Let's face it, the 2012 season is a make-or-break year for head coach Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles. After a rough start, the self-proclaimed "Dream Team" missed the NFL playoffs and finished the season just 8-8, leaving fans scratching their heads and hanging up their jerseys early, wondering how such a promising season became such a disaster.
Ignoring the glaring holes on the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo did a decent job, guiding his unit to the eighth-ranked defense in terms of yards per game, and dealing out 50 sacks, tying the Minnesota Vikings for the NFL best.
However, inconsistent defensive back play was a detriment to the team, along with the fact that the Eagles struggled when it came to the most fundamental of defensive skills: tackling.
On the other side of the ball, QB Michael Vick and Co. looked phenomenal for the most part, finishing the regular season fourth in terms of yards per game. Flashes of brilliance were overshadowed, however, by the fact that the offensive unit was the second worst team in football when it came to turnover differential (-14, t-Washington Redskins).
All things considered, the Philadelphia Eagles' mediocre season was a dark time for the organization, but the night is darkest just before the dawn, and the Eagles have all the pieces necessary to return to the playoffs, if not the Super Bowl in 2012.
With the 30-year-old Nnamdi Asomugha locked into a five-year, $60 million contract and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie turning only 26 in April, the Eagles' should offer up the aging Asante Samuel to trade offers this offseason.
After acquiring Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie last year, the Eagles secondary was quickly regarded as the best the NFL had to offer. However, what nobody seemed to consider was that while both corners are phenomenal talents, they also flourish in man-to-man coverage, while Samuel is at his best in zone coverage, where he can more easily read and react to the quarterback.
This quickly became apparent when Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz over Asomugha's zone for a 28-yard score in Week 2.
By trading Samuel, the Eagles could produce at least one draft pick and allow Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie to do what they did so successfully with their previous organizations, all the while freeing up around $10 million in salary cap room.
While the undersized WR DeSean Jackson has proven that he is a difficult personality to handle in the locker room, he has also made it obvious that whether he catches the ball, the presence he brings to an offense is electrifying.
Without Jackson, the Eagles are left without the one thing that makes the offense so explosive: the deep threat. If Jackson is on the field, you can bet that there are at least two defensive backs with both eyes on him at all times.
This allows TE Brent Celek, WR Jeremy Maclin and the sure-handed WR Jason Avant more opportunities to move the chains, and gives RB LeSean McCoy more room to run before reaching the secondary.
Now that the Eagles have offered Jackson a franchise tag, the next step is to sign the receiver to a long-term deal in order to conserve cap room to sign other free agents this year.
Count your blessings, Eagles fans, because DeSean Jackson making a return to Eagles prevents him from catching passes from a QB like Tom Brady come August.
Bringing a veteran LB to Philly would push the Eagles to the next level. With one of the smallest linebacking corps in the NFL, the Eagles quickly became one of the easiest to run the ball against in 2011.
Allowing nearly 115 yards per game on the ground, mostly due to unsure tackling by the undersized, less-than-talented linebackers could easily be assuaged by the addition of Lofton or Tulloch, who had 87 and 84 tackles, respectively.
Either LB would be a welcome addition, and while they aren't the biggest linebackers to ever play the game, they both have what the Eagles defense lacked in 2011: sure tackling ability.
In fact, through the first 11 weeks of the season, the Eagles defensive unit missed just over 13 percent of its tackling opportunities, the second worst in the NFL at the time.
While trading up to draft Luke Kuechly in the first round sounds prudent, don't expect Andy Reid to resort to starting a rookie at middle linebacker in 2012, especially after the failed Casey Matthews experiment of 2011.
While it has been said that 38-year-old FS Brian Dawkins should hang up his pads and end his illustrious 16-year career, the Eagles should offer him a deal good for one year. After being drafted in the second round of the 1996 NFL draft, Dawkins quickly stepped in as the starter and made it clear that he was in Philadelphia for one reason: winning games.
Racking up 75 tackles, three interceptions and a sack in 13 starts as a rookie, Dawkins would go on to start all but one game in his 13-year career in Philadelphia, amassing nearly 900 tackles, 34 interceptions and 21 sacks.
After being released by the Eagles in 2009, the safety saw his statistics slowly diminish as age began to take its toll. If Dawkins signed with the Eagles as a backup in 2012, the sure-tackling safety could split time with injury-prone Nate Allen and inconsistent Kurt Coleman while bringing a veteran leadership role back to the Eagles' safeties.
Not only that, but also Dawkins could prove to be a veritable asset in the development of young safeties in Philadelphia over the course of the 2012 season. The Eagles front office should offer Dawkins a deal, if only to allow fans the privilege of watching him retire wearing midnight green.
Drafting the best linebacker in the upcoming NFL Draft, coupled with the signing of a veteran LB during free agency, is the best way for the Eagles to ensure that their linebacking corps is no longer the laughing-stock of the NFL for years to come.
After LB Luke Kuechly performed incredibly at the NFL Combine, finishing top five in most categories amongst linebackers, it is safe to say that he will not be available when Andy Reid and the Eagles are on the clock.
That being said, the Eagles are loaded with draft picks and seem poised to make a move up the draft board to claim Kuechly. In just three years at Boston College, Kuechly amassed 532 tackles, enough to best both Boston College and ACC records.
Although his size is only average, Kuechly excels in pass coverage and has exceptional tackling ability, which makes him a perfect fit in Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo's linebacker rotation.
Kuechly's impeccable play has been compared to that of Brian Urlacher, and who better to carry the Philadelphia Eagles defense into the future than the best linebacker to ever play for the Boston College Eagles?