With the debacle in Dallas fresh in the minds of Eagles fans, it's therapeutic to look towards the future. Despite the ever-elusive Super Bowl crown they so desperately seek, Eagle Nation has been treated to five runs to the NFC Championship game in eight years, four consecutively.
Other NFL franchises can only dream of such consistent competitiveness. Yet, in this league, staying on top is an arduous task. The Birds have some serious work to do if they are to once again be legitimate contenders.
Defensive Tackles Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley form one of the league's strongest tandems. Still in their prime, these two workhorses provide the Birds with strong play on a weekly basis. Trevor Laws, selected two picks before DeSean Jackson, hasn't been the player they'd hoped for. Given how the defense likes to rotate the line, some additional depth through free agency or the draft could be helpful at DT. As long as Patterson and Bunk remain intact, the position is far from a priority.
Trent Cole has developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber Defensive End and should remain in top form for the immediate future. The problem lies on the other side, where Juqua Parker, Victor Abiamiri, Jason Babin, and Darren Howard have been shuffled in and out of the lineup. None of these players bring the heat enough to merit a permanent starter position. It is imperative that the Eagles address this need.
*With the collective bargaining agreement leaving free agency in limbo, the availability of all players mentioned in this article is undetermined, but potential free agents will be listed in order to whet your appetite anyways.
Free Agents the Eagles should target:
Richard Seymour (OAK, could also be used at DT)
Marcus Spears (DAL, would be sweet to steal him from the Cowboys)
Ray Edwards (MIN, only 25 and quietly emerging, Vikings will try and keep him)
Darryl Tapp (SEA, young, and best could be ahead).
The two top Defensive Ends on the market are clearly Julius Peppers and Elvis Dumervil, but knowing the thrifty ways of Joe Banner and Co., the chances of landing one of these studs is very unlikely. Denver would be nuts to let Dumervil get away.
From the day MLB Stewart Bradley went down before the season began, this unit was in danger. It seemed that players were being shuffled on a weekly basis, continually disrupting the continuity of the defense as a whole. The unit was looking so sad that Jeremiah Trotter stepped out of the 610 WIP booth onto the field in a matter of days and at times looked like the team's best linebacker.
Still, Will Witherspoon stepped up and played well and Akeem Jordan was serviceable (at times). Chris Gocong played his way into Big Red's doghouse and Moise Fokou is certainly not a permanent solution. Bottom line: The Birds absolutely must get a playmaking LB during the offseason and hope that Bradley returns with a vengeance.
Free Agents the Eagles should target:
DeMeco Ryans: (HOU) Young and very talented, fast and smart. Just what the Eagles need. Top of the wish list. Will be very costly but worth the price;
Karlos Dansby: As evidenced in the playoffs, he steps up in big games. Could be a leader on this defense;
Thomas Davis: (CAR) Fast for a LB, converted from safety, very solid player;
Keith Bulluck: (TEN) One of the most underrated players in the NFL, everything you'd want in a leader, tackling machine. Only drawback is age: 33. Would love to see him in Eagles green.
The Eagles started rookie Macho Harris at safety alongside veteran Quintin Mikell, and the rook played reasonably well. Harris suffered his mistakes, as all rookies do, but showed some promise. Sean Jones was brought in via free agency and was rotated with Harris, playing well at times but showing some inconsistency. This position is a question mark because it is unknown if the Eagles brass believes that Macho is their man for the future. It's unlikely the Birds will target big name safeties like Nick Collins (GB) or Antoine Bethea (IND).
An interesting option is O.J. Atogwe (STL), who is a phenomenal player trapped on a horrible team. This is somewhat contradictory to not bring in big name guys because Atogwe's talent is not overlooked and he will command plenty of money. In any event, bringing in a talented, young safety through the draft could never hurt. (Hint: Taylor Mays (USC) is going to be a beast. Birds would have to trade up to get him. It would be worth it.)
Despite criticism of weak tackling and taking too many risks, Asante Samuel continues to make plays. Samuel made his third consecutive Pro Bowl in 2009 after snagging nine interceptions. He also has two Super Bowl rings. Funny how Eagles fans continue to complain about one of the top corners in football.
On the other side, the always dependable (on the field at least) Sheldon Brown had another good season. Brown has expressed his displeasure with his current contract and could cause a distraction if he demands a renegotiation. Sheldon has been an underrated corner throughout his tenure in Philly and hopefully will remain an Eagle.
Ellis Hobbs (remember him?) missed the season with an injury, hurting not only the secondary but the special teams as well. Hobbs is a very solid third corner if healthy, but he is a free agent and could walk. Joselio Hanson is serviceable and good to have on the depth chart.
If Hobbs leaves, the Birds will need to address this position. It's highly doubtful that the Eagles will spring for guys like Dunta Robinson (HOU) or Carlos Rogers (WAS), and there's not a whole lot of talent in the CB free agency market. The Eagles would be best suited to build this position through the draft, targeting players such as Patrick Robinson (FSU), Brandon Ghee (Wake Forest), or Perrish Cox (Vanderbilt).