Every year in the NFL, there's a giant target on the back of the defending Super Bowl Champions. It's a copy-cat league; everyone wants to be like the World Champs, and surely, everyone wants to beat the World Champs.
We've seen a high precedence placed on Cornerbacks thus far in Free Agency. Nnamdi Asomugha signed a 5-year, $60 million dollar contract with the Eagles, while Jonathan Joseph took a great opportunity to bolster Houston's porous Pass Defense. It's ironic that so much money has been given out to shutdown Cornerbacks, immediately following Green Bay's run to the Super Bowl behind elite Cornerback play.
Green Bay featured potential Hall of Fame CB Charles Woodson - a player who's "position" of CB, is more of a technicality than a true definition of position. The Packers struck gold by signing former University of Miami WR Sam Shields after the 2010 Draft, and thus, converting him to a great man-to-man CB with elite speed. Shields played starter's minutes as the Nickel CB in Green Bay's No. 5 ranked Pass Defense (yards per game). Paired alongside breakout star Tramon Williams, Shields and Woodson formed the league's top trio of Cornerbacks.
In come the Philadelphia Eagles. By signing perennial Pro Bowler, and one of the best overall players across the entire NFL, Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia further entrenched themselves among the NFL's elite. While "shutdown" is an often overused term to describe a Cornerback, Nnamdi is the true definition a shutdown guy. By acquiring the incredibly athletic CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Arizona in the trade that sent Kevin Kolb to Philadelphia, the Eagles have made Asante Samuel expendable.
Some have linked Samuel to Arizona, to replace "DRC", while other reports suggest former Eagles DC Sean McDermott may push the Carolina Panthers to make a play for Samuel.
Nonetheless, the Eagles are now in a great position at Cornerback. Asomugha consistently stood out in Oakland, a tough thing to do, no matter who the bookend CB was. Now he comes to Philadelphia, with the luxury of playing along with another Pro Bowl-caliber CB in Rodgers-Cromartie.
However, Philadlephia's moves were not all to bolster their Defensive Backfield. The Eagles also managed to address the Defensive Line by signing top Free Agent DT Cullen Jenkins from Green Bay, as well as one of the top Defensive Ends available in Jason Babin.
Many fans in Philadelphia would have considered this Offseason a success if Free Agency ended on Thursday, having Jason Babin and Rodgers-Cromartie already in the fold. By giving high-priced 5-year contracts to both Jenkins and Asomugha; however, make the Eagles look a little more like the Miami Heat.
While the biggest target in the NFL is traditionally placed on the defending Super Bowl Champions, in this case being the Packers, the 2011 season may be a little different. Because of their unforeseen spending spree, Philadelphia is being proclaimed by many people as the favorite in the NFC.
A Defensive Line featuring Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, and Trent Cole, and a Defensive Backfield featuring Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looks incredibly scary on paper.
Dimitri Patterson had an up-and-down season in 2010, but now can be moved to the Nickel CB spot. Asomougha, Rodgers-Cromartie, and Patterson now give Philadelphia their own version of Green Bay's stellar trio of Woodson, Williams, and Shields.
The Offense was clearly not the problem with the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles. Emerging from nowhere, Michael Vick again became the QB he once was, and then some. Surrounded by weapons like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, and Brent Celek, Vick led the most electric Offense in the NFL to an NFC East Championship and into the Playoffs.
Once the Playoffs came around, the #3 seed Eagles were slotted to host the 6th seeded Packers in Philadelphia. It was my thought at the time that these were the best two teams in the NFC, and ultimately, the winner of this game would go on to play in Super Bowl XLV. The Packers beat the Eagles in the game, and the rest is history.
Now we are entering the 2011 season, and in many ways, not much has changed in the NFC. The top two teams, Green Bay and Philadelphia, figure to be the same. Both teams are incredibly dangerous, and now it appears on paper that the Eagles have bolstered their Defense to the Championship level that the Green Bay Defense played at in 2010.
The massive spending spree of Andy Reid and Co. in Free Agency has put a huge target on Philadelphia's back. While there is still a large amount of pressure on the Packers to defend the Super Bowl, Green Bay has to at least somewhat be enjoying all the talk about how Philadelphia has jumped to the top of the NFC with just some ink, paper, and a lot of money. Most teams coming off winning the Super Bowl suffer a big of a hangover, but the Packers may enter 2011 with a different mindset. If most people expect Philadelphia to be an "NFC Powerhouse", the Packers may fly under the radar and make another push to the Super Bowl yet again.
Green Bay gets back starting RB Ryan Grant, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in 2010, during a Week 1 matchup with Philadelphia. Grant figures to be part of a 1-2 punch with 2nd year RB James Starks to give Green Bay a legitimate ground game in 2011, something they didn't have in 2010. Not only do the Packers figure to have an improved running game, but they also get TE Jermichael Finley back from a season-ending knee injury. Finley was the focus of Mike McCarthy's Offense prior to his injury, amassing two 100 yard games through his first four games. "J-Mike" was on pace for 84 receptions and 1204 yards before his season was put to an early end while trying to make a tackle in Washington.
The NFL Regular Season is a long one, so much remains to be seen regarding the forecast of the NFC; however, my preseason pick for the 2011 NFC Championship Game will remain. Philadelphia and Green Bay will square off for a chance to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVI. I expect both teams to be either 12-4 or 13-3, win their respected divisions, and meet for a stellar showdown in the Playoffs. Where the game is played may be the deciding factor, but these recent moves by the Eagles have me excited for the drama about to unfold in the NFC.