The Eagles have had an impressive start to the offseason. They were very active in free agency and plugged glaring holes on the depth chart. If there was a game this Sunday, the Eagles could roll out a solid starting lineup, except for the players who are recovering from injuries. Those guys should be fine by the time August gets here, so I'm not too worried about them.
I think the Eagles used free agency the right way. They brought in players who can play right away and who fit obvious needs. That gives the team freedom as they move forward in free agency and prepare for the upcoming draft.
Players and agents can't look at the Eagles as a desperate team. The Eagles can negotiate from a position of strength. They can shop around and see if a player fits what they want to do on the field and in contractual terms. There are still good players left in free agency. Unfortunately, many players are finding that they don't have the choices that they hoped for. Teams are being pickier about signing free agents and the salary cap is an issue for several teams. That means there is still talent to be had, and probably at reasonable prices.
The catch here is that you don't want to do too much in free agency, even if the players sign for a reasonable cost and do fit. You have to be careful about bringing in too many outsiders. That's why teams always harp on building through the draft. You want to develop as many homegrown players as possible. The Eagles still have a good balance now. They can add a couple more free agents if they want to, but I think it is important to be careful about that. Don't sign players just because you can. Make sure you feel certain that the players are worth adding.
There are not a whole lot of specific needs for the Eagles to address right now. The focus should be on improving the overall talent level of the team. I do think the team needs to add a starting caliber offensive tackle. That player can start on the right side, but also needs to be there as insurance incase anything happens to left tackle
Everything we hear about Peters makes it sound like he'll be back and ready to go, but in case something does go wrong, the Eagles need a good backup plan in place. Peters is also an older player, so adding someone to be his eventual replacement makes good sense. After 2012's injury-plagued year, the offensive line is due some good karma. It would be nice to see them stay healthy and play well.
The Eagles also need help on the defensive line. We're not sure exactly what scheme the defense will play, but it seems as if there will be some version of a 3-4 alignment. That could be a pure 3-4 or the 4-3 under that many have written about. The one spot that needs help here is at defensive end. Right now, you would project
Based on Chip Kelly's history and the moves made so far, it sure seems that versatility is going to be a strong selling point for the Eagles. They would want to add a player who can battle Thornton for the end spot, but also play defensive tackle or possibly even nose tackle. Luckily, there are some players available in the draft who fit the bill nicely. As more and more colleges play creative defenses, players get used in a variety of ways and head into the NFL with a more varied background than ever.
Adding the offensive tackle and defensive end are the only moves I would classify as needs. There are still a lot of areas we all want to upgrade. I don't think the Eagles have anything that they "must do" in the first or second rounds. This is where you focus on taking the best player available. If the Eagles stay with the No. 4 pick, they need to find an impact type of player. Maybe Kelly will fall in love with a quarterback prospect. The Eagles could add an offensive lineman or defensive lineman. Maybe Oregon star linebacker Dion Jordan would be the way to go, adding a tall, speedy athlete to the front seven. The Eagles could decide that Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is the player to build the secondary around. There is no right or wrong. The Eagles simply must find the player they like the best and take him. They need this draft pick to be someone who can develop into a star player.
The good news about the upcoming draft is where the strengths lie. There are plenty of good offensive tackles. The cornerback class is deep. This is the best group of safeties we've seen in a while. There are plenty of good pass rushers, whether as defensive linemen or linebackers. The Eagles seem interested in adding a tight end. That group is deep and talented.
I think the biggest mystery is quarterback. There are no elite players in this class. I think Geno Smith is the best prospect and he can be an NFL starter, but I don't see a player you build an organization around. He's nothing like Donovan McNabb was in 1999. Still, Kelly could decide that Smith is the way to go. Smith does have the skill set to fit the offense. Some of Smith's deficiencies can be corrected through coaching. I trust Chip Kelly. If he decides Smith is the answer at quarterback, go get him.
There are several players of interest beyond Smith. They could be taken in the second, third or fourth rounds. The Eagles are being thorough in checking these players out. Whether they pass on the quarterbacks or take one, the team is doing extensive research and will make a very informed decision.
I'm sure Kelly would love to add a quarterback to battle with
The Eagles could always take a mid-round quarterback this year and then turn around and take one next year, whether early, middle or late. Former Packers general manager Ron Wolf believed in taking a quarterback every year. You just have to be careful when spending early picks on them. Those are resources you could spend upgrading the team around them.
If you want a simple version of how to look at things, on offense expect the Eagles to target very specific players that they like. The defense needs depth. The change in scheme and the release of some veteran players has left some openings on that side of the depth chart.
While the defense needs more help, you can't assume they'll get more picks. You need to find the best players. You don't want to pass up a future starter on offense for a player who projects to being simply a role player on defense. All the free agent moves have given the Eagles the ability to focus on the best player available. In a month, we'll find out who those players will be.
- Linebacker Victor Butler would be a solid signing. He can play special teams and rush the passer. He's young and athletic. I think he's trying to find a team that will give him a starting job. With the Eagles, he would compete to be a starter, but nothing is guaranteed.
- Happy 50th birthday to Randall Cunningham, the most dynamic quarterback I ever saw play for the Eagles. He was amazing at times. Unfortunately, Cunningham was not entirely focused on football and he never became the consistent player that you need to win big in the postseason. His highlights were breathtaking, but the playoff losses were the other end of the spectrum. The team totaled 25 points in his first three playoff games, all losses. Cunningham is one of the all-time "What if" players for me. With better blocking and coaching, Cunningham could have been one of the greatest players in NFL history.
- My preferred draft scenario is to trade back a few spots and add a second- or third-round pick. There is no player I'm in love with for the No. 4 pick. Moving back, but staying inside the top 15 would ideal. The Eagles could still land a very good player, but would be able to add an extra player, maybe two. The top of this draft class isn't great, but there are lots of good players in Rounds 2-4. Unfortunately, several teams would like to move back so I'm not sure that is a very likely scenario. This could be one of those years with very little trading at the top of the first round.