Time is moving quickly one week into the Eagles' off-season, with a lot of things to accomplish and not many weeks to go before free agency starts (February 27) and then the draft (April 26-27). Here is an overview of what the team has on its plate preparing for the 2009 season ...
**COACHING STAFF CHANGES
Pat Shurmur accepted the offensive coordinator job in St. Louis, leaving the Eagles with a hole to fill at the quarterbacks coach position. Shurmur worked with Donovan McNabb every step of the way since 1999, so this is no small job to replace.
Last year the Eagles hired Mark Whipple, the former quarterbacks coach in Pittsburgh, to add "another set of eyes" to the offense. The speculation then was that should Shurmur or Marty Mornhinweg or any of the offensive coaches move on, Whipple would be the logical next step in the progression. But the Eagles did not make an immediate announcement when news of Shurmur's departure became official, and then reports in South Florida surfaced that Whipple could be named the next offensive coordinator at the University of Miami.
Still nothing official there, but it does add some intrigue into what looked to be a seamless move. If Whipple does move to the college ranks, it opens up a lot of questions about what direction the Eagles might take. A quarterbacks coach works, obviously, very closely with the most important player on the field and McNabb has been in a comfort zone for 10 seasons. With Shurmur gone, McNabb has to make an adjustment in this coaching change. That could be a good thing, of course. Sometimes, change is a positive.
In any event, the Eagles have a change on their coaching staff that has not yet been filled and with the annual coaching convention -- otherwise known as the Senior Bowl -- completed, the Eagles have to replace Shurmur soon.
**PREPARING FOR FREE AGENCY
Numbers are being crunched. Depth charts are being arranged. The Eagles are preparing for free agency, as they always do, while drawing up a bunch of scenarios. They first must decide which of their free agents they want to keep. The list is an interesting one, to say the least. It contains key starters on offense -- tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan -- and Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins from the defense. Additionally, a couple of very key reserves are on that list -- safety Sean Considine, cornerback Joselio Hanson and running back Correll Buckhalter.
Tight end L.J. Smith is also on the list, and he was a starter for much of the season, but by the time the year was over, it was obvious to all that Brent Celek had supplanted Smith. Could Smith return? Yes, but he seems likely to want to test free agency and see what is out there after an extremely disappointing campaign.
There are also a couple of key players scheduled to be restricted free agents -- guard Nick Cole and wide receiver Hank Baskett -- whom the Eagles must tender. Last year, remember, the Eagles tendered Hanson at a second-round tender. He signed and then had a solid season as the team's nickel cornerback.
Deciding which of their own players is one part of preparing for free agency. The Eagles are in excellent shape as far as their salary-cap wiggle room goes, so they may decide to devote a large portion of their spending on their own players. That seems to be the trend in free agency these days.
Then again, the Eagles could go into free agency flush with money and take aim at the top-shelf talent and look to strike quickly. They did that last year by signing cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive end Chris Clemons in the first weekend.
The big question is, though: Who is going to be available in free agency this year? With so much cap room available, teams are locking up their own players. Truth is, we won't know until, oh, about February 27 at 12:01 a.m. which players will actually reach free agency.
**FEELING THE DRAFT
With 10 draft picks, including two in the first round, the Eagles have a chance to make a big play in April. They can move up, down, stay put. They can wheel and deal. This is an ultra-critical draft for a team that has a very good roster in place.
All of the legwork is done now. With the Senior Bowl complete, the next step is February's Combine and then individual workouts, private visits and constantly-updated evaluations.
The mock drafts are out, so take them for what they are worth which, at this point, is just about zero. The Eagles won't even have their first rendition of a mock draft until mid-March, about six weeks before the draft weekend.
With the influx of juniors in this draft, the talent should run fairly deep into the second day in late April. The Eagles also have extra picks in the fifth and in the sixth rounds, so they are going to have a chance to mine the draft all the way through for players to help this roster.
**CLOSING THE BOOKS ON 2008
The coaching staff had the responsibility last week, continuing through this week, of looking back through the season grading their players, their schemes and what worked and what didn't work. Each player receives an evaluation and each player met with his position coach, as well as head coach Andy Reid, to gain some insight on what the player must improve for 2009.
There are a handful of players recovering from injuries who are now spending time in the athletic training room. They don't leave until they are given a clean bill of health.
One or two pages remain from '08. The Eagles are, largely, looking ahead. They have a big off-season in front of them, with a to-do list that changes weekly. There is always something to work on, always something to improve. And, while it seems like there is a lot of time to get it all done, free agency will be here very quickly.