Why the Eagles Must Take Best Player Available Strategy in 2014 NFL Draft

Andrew KulpContributor IFebruary 28, 2014

Apr 25, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) is introduced as the number four overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

With the re-signing of center Jason Kelce and offensive tackle Jason Peters, as reported by NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, the Philadelphia Eagles have all of their starting offensive linemen signed through at least 2016. You can check that off the list of needs to fill at the 2014 NFL draft.

Riley Cooper is locked up, and CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher reports that Jeremy Maclin is rumored to be next, so check off wide receiver in the first round, too.

The Eagles have Nick Foles at quarterback (check), LeSean McCoy at running back (check), and Brent Celek and Zach Ertz at tight end (check). Now the team can target defense at the draft.

Only the Eagles aren’t “targeting” any position. They’re targeting players, specifically the best ones they can find.

The Birds may have a few holes left to fill on their roster, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically spend the No. 22 pick overall on filling one of them. As general manager Howie Roseman has stated time and time again this winter, the club will select whoever the best player available is when it's on the clock, regardless of position.

And it’s absolutely the correct attitude to have. If there is a safety and a wide receiver sitting there in the first round, the safety has a second-round grade and the receiver has a first, then take the receiver because that pick has the better chance of panning out.

If it’s a tie, so be it. Take the player that is going to fill a hole. If it’s too close to call, fill the hole. If one player carries a significantly higher grade, though, that’s the pick, whether the Eagles need him or not.

Here’s Roseman explaining the best-player-available strategy to reporters, via Brandon Lee Gowton of SB Nation:

You have to take the best player and you have to build your team for the long term and look at the draft as long-term decisions for your franchise and for your football team. [You] don't want to force a position and you don't want to not take a position just because of what you have at the moment and I think, for us, when you look at the difficulty of getting good players in the draft, it becomes increasingly difficult when you narrow it down to a particular position that you have to get, not taking into account the strength of the draft.

Roseman is saying two things here. Number one, you can’t choose somebody because there’s a need. That’s how the Eagles wound up with Jaiquawn Jarrett in Round 2 in 2011, a move the organization was already regretting a year later.

Jarrett was viewed as a huge reach, but the Birds were desperate to try to plug the hole that has existed at safety since Brian Dawkins’ departure in 2009. How did that work out?

Roseman is also telling us, though, that areas that don’t appear to be needs now could become just that in the blink of an eye.

Just because the Eagles locked up Cooper and are working to get Maclin under contract doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some wide receiver help. Depth remains an issue, for one.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

More to the point, though, what if Maclin doesn’t re-sign or leaves when his anticipated short-term contract is up? What if Cooper was a flash in the pan? What if DeSean Jackson’s contract demands become an issue, or he goes into decline and isn’t worth re-signing in three years when his deal expires? What if anybody succumbs to injury?

Wide receiver could easily be a need next season. It could even be a need this year. You never know.

If nothing else, the Eagles want to make the rest of the league believe they’re going to take the best player available no matter what, which may have played a role in their meeting with Johnny Manziel at the combine. If, for instance, Manziel does start to tumble, and teams start thinking of trading up for the Texas A&M quarterback, they have to consider what Philadelphia will do.

How that helps the Birds is they could be one of the first to get a phone call and may get a sweet offer. Or, still using Manziel as an example, a team could jump ahead of the Birds, which means there’s one more player on the board who might not have otherwise been there when they’re on the clock.

Maybe the Eagles liked Manziel, or maybe they didn’t. They didn’t need him, so even if they would’ve taken him as the best player available, the strategy paid dividends in other ways.

But most of all, it’s about actually taking the best player available. Fans shouldn’t get disappointed if the Eagles come away from Day 1 of the draft with another wide receiver instead of a coveted safety or anybody based on the position he plays.

Simply filling positions of need with prospects isn’t going to get Philadelphia any closer to a championship if they're not the right players. Yes, the Eagles may be stuck with a stop-gap in certain areas as a result, but they’ll be stronger and deeper somewhere else. As Roseman points out to Tim McManus of Philly Mag, nobody is perfect at every spot on the field.

You can't force things. You can't make something that's not there. I think we've all seen the lessons learned from that. If you do that you're going to make a huge mistake.

Sometimes the option is just to get through the moment and to do some stop-gap things. And I'm not necessarily saying that's what we have to do at a particular position, but if you look at the teams that have won the championships over the last couple of years, they're not perfect at 22 spots. And I think there's a big difference having a weakness at a particular position as opposed to being solid and getting through. That's going to be the important thing.