February 28, 2010

An offseason checklist for the Philadelphia Eagles.

As we all prepare for NFL free agency to officially begin on Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles have a lot of work to do. Specifically, three areas must be addressed: defensive line, safety and quarterback.

On the defensive line front, (surprise surprise) the Eagles should make a serious push for Julius Peppers.

Is there risk involved? Absolutely; he's a 30-year-old defensive end. Jevon Kearse was 27 when he came in, and we saw how quickly he broke down. And, perhaps more importantly, will even a healthy Peppers put up the kind of numbers that would justify a $13-14 million a year contract? Probably not.

But he would add serious firepower to a line that was taken out back and spanked by the Dallas Cowboys two weeks in a row. For a while there, Juqua Parker, Darren Howard and company held up relatively well across from Trent Cole, but as last season winded down, the other end position became a revolving door of suck. And while I like Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley, they almost never bring pressure from the inside.

Someone like Peppers, at the very least, makes people stop and take notice. You can't double or triple-team Cole when a guy with 81 career sacks is coming at you from the other end. Plus, Peppers is three inches taller and twenty pounds heavier than Kearse. Comparing them, as I did no more than two paragraphs ago, is not entirely fair. He's a monster on the line, and the Eagles are a team that's not afraid to spend big bucks on a defensive star.

Hopefully, the same will go for the safety position. Antrel Rolle is about to be released by the Cardinals, Darren Sharper is old but unrestricted, and Nick Collins, Antoine Bethea and O.J. Atogwe are all available, albeit casualties of the inexplicable "2010 restricted free agent rules in preparation for the big stupid upcoming work stoppage." By the way, letting them call it a "work stoppage" is a bunch of crap. It's a strike or a lockout; a strike if the players are refusing to play, a lockout if the owners aren't letting them. Neither of those terms, however, bring back pleasant memories for sports fans; there's no doubt in my mind that "work stoppage" is the key ingredient in the latest batch of NFL PR bullshit.

But anyway, the Eagles need a safety. In the most unsurprising move in the history of football, rookie Macho Harris and mediocre soon-to-be journeyman Sean Jones did not fill Brian Dawkins' shoes. Even a step-slower Dawkins could have made all the difference in the world last year. It would behoove the Eagles to correct this oversight and bring in a every-down safety, preferably one with above-average coverage skills.

I know that guys like that don't grow on trees, but I think it'll happen. And why is that? Well, count me among those intrigued by the Eagles hiring Dick Jauron to be the secondary coach. A guy who's been a defensive coordinator and head coach in the league doesn't take this kind of step back without a good reason. MAYBE he really misses Andy Reid that much from their time in Green Bay, and MAYBE he's tired of all the bullshit and politics that come with important coaching positions. But MAYBE it's to get second-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott listening for the footsteps of a 59-year-old defensive mind creeping up behind him. Or, at the very least, maybe it's to turn the secondary around, formerly a position of strength for this team. Either way, I think the safety position gets addressed competently in the offseason.

And finally, the quarterback. This has been done to death, but it should still be addressed. In a rambling mess of a chat, one featuring a revisionist diatribe about Muhammad Ali that was expertly dissected by Tommy Craggs and (about halfway down) Drew Magary soon after the fact, Bill Simmons actually dropped a now-rare pearl of wisdom on the Eagles' QB position:
"They should absolutely trade [McNabb] for a draft pick and usher in the Kevin Kolb with Vick Backing Him Up Era."
I would actually go one step further: dump Vick and McNabb and go with Kolb and a veteran backup. I've discussed this before; I think there's no better time, from a PR and even from a football standpoint, to move on at the quarterback position. Take whatever the Rams are offering for Vick and move McNabb to whomever will extend him. Bringing back McNabb as a lame duck quarterback would be a disaster; if you thought he was sad about how the Eagles treated him before, just wait until he's literally playing for his job with one foot out the door.

It's Kolb's time; at the very least, we know he's competent. Back in the day, McNabb used to dazzle us with a few big plays a game, more than covering up deficiencies like his accuracy. But now, he's a shell of what he used to be, still a skilled quarterback but not one that's going to thrive in this offense, in this city, with all the history and talk and everything weighing on his shoulders. He needs a change, and so do we. And lookie here, we have a quarterback waiting in the wings to take his place!

Unless the rest of the league decides to stonewall the Eagles and laugh at the mess that 2010 in Philadelphia would become, move Donovan McNabb and start a new era. We'll cheer the shit out of him when he comes back post-retirement, maybe even hang his number five from the rafters. It's been a hell of a run, jam-packed with excitement, but pardon me for scoffing at anyone who thinks a Super Bowl is in the future of a McNabb-led Eagles team.

As for the other positions that could be considered questionable, count me as optimistic about a) at least one of the Andrews brothers contributing next year, b) the acquisition of a solid running back to compliment LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver and c) the return of Stewart Bradley turning the linebackers into a position of strength, not a weakness. The Andrews one, obviously, isn't exactly likely, but I just can't believe that they'd both turn out to be such unequivocal busts (Shawn's early excellent play being ignored, of course). The Eagles might have their flaws as an organization, but to drop the ball on two major, expensive investments like that? I'll believe it when I see it.

Either way, the next few weeks will be extremely interesting in Philadelphia. Is the organization ready for a seemingly obvious overhaul, or will they rest on the "laurels" of the worst 11-win season in history? Let's hope it's the former.

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