This is certainly an offseason to remember if you are an Eagles fan. It has been full of conflicting emotions as the old guard has been systematically disassembled and rebuilt with newer, younger talent.
The uncapped offseason has been a unique opportunity for NFL teams to clear big contracts and commitments without penalty.
Considering that, the Eagles managed that aspect well and this preparation for a presumably reinstated 2011 salary cap benefits the Eagles going forward by giving them more money to work with during 2011 free agency (which is assuredly to be a bigger pool of talent than 2010).
In recently applicable news:
Reliable veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown has been traded along with linebacker Chris Gocong to the Cleveland Browns for linebacker Alex Hall and two draft picks—2010 fourth- and a fifth-round selections.
At first glance, I don't like it so I'm going to try and break it down.
Sheldon Brown was yet another favorite of mine to leave the nest. He captured my fanhood with his selfless and lionhearted play. He is exactly the kind of hard-nosed player that we've come to associate with the Eagles defense.
Conversely, if Sheldon had discussed a possible holdout again (which he may have), the Eagles were arguably smart to trade him in looking at the team's long-run perspective.
Still, I do believe Sheldon deserved a stronger contract.
He's a player that surrendered less than almost any other cornerback in the league with great consistency. Amidst criticism that he was not a playmaker, he opened up his game in 2009—intercepting five passes and returning one for a touchdown.
I don't like that he's gone, but his age (31) and open contract disenchantment most likely made him preferably marketable in the Eagles' eyes. It's still a likely downgrade for 2010, but the Eagles have some interesting options to fill Sheldon's position by way of current roster depth and by draft.
There are ample opportunities to secure starting caliber cornerbacks with any of the teams first three picks. I like Kyle Wilson from Boise State, Karim Jackson from Alabama, Devin McCourty from Rutgers and Patrick Robinson from Florida State as near equals at cornerback.
To me, it seems more likely that the Eagles will find better talent in the draft, but Joselio Hanson and Ellis Hobbs or possibly Dimitri Patterson and Geoffrey Pope could compete and challenge as well.
Then we have Gocong to consider.
The Eagles were not happy with the way Gocong played in 2009, but I don't forget that Gocong recorded 22 sacks in his senior year at Cal-Poly. That's why he was a third-round draft pick.
I think the Eagles could have used him better, but as a SAM, he couldn't consistently cover the tight end. I would have liked to see him compete for the SAM linebacker job again in 2010 and shift to left defensive end in nickel-based pass-rushing situations.
However, if Andy Reid and Co. didn't like what they saw when he played defensive end, he really had little value to this team.
That leaves Moise Fokou as the incumbent starter for 2010.
Alex Hall and most likely a rookie will challenge Fokou. The Eagles will have ample opportunity to select one of the many strong-side linebacker prospects in this NFL draft.
The Eagles were probably dreaming of a second and third round pick for Brown and Gocong respectively. Although not realistic, it's a good place to start negotiations. I think a reasonable settlement should have been for a third- and fourth-round pick, but the wildcard entry is Alex Hall.
If you agree with me that the Eagles should have gotten at least a third- and fourth-round pick for Brown and Gocong, then we have to ask ourselves, "is Alex Hall worth the difference?
At first glance, I again say no—but let's dig a little deeper.
Alex Hall was originally a seventh-round draft pick from 2008. He did a lot with a little in the 2008 season, then he basically disappeared in 2009. The Eagles are planning to give him a look at the SAM linebacker position (once held by Chris Gocong).
The very positives are, he's young (24) and has good size (6' 5", 250-pounds) and speed (4.65 second 40-yard dash).
Hall was a small school prospect from Division II, St. Augustine College. In his 2007 senior season he played nine games, tallied seven sacks and 43 tackles despite being limited by a stinger.
In 2008, Hall put up impressive numbers on a per-play basis. He played in 16 games as a rookie with two starts. Hall recorded 28 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
In 2009, he all but disappeared.
He's long and lanky and appears to be a better coverage man than Gocong. Hall is an interesting player, quick and athletic. Probably a better fit for the Eagles 4-3 linebacker position than Gocong was.
He definitely has some value, and I like having him on this roster.
My first thought at this point is that the Eagles will suffer from this deal in 2010, but it may prove beneficial over the longer term. Still, if they use their 2010 draft picks well, the Eagles could improve at cornerback and SAM linebacker this season.
In part, those improvements could come as a result of this deal.
The trade doesn't really change the Eagles draft strategy, but it more clearly makes cornerback a priority in the first two-rounds. It adds to the unknown and the need to have faith in the organization if we, the fans, are to remain optimistic.
It also provokes some interesting thoughts as to what moves will come next.
After looking at the whole, I still don't like the deal. I don't like losing a veteran like Sheldon Brown, but I do recognize that this could be a very good thing. It could make this team better in 2010 and will assuredly help the team beyond that.
It's difficult to evaluate the trade without knowing several things.
1. What was Sheldon Brown planning for this offseason?
2. What will the Eagles do with their draft picks?
3. What is Alex Hall worth?
We will have to wait for answers to those questions, but there is enough upside here to step back from the ledge. At least for the moment.