It's beginning to look as though the Philadelphia Eagles will enter a new era in 2013, but the transition period from the end of the last era to the start of the next one gets underway this week, with rookie third-round pick Nick Foles likely to make his first career start in place of the injury Michael Vick in Washington.
With that in mind, we'll focus on the Eagles' progress from this point forward by looking at how the team is shaping up long-term rather than for the remainder of this season. We'll be watching to see if Vick gets another chance to earn the $16 million he's due to make next year and to see if guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Jason Babin deserve to remain on the roster despite what it'll cost the Eagles in 2013 and beyond.
So we're going to approach this weekly column a little differently over the next seven weeks by including a running summary of what sort of answers the Eagles are getting regarding their future. Four questions come to mind.
Four Key Questions to Monitor
Is Nick Foles able to lead the offense?
Seeing action for the first time against the Cowboys, Foles did a lot of good things and a lot of bad things. Now, we'll likely get the chance to see him make some starts, which is crucial considering that a decision will have to be made regarding Michael Vick in early February (before he's due a whopping amount of non-guaranteed money).
Vick probably gives the Eagles a better chance to win right now, but his concussion gives the team an excuse to look at Foles without insulting their franchise quarterback and without indicating to the rest of the football world, and the fans, that they're conceding.
If Foles starts the remainder of the year, we'll have a nice sample of what he can do against great defensive fronts (Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, New York Giants), great secondaries (Dallas twice) and exploitable defenses (Washington, Carolina). We'll get to see him at home three times, away four times. It might be just enough to draw some conclusions.
Current answer: Probably not, but it's very early
Can Brandon Graham be relied upon to replace Jason Babin and emerge as the team's next great pass-rusher?
If Andy Reid is fired, there's a decent chance Jim Washburn will be gone too. And if that's the case, Washburn might take the overrated Babin with him, along with the wide-nine. Babin will be 33 next year, has just 3.5 sacks this year and the Eagles can save $3.5 million by cutting him loose. This team has a lot of cap space, so it could consider keeping him if it isn't sure Graham's ready.
But it looks as though he is. Pro Football Focus rates him as the fifth-best defensive end in the entire league, and few players in all of football have been as productive on a per-game basis as the former first-round pick out of Michigan.
Graham has seen his workload increase slightly of late, but Washburn and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles continue to stick with Babin veteran Darryl Tapp just as frequently in the rotation. Graham and fellow young defensive lineman Fletcher Cox hit Tony Romo a combined six times Sunday. I'd like to see them get more work as the season winds down.
If things go as planned, Graham will replace Babin next season while Cox takes over fully for Cullen Jenkins inside.
Current answer: Probably
What do they have in Curtis Marsh and Brandon Boykin?
If the Eagles are going to consider letting impending free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie walk and are going to try to cut salary by parting with Nnamdi Asomugha, they'll have to have confidence that either Marsh or Boykin can play a bigger role in 2013.
The rookie Boykin has fared OK in the slot all season, but he's actually held his ground on the rare occasions in which he's been lined up outside.
Marsh, who was a third-round pick in 2011, is bigger and stronger and probably a better athlete, and he's probably better suited outside. The problem is that Bowles hasn't given him a shot in his second season. I'd like to see that change, especially because we already know what we're getting with Brandon Hughes. Bowles can't sit DRC or Asomugha when the Eagles are still in contention, but I hope he finds a way to get Boykin and Marsh matched up against more X and Y receivers.
Current answer: Marsh remains a mystery; Boykin is a lifer in the slot, worst case
Can Dennis Kelly start at offensive tackle?
The rookie fifth-round pick is subbing in at guard right now, but when Danny Watkins gets healthy, he's likely to move to the right tackle spot, sending either King Dunlap or Demetress Bell to the bench. While the Eagles would like to think that Jason Peters and Todd Herremans will hold things down at left and right tackle next season, there's no guarantee either veteran will be healthy and productive.
With that in mind, it would be good for the team to get a look at Kelly in the tackle spots during the second half of the season. Kelly's taken only three snaps at right tackle this year, but he hasn't fared too badly the last three games at guard.
I do fear the rather large Kelly will merely become another version of Dunlap, but the Eagles have to try to determine whether or not that's the case before deciding what to do in free agency and the draft.
Current answer: No idea
Week 10 Stock Report
Stock Rising (offense): Damaris Johnson
That big 32-yard catch to set up a fourth-quarter touchdown was only his second grab since Week 1. Maybe Foles and Johnson developed a rapport as rookies together in camp, and maybe that'll spill over onto the field now. Maybe.
Stock Rising (defense): Nnamdi Asomugha
It felt like the good old Oakland days for Asomugha against the Cowboys, because he wasn't tested at all. Tony Romo threw against the veteran cornerback just once all game, according to Pro Football Focus, and that pass was broken up.
Stock Dropping (offense): Brent Celek
Dude's really proving to be a poor blocker, and he hasn't been able to do much as a receiver lately either.
Stock Dropping (defense): Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
It seems as though Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie can never play well on the same day. DRC was dominated by Dez Bryant in Week 10. His play has plummeted after a fast start to the season, costing him quite a lot of money this spring.
View last week's report here
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