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How the Eagles' slow pursuit of Tyrann Mathieu explains their offseason strategy

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PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles' offseason can be most accurately viewed through the prism of the Honey Badger.

There's been mutual interest between the Eagles and safety Tyrann Mathieu. They hosted him on a virtual visit last week, a league source confirmed an NFL Network report, and have been in communication with him for longer than that. Mathieu, 29, would address a major need and help solidify Philadelphia's back end, but to this point, the Eagles haven't been aggressive to seal the deal.

It goes along with the overall vibe of the Eagles' offseason, which has felt a little like gathering for a Fourth of July fireworks show -- picnic blankets down, eyes up in anticipation -- and having the pyrotechnician shoot off a couple of bottle rockets.

Kind of a letdown.

They did flash with the signing of edge rusher Haason Reddick to a three-year, $45 million deal at the start of free agency. It was a significant move: He's had 23.5 sacks over the past two seasons and will level up a pass-rushing group that finished second-to-last in the NFL in sacks last year (29).

But they haven't otherwise moved the needle in a major way. They added depth receiver/culture-booster Zach Pascal, upgraded the linebacker group by bringing in Kyzir White, took a flyer on Olympic hurdler/receiver Devon Allen, and brought back defensive end Derek Barnett, safety Anthony Harris, running back Boston Scott, receiver Greg Ward and defensive back Andre Chachere.

While there are some solid moves in there (White could end up being a difference-maker for them), some of the biggest holes on the roster entering the new league year -- namely safety, cornerback and receiver -- remain.

What gives?

General manager Howie Roseman offered his perspective at the annual league meetings in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the end of March. The Eagles have since gone from three first-round selections in April's draft to two following their multi-pick swap with the New Orleans Saints that bolsters their 2023 cache, but they added a third-rounder this year and still have 10 picks overall for later this month. Roseman told reporters their draft capital has "no doubt" impacted how they've managed the offseason to date.

“[W]hen you have the amount of high picks we have, we don’t want to block these players from playing,” he said. “We don’t want to get in a situation where we’re drafting guys in the first, second, sometimes even the third round and they don’t have an ability to play because you’re wasting a contract year. That gives us the opportunity to draft guys and to play early in a contract, which we think is an important part of the team-building process we’re in.

"I think it goes back to, we'd hate to draft three guys and go redshirt, redshirt, redshirt. You're blocked here, here, and here."

And if the Eagles were to sign Mathieu to any kind of significant contract before the draft, one of those available starting spots would be claimed. The only way they'd make such a move now, it appears, is if the deal was inexpensive enough to be viewed as nonbinding.

Does that provide a roadmap to where the Eagles are headed with their first-round picks? Maybe to a degree. There aren't many starter positions unblocked at the moment. Safety and corner have clear-cut vacancies, and there is a path to a starting job at receiver and arguably linebacker. It might be a good idea to study up on prospects like LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr., Arkansas WR Treylon Burks and Michigan safety Daxton Hill.

The best way to look at it, though, is Philadelphia is delaying its second wave on the free-agency/trade front until after it sees how the draft unfolds.

"We have almost half a year until we play a meaningful game. We look at it as there's so many tools to improving the team. And every day that's the goal," said Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. "I expect Howie, [coach] Nick [Sirianni], everybody to address every area of concern between now and September, and that's exactly what they're doing."

There is some convenient message-resetting going on here. The Eagles nearly traded for receiver Calvin Ridley before he was suspended and they went after several big-ticket free agents, including receiver Christian Kirk and safeties Marcus Williams and Justin Reid, only to come up empty. There didn't seem to be too much concern about blocking high draft picks during those pursuits (though to be fair, both starting safety spots were open at the start of the offseason, and they may not have re-signed Harris if they landed Williams or Reid). But this is the strategy they've transitioned to.

The wait-and-see approach is being most staunchly applied at corner, it appears. At the annual league meeting, both Lurie and Sirianni referenced the signing of CB Steven Nelson prior to the start of training camp last July as an example of how roster-building extends beyond the draft. Philadelphia hasn't been connected to the corner market a ton to this point. Meanwhile, there are still some notable free-agent corners who remain unsigned with the draft a couple of weeks away -- a group that includes Stephon Gilmore, Bryce Callahan, Joe Haden, Xavier Rhodes, and Nelson.

The same applies to safety, with Mathieu, Landon Collins and Terrell Edmunds among those still available.

"I think that you see still in free agency, if we wanted to circle back at some of the positions people perceive there’s a need, there’s still guys there," Roseman said. "A lot of these are veteran guys and they’re smart enough to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to wait and see in the draft, see if teams draft these guys and what the best spot is for me as well.’"

So it could be that while the fireworks display looks rather tame now, we may come to view it as simply a long lull between the first pop and the rest of the action, starting later this month -- with a move for Mathieu or another starting-caliber safety almost assuredly coming if they don't address the position early in the draft.

"We’ve built through free agency a little bit. But we have a lot of draft picks about to come up," Sirianni said. "There can always be guys added to the roster later on. It’s building. I never really think you’re ever a finished product."