDFA'sin the wake of their Super Bowl success. With so much depth on the roster, the top free agents may want to go elsewhere where they have a better chance of playing.
Open for business, the Eagles could try and make up for their potental lack of UDFA success by gathering more picks and trading down from 32. It may be the last pick next Thursday, but it does carry a lot of value.
"When you look at the numbers based on what the option year is projected to be," Roseman said, referring to the extra year first round players get on their rookie contracts, "there are some incredible values by having the fifth year of the deal, and I think that's why you see teams that are jumping from the second to the first round, because everyone is aware of those discussions."