The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles—despite blowing five fourth-quarter leads and finishing just 8-8—missed winning the NFC East by just one game.
If only a handful of plays had gone differently, the Eagles would have made the playoffs and the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants would have spent January watching the postseason, rather than playing it.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie held a press conference shortly after the season and announced that the season was “extremely disappointing” and “unacceptable” to miss the playoffs, but that there would be no coaching changes.
Andy Reid has since announced defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will be maintaining his same role in 2012, so even though I vastly disagree with Reid’s decision, I’m not putting that on my list of offseason moves the Eagles need to make.
There are several moves management does need to make though, especially since the Eagles are so close to being the team to beat in the NFC East. In fact, the official Las Vegas odds for next season already have the Eagles as the favorite to win their respective division.
These six moves will help the Eagles fulfill that exact prediction.
The six linebackers on the Philadelphia Eagles had an average of 1.3 years of experience entering this past season.
Akeem Jordan was the veteran of the bunch, and he’s a fifth-year player that should be a career backup.
Middle linebacker was especially a weak point of the Eagles in 2011. Casey Matthews played the first three games in this role, before he was badly burned by Brandon Jacobs on a screen pass and subsequently benched. Jamar Chaney took over, but he wasn’t much better against either the run or in pass coverage.
London Fletcher is a 37-year-old guy who will be entering his 15th NFL season, but he could definitely help the Eagles for several more years. He’s been to three straight Pro Bowls, he’s never missed a game due to injury in his career and he’s an absolute tackling machine. Fletcher could definitely store up a run defense that ranked just in the middle of the pack last year.
This should be a no-brainer, but since there have been multiple reports indicating the Philadelphia Eagles may release defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, I felt the need to address it.
Jenkins was brought in during last offseason as one of a series of moves the Eagles made that caused Vince Young to dub them the “Dream Team.” Jenkins signed a five-year, $25 million deal to serve as one of the starting defensive tackles next to Mike Patterson.
He had a strong 2011 season, and Jenkins has been a Pro Bowl caliber player for several years now. He is due a sizable bonus in the spring though, and releasing him would free up cap space.
It would also get rid of one of the most consistent members of the Eagles’ defense and likely give the other starting spot to either of the team’s backups in Antonio Dixon, Derek Landri or Trevor Laws.
If the Eagles still think they are a good enough team to make the playoffs next season—which they are—they need Jenkins in 2012 and beyond.
One of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season was the unheralded play of journeyman guard Evan Mathis.
Mathis joined his fourth team since ’07 and went on to start 15 games at left guard, ranking as the top offensive lineman in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Mathis’s 34.6 rating is the sixth-best, single-season total in the website’s history (founded in 2008). He didn’t allow a sack and was phenomenal in run blocking, paving the way for LeSean McCoy to score a franchise-record 20 total touchdowns.
Mathis had signed just a one-year deal so he is a free agent again, and the Philadelphia Eagles would be wise to lock him up for the long-term. If they let him go, Todd Herremans will likely slide back over to left guard, and the Eagles may choose to allow Winston Justice to start at the right tackle position.
Justice is only an adequate starter, though, and the Eagles would be downright foolish to let Mathis walk. He and Jason Peters give the Eagles arguably the best left side of the offensive line in the league, and that is vital to the success of Michael Vick and the offense as a whole.
Mathis probably won’t be able to duplicate his success from ’11, but he played well enough that the team needs to give him a shot. He had actually turned in an underrated season for the Cincinnati Bengals back in 2009, and he hasn’t given up a sack in 1,846 snaps since 2008. Those reasons alone are enough for the Eagles to give Mathis a new deal of three to four years.
The Philadelphia Eagles had a pair of underachieving safeties in Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen, and it’s time for a serious upgrade at the position.
Andy Reid has struggled as of late to draft safeties—Macho Harris was a colossal bust in 2009, Allen has struggled since a promising first month in 2010 and Jaiquawn Jarrett was overmatched in his rookie season.
Rather than having Reid try to draft another safety, why not sign one who is already good? Tyvon Branch had a strong season for the Oakland Raiders in 2011, and he is set to hit the free-agency market. Branch rated as the No. 1 safety in the league against the run last year, and he’s still just 25 years old.
Branch would step right in as the starting strong safety for Coleman, while giving Allen another chance to work as the free safety. Allen wasn’t 100 percent this past season, as he was still recovering from a torn patellar tendon. If he returns at top form in 2012, the Eagles would have an underrated pair of safeties in Allen and Branch.
I’ve been torn about DeSean Jackson for much of the 2011 season, but realistically, I think the Philadelphia Eagles have to bring him back.
Jackson won’t like being franchised (unless it’s for about $25 million, and that’s not going to happen). He will want a long-term deal, and the Eagles need to give him one. Santonio Holmes got a five-year, $50 million deal from the New York Jets prior to ’11, and that sounds like a reasonable deal for Jackson.
Jackson is probably one of the top 10 to 15 wide receivers in the NFL (I rated him 13 on my list). He deserves to be paid like one. He has straight line speed that's unmatched by virtually any receiver in the league. Jackson is one of the greatest deep-ball threats of the modern era. He’s totaled 12 touchdowns of at least 60 yards since entering the league in 2008, and the Eagles can’t find a talent like him just anywhere.
There are a slew of talented wide receivers in free agency—Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Reggie Wayne, and Wes Welker—to name a few. With the exception of Wallace (who will almost assuredly be re-signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers), no one can do for the Eagles what DeSean Jackson does.
He forces the safeties to play 20 yards deep, opening up routes underneath for Brent Celek or LeSean McCoy to make plays. Jackson can return punts too, and he's a home run threat every time he gets the ball in his hands. That’s the kind of player the Eagles need to lock up.
Burfict was the anchor of a tough Arizona State defense. He's a once-every-decade type of pass-rusher, a player who can get to the quarterback and make things happen.
Burfict has the ability to play either middle linebacker or outside linebacker in a 4-3 formation. He's adept against the run, terrific versus the pass and has tremendous instincts.
Burfict has ideal size at 6’3”, 250 pounds, and he's a feisty player who would instantly be a leader on the Eagles defense. Remember the five fourth-quarter collapses that happened in 2011? That wouldn’t happen with Burfict on the field. No chance. Burfict is an intimidator—a guy who can get the defense fired up, and the offense scared to death.
If the Eagles get London Fletcher via free agency, Fletcher could play middle linebacker for a few seasons before giving way to Burfict.
Either way, the Eagles would have a tremendous talent in Burfict.