The Biggest Offseason Priorities for the Philadelphia Eagles
There might not be a more disappointing season in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles than 2012.
This is a team that was widely expected to compete for the division title, possibly a Super Bowl berth. They started off strong, defeating this year's Super Bowl champs and last year's Super Bowl champs with late-game heroics on both offense and defense. At 3-1, the Eagles looked like they might be the cream of the crop in the NFC East.
That's when disaster struck. The Eagles lost eight straight games. They fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo but chose to stick with the Wide 9 on defense.
They lost a number of key starters on offense to injuries (Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans). They saw a number of defensive players age 10 years in just a few games (Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha).
Their entire attitude changed. You could see it as a fan. The team's confidence was just crushed. They turned into the laughingstock of the league, winning just a single game over the final three months of the season.
Head coach Andy Reid has since been fired, and new coach Chip Kelly has some major rebuilding to do for a once-proud franchise that earned nine postseason appearances in an 11-year span from 2000 to 2010.
The following slides will offer 10 suggestions for Kelly to do during this offseason as he looks to turn around the fortunes of the Eagles.
1. Find a Quarterback
Michael Vick has likely played his way out of Philadelphia. The soon-to-be 33-year-old quarterback is owed close to $17 million for the 2013 season, although the Eagles can cut him during the offseason.
(They can actually cut him in the next two days and pay nothing but reports indicate that Chip Kelly is still evaluating the tape from 2012 and will keep Vick on the roster past Wednesday, which ensures him a $3 million roster bonus.)
Kelly is a big fan of running quarterbacks, but he's also an offensive genius who will be responsible for turning around the Eagles offense. Why keep Vick, who struggled with turnovers and an inability to read the blitz?
Nick Foles, a rookie in 2012, will likely compete with a draft pick for the starting quarterback spot in 2013. But expect a rookie first-round draft pick, such as Geno Smith, to take the reins as the team's starting quarterback from week one.
Smith is a runner, and it'll definitely help his development with a solid running game, decent receivers and a great offensive line. Oh, and he'll also have Kelly, a quarterbacks genius.
2. Establish a Running Attack
LeSean McCoy suffered through his worst season in 2012, a combination of poor quarterback play, a lack of carries, his concussion and a brutal offensive line.
Backup Bryce Brown enjoyed some success in his two starts, rushing for 347 yards and four touchdowns, but he also established himself as a fumbler, putting the ball on the ground four times in limited action.
In 2013, Kelly will likely have a below-average starting quarterback, whether he uses Vick, Foles, a rookie or a veteran free agent.
He needs to give that quarterback all the help he can by utilizing a power-running attack that combines McCoy and Brown.
At Oregon, Kelly ran the ball 65 percent of the time. It doesn't need to be as extreme in the NFL. But it should be higher than 50 percent.
3. Make DeSean Jackson a Weapon Again
The days of DeSean Jackson producing high receiving-yardage totals and long touchdowns for the Eagles are a distant memory.
In 2011 and 2012, Jackson averaged just 830 yards and three touchdowns per season. On the ground, he collected just 34 total rushing yards. He's gone from one of the biggest deep threats in the league to a significantly below-average No. 1 receiver.
That needs to change, and Kelly is likely the perfect man for the job.
At Oregon, Kelly excelled at using fast players in numerous ways other than just catching passes. He needs to introduce that offense to the Eagles.
Jackson should be lining up at running back, tight end and quarterback in addition to wide receiver. I want to see wide receiver screens and end-around reverses and even some punt returning.
I don't want to see Jackson disappearing for two or three quarters in the middle of a game. When you have an offensive weapon like Jackson, he needs to be utilized as frequently as possible.
Kelly needs to open up the playbook in 2013.
4. Offensive Line Depth
The Eagles were hit as hard as any team in the league by injuries this season, losing three key starters on the offensive line for the season: left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Todd Herremans.
By the end of the year, the Eagles were using King Dunlap, Dallas Reynolds, Jake Scott and Dennis Kelly as starters. Only veteran Evan Mathis remained from the projected Week 1 lineup.
The Eagles will likely get Peters, Kelce and Herremans back healthy this season. They'll also need a starter at right guard.
But they need depth too. Injuries are totally unavoidable, and the Eagles can't have another season ruined by injuries to starters.
Danny Watkins would be a great backup at guard if the Eagles can find a suitable replacement in the daft or free agency to be the full-time starter. Drafting another tackle and a backup center would also make sense.
Players like Demetress Bell and Dallas Reynolds shouldn't even be in the league, yet they started more than half of the Eagles' games in 2012. It's time for the Eagles to have real options for offensive-line depth.
5. 3-4 or 4-3 Defense?
According to Philly.com, Chip Kelly will likely utilize a 3-4 defense in Philadelphia, something the team has not done in more than three decades.
This has not yet been confirmed, but if it's true, Kelly will need the personnel to make it happen. He may stick to a 4-3, though. The Eagles haven't even gotten around to announcing their coaching staff though.
But if they do go to a 3-4, they're going to need the personnel.
6. Powerful Nose Tackle
Any team using a 3-4 defense is absolutely going to need a powerful nose tackle. The Eagles don't have one—not even close.
Veteran Antonio Dixon is currently probably the closest option to a nose tackle, but he's better suited as a situational backup. Mike Patterson will likely be a roster cut because of his salary ($4 million).
Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox would likely switch over to defensive end. Brandon Graham could play outside linebacker. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks would be inside linebackers.
The Eagles really do have most of the pieces for a 3-4 defense. But they need a nose tackle. That would likely be one of their top priorities in the draft.
7. Competent Defensive Coordinator
Other than finding a quarterback for the 2013 season, the defensive coordinator is the most important responsibility for the Eagles.
The last three defensive coordinators for the Eagles have been nothing short of disastrous. Sean McDermott was overmatched and inexperienced. Juan Castillo was an obvious mistake, never coaching defense in the NFL before his promotion. And Todd Bowles was the worst, as his teams endured an eight-game stretch without an interception.
Whoever the Eagles do bring in will have tremendous responsibility, as the Eagles have seen major regressions from notable players, including Trent Cole, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nate Allen.
8. Toughness on Defense
The Eagles used to have one of the toughest defenses in the league, led by Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins. They were feared, respected and dominant. But that was ages ago.
The Eagles have now become one of the softest, least-physical teams in the National Football League. They can't tackle, they can't hit and they can't cover. They don't have a player capable of scaring an offense at all. They're undeniably weak.
The new defensive coordinator for the Eagles will need to instill toughness back into the team. It could be as simple as an attitude adjustment. Or, it could be an entirely new group of players.
I'm thinking it might be the latter. That's where the draft comes into play. The Eagles succeeded on a trio of defensive picks in the 2012 draft (Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin). They must do the same in the 2013 draft.
9. Entirely New Secondary
The Eagles had one of the single-worst secondaries in the history of the NFL in 2012. That's not an exaggeration at all.
Veterans Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are both likely to leave this offseason. Asomugha is a virtual certain to be cut, while Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent and likely to sign with another team.
Safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are both better suited as backups. Allen hasn't been the same player since his rookie year, likely a result of his ACL tear suffered in December 2010. Coleman is a smart player, but he just doesn't have the physical tools to be an effective NFL player.
The new defensive coordinator for the Eagles will have the difficult responsibility of rebuilding the entire secondary. Not one of the four players deserves to start for the Eagles in 2013.
Whether the Eagles rebuild the secondary through the draft, free agency, trades or a combination of all three, some major work needs to be done.
10. Special Teams Attitude
The Eagles' special teams unit really hasn't recovered since John Harbaugh left to coach the Baltimore Ravens before the 2008 season. Now Harbaugh is a Super Bowl champion, and the Eagles have one of the more disappointing special teams units in the game.
The Eagles consistently have weak field position from their return game. They can't cover or tackle as a defense. And the reputation is that their special teams units don't care about playing special teams because it's not their natural position.
New special teams coach Dave Fipp was an assistant special teams coach with the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers. Let's hope he can instill a much-needed toughness on a special teams unit that has disappointed in recent years.