The last 72 hours in the world of sports have been nothing short of shocking. Just about every major league has been temporarily put on hold in an attempt to prevent spreading of the coronavirus in venues where thousands of fans would gather. The NFL is in a rather unique spot as of right now, because the new league year is set to start in four days and those plans remain unchanged. But everything else surrounding the National Football League is being flipped on its head.
Teams originally started refusing to send coaches to Pro Days, before the events would later be postponed in the interest of Safety. You can make the argument that you can hold phone interviews with free agents as opposed to visits. But for free agents coming off an injury or simply anyone wanting to get a vibe of the building, its staff, and what it’s about before signing away the next few years of your career, that’s almost impossible. Physical meetings are extremely important. Would you sign a contract with an employer you hadn’t met?
This leaves all NFL teams in a spot of uncertainty. The Eagles rightfully closed down both the NovaCare Complex and Lincoln Financial Field but have vowed to prepare for the upcoming free agency period remotely. All of these obstacles combine to present a new test to a team that’s become known as one of the most forward-thinking in the league.
There’s one quote that stands out to me at this time. When Howie Roseman met with the Eagles media for one final time in 2019 after the heartbreaking loss to Seattle, it was a conference of self-reflection ahead of a crucial offseason. Within that 20 minute spell, Roseman hinted at how his team will be taking a more visceral approach to scouting as opposed to the previously analytically heavy focus.
“I think when we look at it, the most surprising thing for us as we’ve studied this and the things that are important, is that there are three rookie receivers who never had more than 40 catches in a college season who have been tremendously productive this year.
“Is that a factor for us when we look at college production and we kind of see how important that is to us, do we have to go back and look at that? And I think we do.”
This is really important considering the challenges that the Eagles face. The opinions of scouts are going to matter now more than ever. If Coaches are unable to attend pro days (when they open back up) and the 30 pre-draft visits given to teams are also suspended, there’s less chance of a player being able to blag his way through a day, masking character concerns and leaving a lasting impact on staff whose opinion can override the eyes of scouts.
That’s been a common worry around NFL teams for a while now. It’s very easy to look your best at a job interview, but you won’t see what a player is really like until a 6AM start on a Monday morning after a tough loss the night before. For an Eagles team coming off the back of a season filled with more character concerns and red flags than an episode of catfish, perhaps this systemic change to talent evaluation and grading could actually spark the very change they’re wishing to infuse.
With no choice but to grind tape and crunch numbers, the Eagles will be relying on the opinions of their scouting department more than they ever have before. The scouts who attended pro days and watched the prospects play in the flesh and that may be exactly what the doctor ordered after a very questionable 2019 NFL Draft.
As for free agency, with such limited resources available, the Eagles have to be very methodical with their process. There are some pressing team needs and a huge bankroll that can be used to tick some of those boxes…but with a complete change to how they’d usually conduct business, they have to get creative. Maybe it’s video ‘recruiting’, maybe it’s talking with free agents who already have existing relationships with team members or connections to the franchise, or perhaps it’s something not yet thought of.
Either way, in the most important offseason of the Carson Wentz era, the most forward-thinking front office in the league will be forced to live up to that reputation and exceed those expectations in the coming weeks if they are to have any hope of a successful free agency and Draft period.
Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports