Everyone predicted that when free agency began on March 5, the lack of a salary cap would turn the NFL upside down.
Five players have been cut. Reggie Brown was traded to Tampa. Chris Clemons was jettisoned to Seattle, and unrestricted free agents Jason Babin and Sean Jones have defected.
However, to counter those moves, the Eagles have brought back seven of their restricted free agents, acquired defensive end Darryl Tapp in the Clemons trade, and signed a triad of solid players: running back Mike Bell, defensive back Marlin Jackson, and former Eagle receiver Hank Baskett.
With all that said, where do the Eagles stand going forward—especially in terms of the draft?
If you know the Birds and can read between the lines, you should already know the answer to that.
Yup, it looks like one of two scenarios on Day One. Either the Birds trade out of the first round—as they did in 2007 and 2008—or they go with the Andy Reid special: an offensive lineman.
So far, Philly has filled or addressed three of the four biggest needs by acquiring Bell (power runner), Tapp (bookend defensive end for Trent Cole), and Jackson (huge hole at free safety).
The fourth, help at the SAM, is unlikely in the first round, as the best (and only first-round-worthy) true strong side backer—Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon—is likely to be long gone. But with Chris Gocong, Akeem Jordan, and Omar Gaither all back in the fold, the Eagles do, at least, have the option of waiting.
Trading out could be smart: The Eagles have four picks in the first three rounds, but only four on Day Three—the last two of which are compensatory seventh-rounders.
But for my money, the right choice (for once) is offensive lineman—with Florida’s Maurkice Pouncey being the guy they should look at most closely.
Pouncey is large, athletic, intelligent, and a great blocker in passing and running schemes. At 6'5" and 304 pounds, he’s already plenty big, but he has the frame and length to put on more weight.
He is also very smart, as he transitioned from guard to center after his freshman year and made all of the line calls very effectively. While he’s untested in the “under-center” snap—thanks to Florida’s offense—that will come easily enough, because he has the quickness to adjust his blocking stance in time.
He’s also got the mental and physical toughness that Andy Reid loves. Pouncey is a pancake machine—and he gutted through dehydration from kidney stones to be dominant in the 2010 Sugar Bowl.
Now, on the surface, an interior lineman wouldn’t seem to be the biggest line need.
With Shawn Andrews gone, Winston Justice becomes the starting right tackle. He performed well there in 2009, but beyond him and Jason Peters are unheralded King Dunlap, untested utility man Mike McGlynn, and a whole lot of nothing.
Plus, the Eagles seem to have a glut at guard and center.
But upon deeper inspection, that’s exactly why Pouncey could help.
As a true center in college, Pouncey could step in right away for the injured Jamaal Jackson. Neither of the other two centers on the roster, Dallas Reynolds or A.Q. Shipley, has taken an NFL snap, either—so Pouncey doesn’t lose much in “experience.”
Plus, his versatility would give the Eagles six linemen who could play almost anywhere.
Pouncey and Nick Cole can play any of the three inside spots. The actual projected starters at guard (Todd Herremans and Stacy Andrews) have both played right tackle, and while the starter there (Winston Justice) isn’t ideal on the left, he has played both tackle spots. Last, but not least, is McGlynn, who can play center or either spot on the right side.
Add in stalwart left tackle Jason Peters, third tackle Dunlap, and either of the untested centers while Jackson heals (and possibly even restricted free agent Max Jean-Gilles), and that’s one hell of a line.
And even if Pouncey and Cole are "reserves," combining them with McGlynn and/or Dunlap still gives the line a level of versatility that Reid finds ideal—especially once Jackson returns.
Reid loves linemen, and if he has the chance to get what he always seems to want without actually passing up a dire need, don’t be surprised if the first name you hear called from the NovaCare complex is one that measures up at 6’5” and 300 pounds—especially if the Eagles acquire another top 40 pick in any one of the rumored Donovan McNabb trades.
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