The Philadelphia Eagles have a great core of players right in their prime heading into 2012 and the front office has done an incredible job of signing some of those players to "team friendly" long-term deals. Todd Herremans, Trent Cole, Evan Mathis and DeSean Jackson were all signed well into the next five or six seasons. LeSean McCoy should join that list any day as well.
With a strong core of players in their primes and some younger guys moving up the depth chart, there will be a handful of veterans that will see their roles decreased in 2012.
There are five names that come to mind when assessing who will be challenged for playing time by younger players. Coming off an 8-8 season, there are several positions that will be wide open in training camp.
Jamar Chaney is an interesting case at linebacker. He isn't the type of aging veteran that would lose his spot to a younger player. Chaney made a couple starts late in the 2010 season after then starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley went down with a dislocated elbow. He thrived in his two regular-season starts and some experts were already claiming he was the Eagles' next great linebacker.
Then 2011 came and he made starts at both the strong side and middle linebacker spot, where he struggled in run support and pass coverage. He is big enough and certainly athletic enough to be a really good middle linebacker, but he has lacked the instincts and tackling ability to get the job done.
It seems inevitable that the Eagles will bring in a veteran or two along with a couple rookies in the 2012 NFL Draft to compete for both the middle and strong side linebacker spot. Whether it's Curtis Lofton or Luke Kuechly, Chaney will go into training camp as an underdog to be a starting linebacker this season.
It's really up in the air as to what the Eagles will do with Asante Samuel. Whether they trade him or not, the Pro Bowl cornerback will probably see less time on the field in 2012.
Samuel is one of the top cover corners in the game right now. Nobody jumps routes better then he does and very few have his ability to consistently shut down receivers. But he's also a poor tackler and a liability in the red zone as well.
Both of those areas really hurt the Eagles last season and will force him off the field more in 2012 if he is still with Philadelphia.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie proved last season that he can play in the slot. This is reason enough to move Samuel this offseason. It's hard to find playing time for three outside cornerbacks on the same defense.
Samuel is also 31 years old and is due $9.4 million is base salary in 2012. That will make him difficult to move. He probably doesn't bring in much more then a fourth-round draft pick even if he restructures his contract. Because of his value not equaling his talent level, the Eagles may elect to keep Asante and only put him in the field between the 20s and when Nnamdi Asomugha is covering tight ends.
Even if the Eagles decide to keep Asante for at least one more season, his role will certainly decrease this year.
The Eagles are loaded at defensive end already with one potential early-round selection coming in the 2012 NFL Draft. Trent Cole and Jason Babin are the starters while Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt expect to see plenty of action in Jim Washburn's rotation.
Tapp could be the odd man out in all of this. Whether the Eagles cut him and his $2.5 million dollar base salary or give a very good young player in Hunt more playing time in 2012, Tapp will be the odd man out.
Since Tapp was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, he has just 5.5 sacks in 26 games. That's about $1 million for every sacks he gets.
Phillip Hunt on the other hand, is a very promising player. He was signed last season from the CFL as a very raw pass rusher. It took him some time to get comfortable on the Eagles defense after a very short offseason program, but he showed a great deal of potential late in the season.
Hunt and Graham should be the Eagles' No. 2 defensive ends in the rotation, while Tapp is a player who the Eagles should look to play less often or eventually release.
When the Eagles drafted Riley Cooper in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, they saw a physical receiver who could make an immediate impact on special teams and eventually make plays in the red zone.
Cooper has yet to become the receiver the Eagles once envisioned him to be. He has just 23 receptions in his first two seasons and failed to come up big while Jeremy Maclin was out in the middle of the 2011 season.
He has good size at 6'3" 220 pounds but doesn't player the part. He doesn't come back to the ball and doesn't catch the fade pass either. At this point he really is just a good special teams player that can't make much of an impact on the offense.
The Eagles will look to add a bigger receiver who can make a big impact in the red zone. Plaxico Burress is one name that has been thrown around a lot lately. If he doesn't come to Philadelphia, there are plenty of options in the draft. Michael Floyd, Alshon Jeffery, Juron Criner and Mohamed Sanu are all bigger receivers that the Eagles could draft and expect to make an early impact in the offense.
Clearly Cooper isn't the receiver Eagles fans and coaches alike thought he could be. He will be pushed for playing time by somebody more capable this season.
Akeem Jordan is a quality player on the Eagles' 53-man roster. He is a good teammate who has excelled on special teams and has also played well as an outside linebacker at times. Having said that, he will be pushed for his starting job this season.
Like middle linebacker, strong side linebacker will have a fresh face this season. Neither position has much experience within the Eagles' roster and neither position had much stability last season.
Most of the quality free-agent linebackers left are all middle or weak-side linebackers, so I would expect the Eagles to select a strong-side linebacker in the second or third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Keenan Robinson of Texas is a good option in the draft. He should still be there in the third round and is a player that played exceptionally well at times. He provides good coverage and is very physical against the run. His only major weakness is a lack of consistency at the college level.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar is the best fit for the Eagles at strong-side in free agency. He played both middle and outside linebacker in 2011 for the New Orleans Saints. He is a little bit undersized, but excelled at middle linebacker last season in the Saints' 4-3 defense. There's no reason why he couldn't excel as an outside linebacker in the Eagles' 4-3 defense this season.
Akeem Jordan should get demoted back to the bench and on special teams this season. He isn't anything more than a nice player. He can play well in a couple spot starts, but he isn't the guy you want as your full-time starter.