For the Philadelphia Eagles, the 2012 NFL draft is less about building a solid foundation for the future than it is an opportunity to address some areas of need in a much more cost-efficient manner than doing so through free agency.
In the salary-cap era, NFL teams have had to learn to strike a balance between marquee free-agent talent—and the salary-cap hit that comes with them—with draft-day bargains when filling out their rosters. It is a precarious high-wire act where leaning too far in either direction can spell disaster.
In 2011, the Eagles embarked on what was one of the most impressive free-agent spending sprees in league history, yet fell short of the playoffs in what was, speaking in terms of overall records, a down year for the NFC East. The abundance of talent the Birds had amassed at some positions simply couldn't hide the dearth of talent at others, most notably the linebacker and safety positions.
With almost every key contributor to last year's team coming back, All-Pro caliber talent at almost every skill position on the field, and a "now or never" credo headed into 2012, the Eagles draft board should be much smaller and more focused on a specific type of talent than that of most teams.
The Eagles need to focus their efforts on finding players who will compete for playing time right away, athletes who may not have as high a ceiling as some of their fellow draft classmates, but whose combination of physical attributes and football IQ give them the ability to step onto the field in Week 1 and represent an improvement for the Eagles in the areas where they need it most.
Operating under the assumption that the Eagles will use the franchise tag on DeSean Jackson and keep him in the fold for 2012, which seems to be increasingly likely, here is the team's latest seven-round mock draft prediction.