Eagles widening lead atop NFC East


The NFL doesn't hand out a Lombardi trophy for winning the offseason. The Philadelphia Eagles know that better than anyone.

The Eagles won the offseason in 2011.

They were all in. The Eagles brass felt they were this close to having a team that could not only get to the Super Bowl but could finally win it. So they spent and spent and spent in free agency after the lockout, and all that money bought was resentment and hostility and an 8-8 finish. No playoffs. No Super Bowl run. No glistening silver trophy for their barren trophy case.

That was the beginning of the torturous end for Andy Reid in Philadelphia.

Chip Kelly is in the process of building his program. Reid got 14 years. Kelly is in just his second. The Eagles have been active in free agency, but the approach they have taken at Kelly's behest has been drastically different, methodical and smart.

Philadelphia surprisingly won the NFC East in Kelly's first season. It has won the division title for best offseason so far, which has widened the gap between it and the rest of the division.

The  Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants better pay attention and act accordingly, because the Eagles aren't playing around.

The best organizations in the National Football League operate under the philosophy that you build your team through the draft and use free agency only to supplement the roster.

The Eagles strayed from that mindset in 2011, and it got them in trouble.

Their approach under Kelly has been four-pronged. First, they extended the contracts of two players they value: offensive tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce, both of whom were entering a contract year. Then, they shrewdly locked up two of their own free agents before the market opened, signing wide receiver Riley Cooper to a five-year, $25 million deal and Jeremy Maclin to a one-year deal worth up to $6 million.

So far, they have signed five players in free agency: Punter Donnie Jones, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos, linebacker Bryan Braman, and cornerback Nolan Carroll. Jones was on the team last year. Jenkins is expected to start and be the leader of the secondary. All are expected to contribute on special teams.

Then on Thursday, the Eagles traded a fifth-round pick in the upcoming draft to acquire running back Darren Sproles from New Orleans. Sproles turns 31 in June, and he's not the player he was three years ago when he led the NFL in all-purpose yards. He is on the backside of his career.

Nevertheless, a backfield that includes Sproles and LeSean McCoy, who led the league in rushing last season, is enough to keep defensive coordinators busy as both present matchup problems. Sproles is great in space. He has good hands. He can catch the ball out of the backfield or from the slot. He plays so low to the ground that he is hard to bring down.

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