They are all gathered at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the Eagles' personnel department and the coaching staff. The Combine, as absurd as it seems to some, is must-see TV for the hopelessly addicted NFL fans. I'm one of them. I watch. It is fascinating theatre, and to me it signifies the true start of the offseason, the time when we can begin to see the roster take shape.
What do I expect from the Eagles in the months ahead? I expect them to be aggressive, and to bring in impact players and to build a Super Bowl-worthy roster between now and September. I want Howie Roseman and Andy Reid to be creative, to add layer upon layer of depth, to challenge the promising young talent already here.
I want the Eagles to proceed with caution regarding those players coming off of major surgery, a list that includes young defensive building blocks Brandon Graham and Nate Allen. Count on both of those players to return in 2011, yes, but make sure to understand that history suggests it is difficult to return to a full 100 percent the next season after major surgery. Thus, the responsibility is on the front office and the coaching staff to have adequate answers should either, or both, young players encounter road blocks along the way.
I want the Eagles to not fall in love with all of the rookies who so promisingly stepped up at critical times for the defense in 2010. I'm talking about some kids that I happen to think can really play -- linebacker Jamar Chaney, defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, safety Kurt Coleman, among others. Don't ignore defensive tackle, or linebacker, or safety just because the Eagles think they have something brewing with those three players. If there is an opportunity to improve the roster, do it, no matter the position.
I want the Eagles to handle the quarterback position as they did a year ago, with great patience, respect for the player, and perfect timing. Should the Eagles trade Kevin Kolb, who enters 2011 in the final year of his contract and as a backup to Michael Vick? It depends on a variety of factors, but the important point here is that the Eagles are dealing from a position of strength, and should approach it as such. Acquiring two draft picks for Donovan McNabb last April -- a second-round pick (Allen) in last year's draft and a fourth-round pick this April from Washington was excellent value.
The Eagles have already taken an aggressive approach to this offseason. They could have easily stayed put with their coaching staff after winning the NFC East in 2010. Instead, they overhauled the defensive staff and made the unprecedented move of installing offensive line coach Juan Castillo as the defensive coordinator. They hired big-time talent at the assistant coaching level. They became a more experienced and more accomplished coaching staff in a matter of a few weeks.
On the personnel side, the Eagles signed a handful of players with professional experience to come in and make training camp a more competitive place. Instead of undrafted players filling some of the bottom third of the roster spots, the Eagles added players who were high draft picks (wide receiver Sinorice Moss, a second-round pick), players who have had at least a taste of the NFL (tight end John Nalbone and cornerback Isaiah Trufant), those who have been starters in the NFL (linebacker Rashad Jeanty) and one who was a flat-out star in the Canadian League (Phillip Hunt). Training camp and the battle for 53 roster spots is going to be a blast.
Ahead is the crux of the roster building for 2011 and for the seasons beyond. I'm not sure what we're going to learn about the Eagles' intentions from what we learn of their actions at the Combine, but the hope here is that Roseman and Reid and director of player personnel Ryan Grigson maximize their time in Indianapolis and hone in on their draft and post-draft targets. The Eagles have eight draft picks now, a number that could swell should the Eagles be as active as they usually are wheeling and dealing during the days before and the weekend of the draft.
The positions of need, from this perspective, are fairly clear. The offensive line needs to be upgraded, particularly the right side. The defense can use impact players everywhere. The Eagles have the draft and free agency -- they are in outstanding shape financially here, and would be poised to strike if the opportunity is there -- to add the players they need to go out and win it all next February.
The team that ended 2010 was a good one. There is a promising collection of talent here and a coaching staff that has the track record to suggest it is one of the best in the league. The Eagles are building the offense around quarterback Michael Vick and the best group of skill-position players this franchise has ever had. The offense is ahead of the defense at this point, but we saw last year how that perception can change from one week to the next.
It is an exciting time, an unofficial official kickoff for me to the true start of the offseason. The months ahead are shaped by what happens this week and into next at the Combine, the fertile ground for the young talent the Eagles will add to the roster in April.