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NFL AM: Eagles, Browns and 49ers Set To Report on Monday For Offseason Programs

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The dawn of a new month is an important hallmark in the NFL offseason. It means we’re one step closer to the draft, training camp and of course the new season. But for three teams, the beginning of this particular month of April means it’s officiallt time to get back to work, getting know their new coaching staffs as they report for offseason training.

The Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers were three of the four teams to hire a new head coach from outside their organization this offseason and that gives them the opportunity for a two-week jump start on most of the league, as the collective bargaining agreement allows those franchises to being phase one of their offseason program on Monday, April 4.

The CBA limits that first phase to just two of strength and conditioning and rehabilitation activities, however those weeks are important because they present the first real opportunity for the players to get acquainted with the team’s new staffs and the way they expect things to be done. That’s especially helpful in these three situations where a brand new head coach is involved. Each team will have the opportunity to lay the groundwork for a successful season here in April.

The team with the most to gain from the next two weeks is the Eagles. New head coach Doug Pederson has some familiarity with the Philadelphia squad since he served as the team’s quarterback coach under Andy Reid as recently as 2012. But with so much turnover on the roster in the last few years, even through this offseason, there are few players remaining from that 2012 squad Pederson helped guide. Still of the three teams with brand new coaches, the Eagles are by far the furthest along in the building process and unlike the other two squads that will report on Monday, the 2016 season should Philly with a real opportunity to compete for a division title and playoff spot once more after a two-year postseason hiatus.

For the Eagles, making that quick progress to get back to postseason contention begins at the head of the snake, the quarterback position, where for the first time in several years Philadelphia has some continuity going into a season. The Eagles retained last year’s starter Sam Bradford on a two-year contract this offseason, then went out and added to their stable at the position by bringing in quarterback Chase Daniel, who served as the backup in Kansas City where Pederson was offensive coordinator. The two signings create some competition at the position, something that could drive Philly to get better and more consistent production out of the quarterback spot this season, especially with Pederson, who is a former quarterback himself and has established a reputation as something of a guru at the position, leading the way.

Philadelphia’s other most important area of opportunity is on defense, where the team has installed a new defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz, and handed him the reins to do what he deems fit on that side of the ball.

“I wanted to find that guy I could trust, that head coach of defense. He’s a guy that you can kind of turn the keys over to and say, ‘This is your deal,” Pederson recently said of Schwartz. “Going against him for so many years, it’s an attack style of defense. He’s done a great job over the years, he’s developed pass rushers. You look at guys like (Cliff) Avril, you look at (Ndamukong) Suh, guys that were impact players for him in Detroit. You can go, Kyle Williams in Buffalo and Mario Williams in Buffalo. Guys that come off and really attack the passer. That’s what’s intriguing, when you can put pressure with four, instead of five or six, and you don’t have to blitz all the time, it makes it a better defense.”

The Eagles maintain most of the front end of that defense in place from last season with the exception of the departure of defensive tackle Cedric Thornton to Dallas and the trade of linebacker Kiko Alonso to Miami, but Philly believes they have the depth to fill those spots pretty seamlessly. It was on the backend of the defense where Philadelphia needed its biggest upgrades and they did that by bringing in cornerback Leodis McKelvin and safety Rodney McLeod. Getting those two acquainted with the rest of the Eagles defenders and getting all of them ready to work under Schwartz will be a large focus of the next two weeks.

While Philadelphia looks to build a foundation quickly, in the other two spots where things begin on Monday, patience is going to be a necessary virtue for the players, staff and personnel.

In San Francisco, former Eagles coach Chip Kelly takes over command of the 49ers, where he’ll likely need a little more time to see his blueprint through than he did in Philadelphia, where the team raced to a playoff berth in his first season. The Niners don’t have the level of talent those Eagles that Kelly took over did and it’s been a relatively quiet offseason by the bay with no big signings to speak of to help San Francisco improve on last season’s 5-11 campaign. The 49ers will instead be dependent on the changes to their structure and pace with Kelly and their additions via the draft, to take a step forward in 2016, which makes April a very important month in San Fran.

In Cleveland, all eyes will be on the team’s new quarterback, Robert Griffin III. The franchise and new head coach Hue Jackson have tried to set low expectations for RGIII, but the quarterback remains one of the most polarizing figures in the league and where he goes, attention is sure to follow. Jackson will have his hands full working to rebuild what was one of the league’s worst offenses last season, and like the 49ers, the Browns have had a mostly quiet offseason. In fact, with free agent departures, Cleveland is arguably in worse shape now personnel-wise than they were when Jackson took over. There’s little doubt it’s going to be a long year in Cleveland, but Jackson can start them headed in a better direction and his first opportunity to do that comes through meeting with his new team this week.

For all three teams that report this Monday, time is of the essence and now that spring has sprung and work resumes again, they can all hardly afford to let this opportunity to get a head start on their opponents  go to waste.

TEXANS BRING BACK WEEDEN

The Houston Texans made one of the most bold and surprising additions of the offseason when they signed Brock Osweiler away from the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and on Friday they ensured they’d have a backup plan in place should things go awry with Osweiler.

Houston re-signed quarterback Brandon Weeden to a two-year deal to serve as Osweiler’s primary backup for the 2016 season. Weeden initially joined Houston late last season after being released by the Dallas Cowboys and played in two games, helping lead the Texans to crucial divisional victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans during Houston’s march to the AFC South title.

The Texans, who’ve had one of the league’s most active quarterback carousels over the least several seasons saw enough in that brief sample to put some faith in Weeden should they need him to fill in for their new franchise quarterback Osweiler. That’s more than can be said for Brian Hoyer, who one year after joining Houston on a similar free agent deal is apparently on his way out. Hoyer and Tom Savage round out the Texans depth chart at the position and it’s highly unlikely the team goes into camp with that much invested in the quarterback position. His contract and the status that has seen him go from playoff starter to third on the depth chart make Hoyer the easy odd man out.

Of course, in a league where backup quarterbacks with experience are at a premium, Hoyer shouldn’t be without work for long. Once Houston decides what they are going to do with the journeyman, it’s easy to expect the Jets, Cowboys and Broncos among others to show interest in bringing him in.

OTHER SIGNINGS TRICKLE IN

Weeden wasn’t the only one signing on the dotted line on Friday. Across the league, the start of April saw several players find new homes.

In Detroit, the Lions made a low-key but potentially beneficial move, signing former Patriots and Jets running back Stevan Ridley to a one-year deal. The Seahawks were also active on Friday, bringing defensive end Chris Clemons, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars, back to Seattle for a second stint. The Kansas City Chiefs added some depth to the back end of their defense signing safety Jimmy Wilson and cornerback Stevie Brown. And the New York Jets shored up the middle of their defense by bringing in veteran linebacker Bruce Carter on a one-year-deal.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys