In the aftermath of yet another loss in the NFC Championship game and in response to Donovan McNabb's demands that the Birds add some weapons on both sides of the football, the Eagles are hoping this group of free agents and highly-touted rookies are the missing ingredients that will net them a Super Bowl ring and a parade down Broad Street in 2009.
For a fan base that has not experienced an NFL Championship since 1960, it's the Super Bowl or bust. Whether the 2009 Eagles are good enough to make a run to the big game will depend upon whether the players they've brought in via the draft and free agency will mesh with the team's current players.
Perhaps the biggest area of concern for the Eagles in 2009 is on the offensive side of the football, starting with the offensive line.
The Birds are hoping that Jason Peters, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Buffalo Bills, can fill the void at the left tackle spot that was created when aging veteran Tra Thomas joined the Jacksonville Jaguars.
On the other side of the Eagles' offensive line, the team is hoping that Shawn Andrews, who missed all of last year with a back injury, will make the transition from the right guard spot to right tackle. Andrews made the Pro Bowl twice at the right guard spot.
“Shawn's been an All-Pro guard so he should look good at tackle. I think he's enjoying it. He's in phenomenal shape right now. I think his back is fine, he's been up here working out and doing everything that the other guys have done and it hasn't bothered him,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid.
The Eagles have also brought in 6' 7", 324 lbs, Stacey Andrews, Shawn's brother, not only to presumably play at the right guard spot, but to also serve as a support for his younger brother, who experienced a bout of depression early last season.
From a football standpoint, Stacey Andrews, who suffered a knee injury at the end of last season while playing with the Cincinnati Bengals, is versatile enough to play tackle and guard. If he is completely healed from his injury, McNabb might have enough time to reach his receivers down field.
The No. 1 complaint of Eagles fans throughout the “McNabb-Reid” era is that this offense is not having a game-breaker at the wide receiver position—outside of Terrell Owens in 2004, the year the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.
The two most enduring images of the Eagles loss in the NFC title game was watching Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald torch them for nine receptions, 152 yards, and three touchdowns, and Kevin Curtis dropping a McNabb pass on the game's final play.
For the Eagles to get to the next level, second-year wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who led the team in receptions as a rookie last year, needs to improve his game enough to become McNabb's go-to-guy.
The Eagles made former Missouri star Jeremy Maclin their No. 1 draft choice because of his speed and ability to stretch the field. If he can digest the Birds' West Coast offense in the way that Jackson did last season, the road to the Super Bowl will definitely come through Philly.
At the tight end position, veteran Brent Celek and rookie Cornelius Ingram have to be able to catch the ball consistently, block, and stay healthy—something the now departed L.J. Smith couldn't do during his time in Philly.
If the Birds receivers are more of a threat that should take the burden as well as the load of carrying the offense off the shoulders of the oft-injured running back Brian Westbrook. Having a threat at the wide-out position makes Westbrook even more dangerous in the Eagles' passing game.
What will really help the Eagles in 2009 is establishing balance on offense. When the Birds made their run to the postseason last season, they ran the ball enough to keep defenses from teeing off on McNabb.
That will mean that Reid will have to do something they didn't do with former Birds running back Tony Hunt—give him the ball.
If second-round draft choice LeSean McCoy can learn to block in the passing game—a basic requirement for every Birds running back—maybe he'll get on the field to run it a few times and give Westbrook a break from time to time. Again, they have to give him the ball.
If there's any indication that the Birds are looking to improve the running game, the signing of former Seattle Seahawks fullback Leonard Weaver might be what they need.
Last season, the Birds tried to play fullback position by committee and struggled in getting short yardage. Losses to the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins were because of their inability to convert on short yardage situations.
On defense, the Eagles certainly have plenty of depth in the front seven, but the question here is; how will the secondary gel together with the departure of veteran safety Brian Dawkins?
While Asante Samuel has a lock on the left cornerback position, recently acquired Ellis Hobbs was brought in to compete with a disgruntled Sheldon Brown, who is not happy with Eagles management over his contract, at the right cornerback spot.
Barring Brown being too much of a distraction for Eagles management, the Birds could have some depth at that position. It also helps that the Eagles have drafted fifth-round Victor “Macho” Harris, who played both safety and corner during his collegiate days at Virginia Tech.
At the free safety position, second-year safety Quintin Demps has been penciled in as the starter on the team's unofficial depth chart, but he will have competition from Rashad Baker and possibly Sean Jones, as well as Harris.
Meanwhile, strong safety Quintin Mikell, whom Dawkins once described as a younger version of himself, will probably take on the leadership void with the departure of Dawkins.
During this past offseason, all the experts and pundits said the Eagles had the best offseason in terms of draft choices, but whether that translates into a Super Bowl ring for long-suffering Birds fans will depend on how quickly this team can come together as a unit.
Team chemistry could be the Eagles' greatest asset or its biggest hindrance in 2009.