Here's what some of the Philadelphia Eagles' "Offseason Report Cards" looked like in 2011:
AOL: No. 1 in the NFL
Bleacher Report: A+++
You get the point. The consensus is clear: The Eagles are way better now than they were at the end of 2010. By now, we all know who the Eagles added to their roster, so I'm not gonna bore you by listing out the names. Needless to say, most of them are very, very, good.
But to impulsively give the Eagles' offseason an A+ would not be doing your due diligence on everything they've done since the end of last season. What about all the players they lost? After all, it wasn't the Steelers who came the closest to beating the Packers in the playoffs last year; it was the Eagles.
If only five points separated the Eagles from the eventual Super Bowl champions in the playoffs last season, doesn't that mean the team was fine? Couldn't you argue that they didn't need to make a giant roster overhaul, or that by changing too much, the Eagles actually had a bad offseason?
Blasphemy, I know.
I'm not willing to go that far, but there are reasons to be skeptical. Here are five moves the Eagles made this offseason that may cause you to quell your enthusiasm.
Much has been made about whether or not the Eagles had a plan this offseason. Did they carefully map out all of their moves, or were they just winging it (pun intended)? The selection of Marsh with the 90th overall pick is proof that they were improvising.
If they had planned on acquiring Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—as well as keeping Asante Samuel and Joselio Hanson—there's no way in hell they would have spent a thrid-rounder on a cornerback.
Don't get me wrong, Marsh looks like a good player. He's built like Nnamdi, and he's going to benefit immensely from the tutelage of three Pro Bowl cornerbacks. He's been a pleasant surprise in camp, and his future looks bright as a potential starter in this league.
But none of that matters. Not when Evan Mathis is starting at left guard. Not when Casey Matthews is starting at middle linebacker. And certainly not when the offensive line is one injury away from dealing with the always-disastrous King Dunlap experiment at tackle.
There's depth to be found at linebacker and across the offensive line in the third round of the NFL Draft. Hell, there are starters to be found in the third round of the NFL Draft! The Eagles are starting two rookies—Jason Kelce and the aforementioned Matthews—who went after Marsh in this year's NFL Draft (in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively).
Marsh may one day start in the NFL, and when he does, it may very well be in Philadelphia. But when a team with this many holes is trying to win a Super Bowl this year, they can't use their third round pick on a reserve cornerback–a guy who won't even be playing in dime coverage this year.
That's not how Super Bowl teams come together.
DeSean Jackson isn't a bad guy. He isn't selfish, he isn't a criminal and he isn't someone who instigates malice in the locker room. He is, however, a bit of a diva.
And an underpaid one at that.
A lot like Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans, Jackson entered this season making substantially less than he should be—a product of drastically outplaying the position he was drafted. Jackson is slated to make $555,000 in 2011. Newly-acquired Johnnie Lee Higgins is slated to make $685,000. So yeah, Jackson has a right to be pissed.
Unlike Johnson, Jackson didn't continue his holdout until his contract situation was settled. He reported to camp in part because of the new CBA (which would have cost him another year before he could hit free agency if he didn't), but also because he genuinely wants to help the Eagles win.
And how did the Eagles reward him? They went on one of the biggest free agent spending sprees the league has ever seen! Then, they extended Michael Vick—seven years older than Jackson— to the tune of five years, $80 million.
The point is, even if Jackson wasn't a bit of a diva, he'd have a right to be pissed at the way the Eagles have handled their finances this offseason. If the team underachieves in 2011, it wouldn't be shocking to see DeSean walk into the arms of the highest bidder.
And I can guarantee you this: Michael Vick's stats won't justify $80 million if DeSean isn't around to catch the footballs.
Vince Young made a mistake when he coined the 2011 Eagles "The Dream Team." Not only did he give the media fodder to play around with, he put a bulls-eye on the Eagles' back for every team that they play against. On-field performance aside, Young has already hurt the Philadelphia Eagles.
Duke's basketball schedule is always harder than it looks on paper, because every other team in the country has the Duke game circled on their schedule. That's just a team they want to beat. They have to give their best effort every night because the other team always plays like it's the National Championship.
Thanks in part to Young, every team that plays the Eagles this year will be playing their own personal Super Bowl. The Eagles play at Seattle in Week 13 and at Miami in Week 14. Even though there's a good chance those teams have nothing playoff-related to play for that late in the season, they're gonna show up to play the Eagles. So are their fans. Everybody is going to want a piece of the prematurely self-anointed "Dream Team."
Young hasn't looked like a very good signing on the field either. Despite Young's good effort against the Jets' second team defense, Mike Kafka has looked like the more stable backup throughout the preseason. However, if Vick goes down with an injury (as he's one to do), the Eagles are still likely to call Young's number, citing the "experience factor."
And he doesn't look like he's ready to play in a regular season game yet.
Juan Castillo is one of the best people you'll meet in football. And up until this season, he was one of the best offensive line coaches in football. But, why the hell is he the Eagles' defensive coordinator?
Castillo hasn't directed a defense since 1989, when he was the coordinator for Kingsville High School. High School! Ever since he joined the Eagles in 1995, he has worked on the offensive side of the ball, spending the last 13 seasons coaching the offensive line.
True, Castillo is a great teacher, and a great motivator. With defensive line guru Jim Washburn by his side, Castillo is a sure thing to rejuvenate a defense that was lifeless in 2010. He's sure to make them play with some fire in their eyes.
But passion can only take you so far. Who knows what Castillo's system is going to look like schematically? Sean McDermott, the team's defensive coordinator in 2010, worked with the Eagles defense for almost as long as Castillo worked with the offense. He was tutored by the late Jim Johnson and Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
McDermott became the scapegoat for the defense's uninspiring 2010 performance, but the truth is, he didn't have much to work with. As far as personnel goes, the Eagles had a below average defensive line, linebacker corp and secondary in 2010.
Let's not also forget the effect that Castillo's move has had on the offensive line. Howard Mudd's resume speaks for itself, but his system requires a distinct type of lineman. A type of lineman that the Eagles don't have.
The Eagles' lineman are suited for Juan Castillo's scheme up front. They're big, strong, and slow. Mudd's system requires lean, and mobile. Given enough time, Mudd is sure to whip the line into a cohesive unit, like the one he had in Indianapolis; but how can he be expected to do that in 2011?
And how can the Eagles win Super Bowl XLVI if he doesn't?
I know, I know, I know; his performance against Green Bay in the playoffs last year was inexcusable. By missing first and fourth quarter field goals against the Packers—coughing up six points in what would turn out to be a five-point loss—Akers punched his ticket out of Philadelphia.
Suiting up in the position that Akers had manned for 12 straight seasons is rookie Alex Henery. The Eagles spent an absurdly-early fourth-round pick on Henery in the 2011 draft after he made 89.5 percent of his kicks at Nebraska, an NCAA record for accuracy. The selection made him the highest drafted kicker since New England drafted Stephen Gostkowsi in 2006.
Since arriving in Philadelphia, however, Henery's play has been inconsistent. So inconsistent, in fact, that Andy Reid, normally a "keep it in the locker room" kind of guy, made a point of publicly calling him out for it. His 43-yard miss on the Eagles' opening drive against New York definitely didn't do anything to soothe Reid's concerns.
David Akers is one of the best kickers in NFL history, and he showed he still has some gas left in the tank by nailing a 59-yarder for the 49ers this preseason. His choke last season may still resonate in the minds of Eagles Nation, but up until that point he had a very impressive playoff track record.
Let me put it this way: There are five seconds left in Super Bowl XLVI. Jets: 21 Eagles: 20. Ball is on the Jets' 31-yard line. Who do you want to see trotting off the sideline to take that kick, Alex Henery, or David Akers? Whose leg do you feel safer putting the fate of your entire season on?
That's what I thought.
It's all fun and games, until the situation actually happens. Just ask the Buffalo Bills.