Before the 2010-2011 season started, there were a number of questions looming in Philadelphia. For the first time since 2002, the Eagles would find themselves without two of the most prolific players in the history for the franchise: Brian Westbrook, the supremely talented, albeit injury-prone, running back who served as the starter for the team since he was drafted in 2002. And Donovan McNabb, the polarizing quarterback who, after a decade of service, five NFC Championship appearances and a Super Bowl appearance, was exiled to a division rival. In their place, ready and willing to take the mantle, were the young guns who sought to prove themselves in light of all the changes.
No one gave the Eagles a shot in the preseason. Many predicted them landing in last place in NFC East and missing the playoffs altogether. Well, as we all know now, many were very wrong.
Despite their success, however, the Eagles are not quite an elite team just yet, though they rest on the cusp. Regardless of what happens in the postseason and how far they go, there are a number of things that will have to happen in the offseason in order to elevate the Birds into the conversation of consistently great teams.
The following is a number of predictions that, if applied, might help Philly reach that status.
Kevin Kolb may prove the bane of NFC East, perhaps the entire NFL. Not because of his playing abilities, but because he's the reason the Mike Vick era got started in Philly and the steamroller that is the Eagles offense has caught lightning in a bottle.
But what about his playing abilities?
Early in the season, Andy Reid described his quarterback situation as "a beautiful" one, and despite some lackluster performances from Kolb, make no mistake, the guy can play.
Which is exactly why you shouldn't be surprised if Kolb ends up staying right where he is. Yes, he might make a good fit in places like Carolina or San Francisco, but he also fits well in Philadelphia. He's no Vick or McNabb, but he's played well when they went down (keep in mind, he helped burn up the Falcons when they came to visit). Besides that, he has another year left on his contract. Don't look for the Eagles to extend it, but don't expect them to drop one of, if not, the most capable backup quarterbacks in the league.
The Eagles need a better offensive line, there is little doubt about that.
After this season, the 10-year veteran from New England, Matt Light, may need a new home.
A match made in football heaven.
Light is a good lineman on a good team that is known, in part, for its ability to protect the quarterback. Since this year New England will see Tom Brady hit free agency, Light may prove expendable. If Philly signs him, they will nab a tried-and-true, quality offensive lineman who can help protect Vick in the pocket.
The Eagles acquired Jerome Harrison earlier this season in a trade with the Cleveland Browns for running back Mike Bell. Harrison had a couple of decent seasons with the Browns, but he certainly was not a starter. Which was fine for the Eagles, as Shady McCoy has proven a pretty good back.
The problem is this: Harrison hasn't done anything for the Eagles this season. He has only one touchdown on the entire season, and that was in that game against the Redskins when even the custodians were scoring. In fairness, LeSean McCoy is the starter, and the Eagles don't run the ball all that much, but imagine what they could accomplish with two above-average backs.
Which is why I would not be surprised to see Jerome Harrison pack his bags and head elsewhere.
On the other hand, I'm not sure folks are too happy with Darren Sproles out in San Diego, but with free agency looming, he could prove a nice addition to the running back tandem that currently does not really exist in Philly. Keeping with the theme of speed, it might not be a bad idea for the Birds to make a play for this guy.
Stewart Bradley is a good middle linebacker. He could be great. But he won't be, at least not in Philly.
Bradley dislocated his shoulder in the win over Dallas a few weeks ago and will not play against the Vikings on Tuesday night. This is will be the third game he's missed this season and the 19th in two seasons, as he missed all of 2009.
There's a good chance that, despite his service to the franchise, Bradley will have a different employer next season. The Eagles will probably cut him and pick up another MLB in the draft or free agency.
With their problems at offensive line, it would smart for the Eagles to draft an O-lineman. Mike Pouncey might very well be that guy, as some folks are suggesting. It wouldn't be a bad call, either. Pouncey is a big, physical center who helped protect Tim Tebow during their time together in Florida. He would be a great addition to the Eagles offense.
They might just grab him with their first-round pick.
However, that would be a little too easy. Again, the Birds are going to look to be elite, not just great. Not only that, but they're going to have a lower draft pick. That's not too much of a concern for the Birds, as they are seemingly masters at finding diamonds in the rough (see: 2008 49th overall draft pick, 2009 53rd overall draft pick). Don't be surprised if the Birds forgo picking up the big Gator early and trade away their first-round pick for additional lower-round picks.
If they don't sign a free agent running back, we could see the likes of DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma) don the green and white. Or maybe they'll try to sure up the secondary with a talent like Florida's Ahmad Black. But, if Rodney Hudson (Florida), Orlando Franklin (Miami) or Benjamin Ijalana are still on the board, look for Philly to make a move toward one or two of those guys.
There are going to be some decent pickups in this year's free agency pool, and the Eagles would be fools not to jump in and take a swim.
One of the better looks might go in the direction of David "Heater" Hawthorne. Though he's relatively unknown, he put up some good numbers in the absence of Lofa Tatupu on the Seahwaks in 2009, with 117 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions. He's entering free agency as well and would be a solid pickup for the Birds.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles went for Hawthorne. He's proven that he can handle being a defensive starter and has the numbers to back it up. The Eagles seem to go for the quiet type who can get it done without you hearing a lot about. I would not be surprised to see The Heater wearing some green next season.
The Eagles have one of the best receiving cores in all of football. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are as quick and fast at the position as a coach could want. Either of them can burn you up and down the field and turn defenses on their rears.
Jason Avant, however, not so much. That's not to say he's a bad receiver, because he's not, he's just not as good as the others. With only one touchdown and just over 500 yards this season, he's has definitely shown himself as the weakest link.
The Eagles could get some value from trading him, however. Don't be surprised if the Eagles deal Avant away to a team who could really use an experienced receiver (Carolina Panthers, maybe?) for a couple of lower-round draft picks.
The Eagles have a habit of picking up pretty good defensive players then getting rid of them. They did it last season with Will Witherspoon, Jevon Kearse two seasons before that, and though he was getting up there in years, Brian Dawkins, who has proven that he can still play at a high level.
Unfortunately, I would not be surprised if Ernie Sims found himself ina new home after this season. In fairness, his numbers have not been as good this season as they were when he was in Detroit, so if they do release him, that may be the reason. Either way, it's not that far-fetched to think that he may not be back next season.
The Eagles are the 29th-youngest team in the NFL, and between the in-game histrionics of DeSean Jackson and the run-and-gun play of Mike Vick, it shows. But it also works. Andy Reid has succeeded in a big way where other coaches of young teams have failed.
Look for the Birds to keep going young with not only draft picks and free agents, but depth-chart shifts, as well. In the 2011 we may see players like Jorrick Calvin moving from his sole position as special teams player to serving a bigger part in the Eagles defense. Quintin Mikell is good, but so is Nate Allen, and who knows, Kurt Coleman might prove to be a stud, as well.
Unlike, say, the Carolina Panthers, the Eagles know how to mix their young players with their vets for a winning formula. Look for the Birds to keep going young and to keep winning as a result of not just their youth necessarily, but their ability to coach these young players up.
Nothing bold about this one: Mike Vick is the future of the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite him being injury-prone and only having completed one full season, the guy is a certified Pro Bowler and a solid MVP candidate. Vick has 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions, as well as the highest quarterback ranking in the NFC.
During the 2010 off season, the Birds had every intention of having Kevin Kolb as their starter and Vick as his backup. Well, that didn't work out so well. The Mike Vick era started with a vengeance and will (hopefully) continue throughout the playoffs and beyond.
Look for the Eagles to sign Vick to a very lucrative contract in the offseason, extending his time in Philly for years to come.