The Eagles go into the offseason with less glaring needs then most of the playoff teams this season. The Eagles are young and most of their starters have plenty of room to grow, but they don't have too many needs on either side of the ball.
Middle linebacker is obvious. They don't need the next Ray Lewis or Jeremiah Trotter, they just need someone who can add some stability at the position. Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney both failed as the starting MIKE last season, and someone else will be manning the position in 2012. Whether it's an early round draft pick in next Aprils draft or a proven free agent, the Eagles will be bringing in a new face to man the middle in 2012.
Several position like strong safety, right guard and weakside linebacker looked like major needs early in the season but Kurt Coleman, Danny Watkins and Brian Rolle really solidified those position respectively during the season.
Really the Eagles only have five major position needs, depending on what happens with key potential free agents Evan Mathis and DeSean Jackson.
The Eagles' need at middle linebacker is obvious to everyone. Casey Matthews may have made a name for himself late in the season as a nickel linebacker, but he will not be responsible for playing the run as a middle linebacker anytime soon. Jamar Chaney spent most of the 2011 season as the Eagles MIKE, but he struggled with tackling in the open field and pass coverage and will most likely be moved to the strong side, if he's lucky.
The Eagles could go several different routes this offseason at the middle linebacker position. There are a couple quality free agent linebackers that could become free agents along with several quality prospects entering the draft this season.
Stephen Tulloch would be the best fit for the Eagles at middle linebacker. Sound familiar? Most people thought that last year when the Eagles didn't offer Tulloch anything and he signed a one year deal with Detroit. Now he is 27 years old, entering his prime and is likely looking for a long-term deal.
Tulloch has racked up at least 110 tackles in each of the past three seasons and 566 in his six year career, all in the Wide-9 scheme that the Eagles employ. He would be the ideal player for the Eagles to help improve their mediocre run defense.
Curtis Lofton will also be a player of interest for the Eagles as he is coming off a season where he made 147 tackles for the Atlanta Falcons. Lofton will be a high priority for Atlanta this offseason but if he wants to test the market, he could get very enticing deal from the Eagles to try and lure up away from Atlanta.
If the Eagles are unable to sign either player, which is likely as both teams will have both players high on their offseason priority list, they could sign a less name in free agency like D'Qwell Jackson of Cleveland or Dan Connor or Carolina.
If all else fails, expect the Eagles to go all out for Boston College's Luke Kuechly in the 2012 NFL Draft. Kuechly is a bit undersized at 237 pounds, but has been one of the most productive linebackers in college football the past two seasons and should have success in the Eagles defense.
If the Eagles don't sign a middle linebacker before the draft, don't be surprised if they trade up a few picks to ensure they get their man.
Strong side linebacker should be wide open in 2012. Jamar Chaney went in to the 2011 season as the Eagles SAM, but with Casey Matthews ineffectiveness at middle linebacker, he was forced back to the middle.
Chaney will probably be moved back to the outside, but it won't come without competition. Akeem Jordan and Moise Fokou who both have more experience as outside linebackers then Chaney, are both under contract through the 2012 season.
The Eagles will most likely be drafting an outside linebacker to add more competition at the position. Keenan Robinson would be the best value in the draft as a 4-3 strong side linebacker. Robinson has a great deal of strength and athleticism who can both hold his own in coverage and shed blocks while playing the run. The biggest knock against him is the fact that he was very inconsistent while at Texas but maybe an NFL coaching staff and a fat paycheck might change that.
Robinson could be a good value for the Eagles in the third round for a guy who can come in and compete for a starting spot on the outside and most likely make either Jordan or Fokou expendable, if not both players.
It's ironic that the only linebacker position for the Eagles that they seem set on is by a a sixth round draft pick from last last April that was too short for the position.
The defensive tackle position on paper seems pretty set for the Eagles. Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins are still under contract coming off very solid campaigns in 2011 while Antonio Dixon, Trevor Laws and Derek Landri should be able to resigned for a reasonable amounts.
But Patterson is coming off brain surgery to remove a tangle of the blood vessels that caused his seizure in training camp last summer. The recovery period can be anywhere from 1-6 months. Cullen Jenkins is due a $5 million dollar roster bonus on March 13 and the Eagles could save over $7 million in cap space by releasing Jenkins.
Antonio Dixon is coming off the IR after he tore his triceps last October which cost him the majority of the 2011 season. He is a restricted free agent. Trevor Laws is a unrestricted free agent and with his play greatly declined from 2010 to 2011, the Eagles probably let him test the market before offering him any type of deal. Derek Landri is also a free agent but after a solid 2011 season as a backup defensive tackle in Jim Washburn's defensive line rotation, the Eagles will most likely bring him back.
All that leaves a lot of uncertainty at the position and it wouldn't be out of the question for the Eagles to spend their first round pick on a defensive tackle, especially if middle linebacker is already addressed.
Devon Still of Penn State may be the best defensive tackle in the draft and could possibly still be available at the Eagles number 15 pick. But if the Eagles don't love anybody at pick number 15, I see them trading down later in the first round and taking a player like Fletcher Cox out of Mississippi State.
Cox is a very versatile tackle who lines up both in the middle and as a defensive end, similar to what Cullen Jenkins did for the Eagles this season. He has excellent pass rushing skills and a good burst off the snap. He would thrive playing in the scheme of Jim Washburn while also not having to be a every down tackle in Washburn's rotation.
The need at wide receiver all depends on whether or not the Eagles can resign or are willing to franchise DeSean Jackson. It all depends on who you ask but for a team that struggles to get touchdowns inside the red zone, overpaying for a undersized receiver who has a history of dropping passes and disappearing inside the 20 doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
I see the Eagles being very aggressive at the wide receiver position this offseason, but not with Jackson. Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston could all hit the free agent market and all are the type of players that thrive in the red zone.
The Eagles could also spend a first or second round pick on a bigger wide out in the draft as well by taking Michael Floyd of Notre Dame, Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina, or Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers. All three players have good size and great hands and would have an immediate and positive impact inside the 20 for an offense that desperately needs it.
The Eagles could draft a player like Joe Adams out of Arkansas to make up for the speed they will lose of DeSean Jackson as well. Adams isn't quite as fast as Jackson, nobody is, but he is stronger and more willing to make players down the middle of the field and in the end zone. He is also just as explosive of a punt returner as well where he returned four for touchdowns this past season for the Razorbacks.
The Eagles kickoff return game has been dead for years. While DeSean Jackson has been electrifying at times on punt returns, getting past the 20 yard line on kickoffs has been a major accomplishment lately. That has to change for a team that expects to compete in 2012.
The Eagles kicking game and coverage has greatly improved under special teams coach Bobby April, but kickoff returns have remained uninspiring. Expect the Eagles to address that in either free agency or the draft.
There aren't a lot of explosive return men available in free agency, so I would expect the Eagles to draft someone capable of handing kickoffs like Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead or Florida' Chris Rainey. At least in 2012 the Eagles will have more than a few weeks to figure out their man on kickoffs. Current players like Curtis Marsh and Dion Lewis will get more reps this offseason on kickoffs along with any rookies drafted or undrafted they sign to compete at the spot as well.