A new era is about to begin in Philadelphia. The Eagles made a bold decision trading Donovan McNabb to the division-rival Redskins and will hand the reins to Kevin Kolb. Kolb looked good last season filling in when McNabb was injured, but has started just two games in his three-year NFL career. The decision is risky to say the least, but the organization stands behind Kolb.
The Eagles’ draft strategy this season will be similar to last year: stockpile picks and get an influx of talented youth. The only difference this April is that the team will be focused on rebuilding an aging defense where as offense was the priority last year. The Eagles have already collected 11 draft picks, with four selections coming in the first 70 picks. They hold picks 24, 37, 55, 70, 87, 105, 121, 137, 200, 243 and 244.
The glaring weakness of Philly’s defense last season was at middle linebacker. Trouble began when starter Stewart Bradley was lost for the year after suffering a torn ACL in practice before the start of the regular season. They turned to Omar Gaither, but he went down with an injury as well. The team acquired Will Witherspoon in a midseason trade, but he’s a better fit on the weakside and was released in the offseason. Philly even picked up 32-year old Jeremiah Trotter, who last played in the NFL in 2007.
The secondary also suffered with the loss of longtime fan favorite Brian Dawkins, who departed for Denver via free agency and made the Pro Bowl last season. Second-year pro Quintin Demps, rookie Victor Harris and veteran Sean Jones all saw time at free safety in 2009. Each played inconsistently and Jones wasn’t re-signed. They signed Marlin Jackson to compete for the free safety job, but can’t rely on a player who has suffered ACL tears in both knees over the past two seasons.
Trent Cole has developed into one of the league’s best defensive ends, but Philly needs help on the opposite side. Juqua Parker collected eight sacks last season and is a good situational player, but isn’t an every down end and will be 32 at the start of the season. Victor Abiamiri has been given every opportunity to win the starting left end job since being drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft, but he’s had problems staying healthy.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles are loaded at the skill positions. They released Brian Westbrook and signed Mike Bell from the Saints to compliment LeSean McCoy, a second-round pick in the 2009 draft. There receivers are a young and dynamic group highlighted by DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.
The concern is at offensive line, specifically along the interior. Starting center Jamaal Jackson tore the ACL in his left knee near the end of the season and may not be ready for the start of 2010. A.Q. Shipley, a rookie last season, was signed but he’s never played in a game. Nick Cole was solid playing guard last season and is expected to compete for the center job. Shawn Andrews was released after missing the past two seasons with back injuries and his brother Stacey, signed away from the Bengals last season, was expected to be a mainstay at guard or tackle but started just two games.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYERS: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Tracey White (was not re-signed), LB Jeremiah Trotter (was not re-signed), FS Sean Jones (was not re-signed, signed with Tampa Bay), DE Jason Babin (was not re-signed, signed with Tennessee)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Jason Avant (received second-round tender at $1.759 million, re-signed at five years for up to $18 million), G Nick Cole (received second-round tender at $1.759 million and signed offer sheet), LB Omar Gaither (received original-round tender at $1.176 million and signed offer sheet), LB Chris Gocong (received original-round tender at $1.101 million, signed offer sheet and traded to Cleveland Browns), CB Ellis Hobbs (received first-round tender at $2.621 million and signed offer sheet), G Max Jean-Gilles (received original-round tender at $1.176 million), LB Akeem Jordan (received second-round tender at $1.684 and signed offer sheet), P Sav Rocca (received right of first refusal tender at $1.101 million), TE Alex Smith (was not tendered), FB Leonard Weaver (received second-round tender at $1.759 million, re-signed at three years for $11 million)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Jason Avant, G Nick Cole, LB Omar Gaither, CB Ellis Hobbs, LB Akeem Jordan, FB Leonard Weaver
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: FB Dwayne Wright, P Durant Brooks, FS Marlin Jackson, WR Chad Hall, WR Hank Baskett, DE Darryl Tapp (via trade with Seattle Seahawks), RB Mike Bell, LB Alex Hall (via trade with Cleveland Browns)
PLAYERS LOST: DE Jason Babin, FS Sean Jones, LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Tracey White, LB Will Witherspoon, RB Brian Westbrook, WR Reggie Brown (via trade with Tampa Bay Buccaneers), DE Chris Clemons (via trade with Seattle Seahawks), OL Shawn Andrews, WR Kevin Curtis, DE Darren Howard, QB Donovan McNabb (via trade with Washington Redskins)
FREE SAFETY — The Eagles still haven’t found a quality replacement for Brian Dawkins. Quintin Demps, Victor Harris and Sean Jones all split time at the position last season and none were great. Jones is gone and Marlin Jackson was signed from the Colts, but he’s suffered two ACL tears in two seasons and can’t be relied on. The team is scheduled to host Eric Berry of Tennessee for a visit, but unless Philly can put together a blockbuster deal to trade up from 24 into the top five, the chances of landing him are slim to none. The Eagles are also scheduled to workout Buffalo’s Mike Newton in Baltimore. Unlike most years, this draft is quite deep at the safety position and with an early second-round pick acquired from Washington, there’s no need to reach for one late in the first round.
OFFENSIVE LINE — Starting center Jamaal Jackson tore the ACL in his left knee near the end of the season and may not be ready for the start of 2010. Nick Cole is a solid player who filled in at guard last season and is said to be in competition with Jackson for the starting center job. Shawn Andrews, a former first-round pick, was released after missing the past two seasons with back injuries. The team ranked 22nd last season averaging just 102.3 rushing yards per game. They desperately need to get better at running the ball to create a more balanced attack. It’s also crucial that the team protect Kevin Kolb, as they allowed 38 sacks and 67 quarterback hits to rank 21st in 2009. The team was scheduled to work out West Virginia offensive tackle Selvish Capers in Morgantown and scheduled a private workout with UNLV center Joe Hawley. Guard Mike Iupati of Idaho was scheduled to work out with the Eagles in March and Rodger Saffold of Indiana was also scheduled for a workout.
DEFENSIVE END — Trent Cole is locked in on the right side, but the Eagles need to get him help on the left. The Eagles envisioned Victor Abiamiri taking over that spot, but he’s been injury prone and can’t be relied on. Juqua Parker is a nice situational player who collected eight sacks last season, but he’ll be 32 and Philly needs an every-down defensive end. Philly scheduled visits or workouts with Arizona State’s Dexter Davis, Kansas State’s Jeffrey Fitzgerald, TCU’s Jerry Hughes, Middle Tennessee State’s Chris McCoy and Clemson’s Ricky Sapp.
CORNERBACK – The Eagles traded away veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown, who had been a mainstay in the secondary the past six seasons. Asante Samuel struggled at times last year. Ellis Hobbs was retained at least for one more year, but he’s a better fit at nickel. The team should look for some depth at some point in the draft. They’ve already scheduled a visit with Javier Arenas of Alabama and sent defensive backs coach Dick Jauron to the pro days of Rutgers’ Devin McCourty and Boise State’s Kyle Wilson.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER — Although this was a glaring need during the season, it won’t be a problem if Stewart Bradley comes back healthy from an ACL tear. Bradley is a solid player, but to be safe the Eagles should add some additional depth behind him.
The Eagles have also scheduled visits or workouts with WR Danario Alexander of Missouri, WR Marcus Easley of UConn, RB Toby Gerhart of Stanford, RB Deji Karim of Southern Illinois, P Zoltan Mesko of Michigan, DT Earl Mitchell of Arizona, DT Brian Price of UCLA, RB Charles Scott of LSU and QB John Skelton of Fordham.