2011 Philadelphia Eagles: Rapid Reactions
Despite coming up short against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of last year's NFL Playoffs, the Eagles, throughout the regular season, displayed flashes of why people considered them to, once again, be a contender for yet another NFC crown in years to come.
Fans were reassured of this sentiment when the front office proclaimed that they would be making the sort of moves that would put this uber-talented, albeit young team in place to contend for a serious Super Bowl run.
Even while the specter of the labor lockout loomed over the league, Philadelphia, perhaps more than any other destination, seemed to be the imminent destination for multiple high-level, unrestricted free agents.
With an abundance of cap room, starting spots open for the taking and perhaps most importantly, a success story in Michael Vick the likes of which had given reassurance to players around the league that this was an organization that could turn careers around, it appeared as if the Eagles could take the proverbial "pick of the litter" for multiple pressing needs.
As the lockout tantalizingly ticked toward its last negotiations, fans turned GMs chimed into sports talk radio stations, gushing at the flurry of moves the team was about to make.
This was going to be the year that we finally got some value for Kevin Kolb. This was going to be the year we had a red-zone threat, and this was going to be the year where our front seven would strike fear into opposing offenses.
However, as free agency began, minutes turned to hours and hours into days. For a little while, the biggest move that the Eagles made was the acquisition of defensive line coach and guru Jim Washburn.
Despite this unnerving lull in moves, the Eagles, deliberate as always, decided that Thursday, July 28 was going to be the day that they made their stamp on one of the most active, albeit abbreviated, offseasons in league history.
The Eagles, who were in contention for multiple free agents (and still appear to be) addressed multiple needs yesterday.
I am going to discuss my immediate reactions to some of the Birds' personnel decisions.
Eagles Empty the Nest
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Before the team was to make any sort of signing or trade, they were going to have to deal with their own set of free agents.
Due to the stipulations of the new collective bargaining agreement, this year's free-agent class would be sizably larger than previous years. This class was essentially two groups of players whose contracts ended at different times.
Although it was expected that there would be significant player casualties in terms of free agents not being re-signed, the Eagles spared none as their entire free-agent class hit the market without a deal from the Birds.
Linebackers Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims and Akeem Jordan, safety Quintin Mikell, punter Sav Rocca, guards Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole, CB Dmitri Patterson and perhaps most painfully, kicker David Akers were all passed over by the team and hit the free agent market.
The team's mindset here appeared to be two-fold.
One, these were players who seemed to have missed their prime. Whether by injury (Bradely), age (Akers) or underperformance (Quintin Mikell), this crop of players appeared to be on the downslope of their careers and did not fit into the "win now" mentality that the front office expressed.
The second prong of this jettison of players was the cap room it freed up.
The Eagles, who were already under the cap, felt as if there were better ways to use their surplus of cap space than to re-sign players who they had already seen.
The obvious question marks surrounding these moves center around the now paper thin and previously maligned, linebacking core.
Despite the strides made by young players Moises Fokou and Jamar Chaney, in addition to the drafting of Casey Matthews, the team was lacking the sort of imposing tandem of linebackers that teams like the Packers, Steelers and Ravens boasted.
With this exodus of Bradley, Jordan and Sims, even more would be called upon the young trio of linebackers, and it is only worth speculating what their next move their could be.
Although the massive departures of linebacker may have been the most jarring, there are other highlights worth noting.
The departure of former Pro Bowl safety Quintin Mikell means the safety position, in their ideal situation, will be filled by a rookie in second-round pick Jaiquan Jarrett and promising, yet injured, second-year player Nate Allen.
The position, which has lacked the sort of high level play since the departure of Brian Dawkins, will be called upon to contribute in both run and pass defense.
The special teams unit is even more perplexing. The Eagles, who sent away both their punter and kicker, will have a rookie fill both of those spots. It is interesting to see whether these young players can handle the sort of pressure and expectations of a playoff run.
A lot of teams, including the Eagles, had difficult decisions to make with some of the organization's favorite players.
The Eagles decided to scorch the earth with their free-agent class, and only time will tell whether this was the tough decision necessary to win a title or a rash choice to save some money.
The First Stone Is Cast: Eagles Bring Back Jason Babin
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After a couple of days of tantalizing inactivity by the team, Eagles fans did not have to wait long for the team's first major move, bringing back pass-rushing specialist Jason Babin to play opposite Trent Cole at defensive end.
Despite the inexperience of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, fans were given a vote of confidence when the team brought in the most decorated defensive line coach in the league, Jim Washburn.
Washburn, who coached Babin in Tennessee, had the sort of aggressive, pin your ears back scheme that pass-rushers like Babin could excel in. By that logic, it only seemed right to keep the duo together and bring the former Eagle back into the nest.
The Eagles needed an end in the worst way. The Brandon Graham injury had set them back, and it had become clear that Juqua Parker could not sustain adequate play for an entire season.
Trent Cole, the team's undersized leading sack man for it seems like forever, was getting double-teamed constantly and needed a presence on the other side to alleviate some of that attention.
Last year, after only one season in Washburn's system, Babin recorded 12.5 sacks and made his first trip to the Pro Bowl. The former first-round pick had finally showed the type of sustained success expected of him throughout his career.
Immediately, the acquisition of Babin makes the defensive line more formidable. The Eagles will look to generate more quarterback pressure from the defensive line, rather than depending on complicated blitz schemes that new coordinator Castillo may not be as familiar with.
Babin is a tireless player who loves to work and improve his game under his former Tennessee position coach. Look for Trent Cole to maintain the sort of consistent sack numbers throughout the season and expect Babin to continue to perform and improve as a high level pass-rusher.
The Eagles had to get a strong-side end, and Babin provides a substantial and immediate upgrade at that position.
Having said that, you could put just about anyone on the market in that position, and that would be the case. Babin does bring benefits to the team, but many people think that the Eagles could have gone in a different direction.
Babin's mindset every time he steps on the field is to sack the quarterback. That is what his talents are catered to, and that is what he has been taught.
However, we already had one of those on the other side, and it may have been beneficial to bring in a player who had more of a well-rounded game to play opposite Trent Cole.
Babin is also 31 years old, and despite his admirable work ethic, eventually that motor is going to run out and the team has him locked in for a five-year deal.
Another red flag surrounding the move is the fact that Babin has only had one season where he performed like a player who deserved the type of money he is getting, and it took him until his 30s to do so.
With a young, bigger, higher-ceiling player like Ray Edwards on the board, a player who, in his first few years in Minnesota, established himself as one of the premier ends in the league at 26, makes me wonder what prevented the team from taking a player who could help them now and in the future.
Hopefully, the Eagles are not done making moves on the line, as the much maligned tackle position has also seen production slip to a precarious low.
Despite his shortcomings, Babin is a player who will satiate Trent Cole's desires for someone to draw attention from, he will bring the type of work ethic and drive to a young locker room and will display the sort of intensity on the field that Eagles fans expect out of all their players.
Speculation aside, the Babin signing is a solid first move for the team.
Finally! the Eagles Trade Kevin Kolb to Arizona for DRC and a 2nd Round Pick
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The most unsettling aspect of the first two days of free agency was watching teams in need of a quarterback address the position early on.
Then, the bombshell of the Broncos putting Kyle Orton on the trading block had visions of Kevin Kolb reluctantly holding a clipboard on the Eagles' sideline popping up in my head. Orton had a much cheaper asking price, and one could not question his production throughout the years.
Despite two days of uncertainty, the Eagles finally made the move we were all waiting for. It may have even been a better one than first expected.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick for the tough luck Kolb satisfied a need and set the team up for the future. Some say that the move was a fleece job by the Eagles, some say that cannot be determined yet.
Regardless of if the Eagles actually did work over the Cardinals in this move, it is nice to see an unfortunate era end in Philadelphia. Kolb was as good a teammate as you could ask for, and we all hope he turns out a solid career in Arizona.
Gushiness aside, the Eagles brought in a player who can step in, start and make plays. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is an elite NFL talent who has played on the biggest of stages against some of the league's best receivers.
He possesses the sort of borderline-arrogant confidence that is necessary for the CB position and from what I've seen of DRC, backs it up.
Dmitri Patterson was a huge liability in the passing game and was never a threat to make the sort of big plays that were called upon in Sean McDermott's defense. DRC has the type of ball skills and speed to not only challenge receivers for balls but goad quarterbacks into ill-advised throws and capitalize on them.
Despite the fact that DRC has never played on the right side of the defense, he will have a valuable tutor in Asante Samuel to get him up to speed with the Eagle's secondary schemes.
I don't see any reason why this cornerback tandem can't challenge any other duo in the NFC in terms of interceptions and opposing teams' completion percentage.
The hidden gem of this deal is the second-round pick. After the Eagles were unable to trade Kolb on the first day, a lot of teams figured the teams' chances of getting the second-round pick were downgraded to a third.
When Orton was put on the block, some people even thought a draft pick may have been out of the question. However, when the dust settled, the Birds ended up with the type of pick that can produce an immediate impact in next year's draft.
If Kolb has the sort of growing pains of learning a new system, Cardinals could struggle in their first year of the new quarterback's regime. Any second-round pick is valuable, but it could end up being a fringe first-round pick in terms of player quality or a valuable bargaining chip for future trades.
It almost seemed as if the Kolb to Arizona deal was a formality before the lockout even started. I would have preferred the Eagles to shop Kolb for a linebacker, as multiple high-level CBs were on the free-agent market.
However, once teams like Seattle and Tennessee addressed their needs at quarterback, it was evident that the Eagles wanted to get Asante Samuel's counterpart via trade.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie satisfies that requirement and should contribute immediately to the team's pass defense .
If It's Worked Before, Why Not? Eagles Sign Disgruntled QB Vince Young
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Everyone knew that Mike Kafka was not going to be this team's second-string quarterback. Andy Reid's endorsement of his confidence of Kafka as a backup during his annual, "State of the Eagle's" press conference was, in typical Reid fashion, more of a deflection than anything.
Once the Kolb trade went through, it was evident that this team had to address the depth of the quarterback position. After a whirlwind of rumors surrounding Brett Favre, which were thankfully quelled, speculation began regarding the team's second option to Michael Vick.
Although I am not in the party that just assumes that Vick is going to get hurt at some point of the season, last year showed how important it is to have a competent backup to handle any such situation.
The Eagles would not have made the sort of splash that they did had it not been for the performance by Kevin Kolb in games against Atlanta and San Francisco.
The team needed someone who could step in and still lead a team to a victory or two. The team decided to pick another cog out of Tennessee and sign 2007 Rookie of the Year Vince Young to a one-year deal.
Young's shortcomings became painfully obvious in Tennessee.
It appeared, when he was not improvising, he did not understand the complexities of running an offense for a full game. He butted heads with players and coaches, most notably Jeff Fisher.
The former No. 3 pick, simply put, did not make the sort of progressions that were expected of him and the team decided to move in a new direction, drafting QB Jake Locker in the first round.
In lieu of his shortcomings, Young does bring several unique attributes that could make him the type of backup who could step in and have this team operating at a reasonable level. The comparisons between Vick and him are evident to say the least.
Both are mobile quarterbacks with monster arms and a checkered past. Both Young and Vick made their mark on the NFL at a young age with dazzling runs and clutch performances that had them labeled as winners early in their career.
Young won 30 of his 47 NFL starts and did so in dramatic fashion on multiple occasions. Young will be under the tutelage of Vick, who can provide advice on both the game and personal levels to the former Titans QB.
In addition to being an elite physical specimen, the Eagles also have the type of offense that can cater to some of his strengths and mask some of his shortcomings.
With the abundance of shotgun sets the team runs, Young can revert back to his days at Texas, where he excelled in the spread, benefiting from the extra split second of time before having to anticipate the rush.
He will have multiple deep threats on the field as well as legitimate check down options in LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek. Young never benefited from having the types of receivers he would have at his disposal in Philadelphia but has always felt comfortable using his running backs and tight ends as receiving options.
Obviously, the only time Eagles fans would want to see Young on the field would be if the Eagles were administering the type of blowout that last year's Redskins' game was.
However, if Vick does go down with injury, at least the team has a player behind him who can step in, provide the same dual threat as Vick, and knows what it's like to be on the big stage with a game on the line.
Still Work to Be Done
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Despite the team making some splashes in free agency and trades, the team is still not the Super Bowl contender it assured fans that it was going to aspire to be.
With several pressing needs as well as unsettling contract issues, the team is still in a position where it must improve its roster. Here are some moves that could help address those issues.
For years, it seems, the Eagles front office and management has tried to convince fans that Mike
Patterson and Broderick Bunkley were worth their lofty, first-round billing. Well, after yet another season of mediocrity, and Bunkley falling off the face of the Earth it seems, no one is buying the fact that this team is set in the middle.
Antonio Dixon made some nice strides last year and finished as a surprise starter and consistent contributor, but Mike Patterson is simply too small and underwhelming to produce the sort of numbers expected of a top flight defense.
My move to fill this need would be to trade for Houston tackle Amobi Okoye. It was rumored early on that the Eagles would make a serious play for disgruntled Washington outcast Albert Haynesworth.
The Redskins, however, would not trade Haynesworth back to Philly and Jim Washburn and ultimately sent him off to New England.
Okoye is a similar talent with less baggage and more room to grow. Okoye is most famous for being drafted at the age of 19 in the first round. After four underachieving seasons in Houston compiled with the team's desire to switch to a 3-4, Okoye has been given permission to seek trades.
Okoye is only 24 years old and is the physical specimen that a guru like Jim Washburn could mold into a dominant presence in the middle. Washburn has turned Haynesworth into the most feared and sought after defensive tackle since Warren Sapp.
Depending on the Texans' asking price, Okoye is a player who appears, by age at least, to be a riskmbut already has four seasons under his belt and an understanding of the game. Bringing in Okoye would round out a much improved defensive line that could have the potential to dominate.
As mentioned before, the Eagles decided to cast off the majority of their LB depth chart. By parting ways with oft-injured Stewart Bradley along with Akeem Jordan and Ernie Sims, the team showed a commitment to the progress of Jamar Chaney and Moises Fokou.
The team also drafted Casey Matthews, who they feel has the type of talent and drive to start in this league. Despite the promise of these young players, the thought of our starting linebacking trio going into Week 1 looking like this is particularly startling.
The team needs to address their need at linebacker in the worst way and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Barrett Ruud could very easily fill that void. Many haven't heard of Ruud, but he has been an essential cog in the resurgence of the once feared Bucs defense.
Ruud could step in immediately at middle linebacker and provide the sort of sure-tackling, strong willed play people expected from Bradley. Ruud attended Nebraska (same school as Bradley) and has quietly turned into one of the top young linebackers in the NFC south.
With a defensive line that is going to be focusing primarily on getting to the quarterback, the Eagles are going to need LBs who are sure tacklers and Ruud is just that. Ruud is only 28, and he has the type of size (6-3; 241) to excel at middle linebacker in the 4-3.
There was a time where people looked at Stewart Bradley's future and saw the Eagle's middle linebacker for years to come. Ruud is as similar a player to what Bradley used to be and could sure up the team's front seven moving forward.
Contract Situations (DeSean Jackson and Danny Watkins)
From all I hear, Danny Watkins, although raw, is just what this offensive line needs to become the imposing force that is necessary for protecting Mike Vick. People mention his name in the same spectrum as former Bird Jon Runyan in terms of nastiness and strength.
Watkins' position at RG is particularly important with Vick being left handed and the offensive line seems to be lacking the sort of edge that prolific lines are often noted for.
Although the lockout prevented any sort of negotiations with the first-round pick, the Birds must make it one of their top priorities to get him into camp.
One priority ahead of Watkins is the contract of DeSean Jackson. Jackson's holdout confirmed what many people expected to happen but wouldn't mention.
Simply put, this guy has earned the right to hold out, and the team needs to resolve their issues quickly before things spiral out of hand. Jackson may not be a top-five receiver, but that is not the nature of the Eagle's offense.
Jackson is the most important piece of, what many consider, the premier receiving corps in the league. Jackson's job is to stretch the field and fully take advantage of Vick's cannon of an arm.
People criticize him for disappearing for lengths at a time, but this is primarily because it is very difficult to hit on some of the deep routes he runs and he often provides space for the other pieces of the Eagles' potent offense.
Without Jackson stretching the field, some of the checkdowns to LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek may not turn into the huge gains that they are or Jeremy Maclin might attract the sort of double teams usually reserved for players like Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson.
People say that Jackson is the only player on the field that Vick can't overthrow, and with Jackson off the field, our offense is not taking full advantage of Vick's expansive skill set.
Although it appears that a lot of Burress's pro-Philly antics and talks may have been for posturing purposes only, there is still no reason to stop pursuing the receiver.
Looking back on last year, one can only wonder how the Green Bay game may have ended had Vick been throwing to a proven red zone threat rather than a unproven, albeit promising, Riley Cooper.
Bringing in Burress would provide the red zone threat that Eagles fans have been talking about since Terrell Owens and give this already potent offense the last piece it needs to be virtually unstoppable.
Aside from the obvious benefits he brings on the field, Burress is the high profile player the Eagles have discussed bringing in all offseason but have not pulled the trigger on.
Burress may not turn into the player people expected, but signing him would show the fans and the league that this team is truly going after the Super Bowl this year and not just blowing smoke like they always have.
The players that they've brought in are nice pieces, but no one has garnered the type of attention that the team had prior to free agency started.
Burress would be that player and the last piece to bring in if this team wants to be a Super Bowl contender.
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More so in years past, a lot of fans had a particularly bitter sweet taste in their mouth at the end of last season.
The team probably exceeded expectations and with the team's youthfulness, performed admirably. However, there were also a number of "what ifs" surrounding the team's loss to the Packers.
The organization has explicitly stated its plan to make a serious run at a championship in this, what could be Andy Reid's last year.
The team has definitely made a splash, but until they make some more moves addressing their pressing needs, this is not a Super Bowl team and is destined to another early playoff exit or worse.