No splash. The Eagles, historically big hitters in free agency when the opportunity is right, aren't playing the game this year. They have focused inward first, signing fullback Leonard Weaver and then wide receiver Jason Avant to long-term contracts. Not yet have the Eagles dipped their toes into the free-agent pool, and you want to know why.
Let's talk about what we know about the Eagles, the direction they have taken and very well could take in the coming weeks as they shape the roster for 2010 ...
**Why No Big Move Early In Free Agency?
The Eagles explored their options, as they always do. And the way they have done things in the past describes the strategy in this hunting season: If they really, really want a player, they go all out and get that player. They put everything on the line when they see someone like Jevon Kearse or Asante Samuel, etc. They make sure to schedule the first visit and they don't allow the player to leave the NovaCare Complex without signing a contract.
In this truncated free agency, the Eagles sent out some feelers -- they explored Julius Peppers and they evaluated the idea of signing players like Antrel Rolle and Aaron Kampman, but in the end, they passed. Why?
Here are some guesses, from this perspective. Peppers was the cream of the crop in free agency and he would have made a nice fit on a defensive line that certainly could use another player for whom offensive blocking schemes must account. But Chicago was in a different mindset than the rest of the league. Chicago has no early draft picks, is coming off a terrible season, and knows that desperate times call for desperate measures. So the Bears made Peppers an offer nobody could refuse, and he is now in Chicago and will earn more than $40 million guaranteed over the next three seasons.
In the case of Rolle, a good player, the Eagles had to weigh some factors. Were they willing to make Rolle the highest-paid safety in the game, as the Giants did? And would it make sense to sign Rolle now rather than keep an eye on a draft class of safeties that is said to be very, very good?
Free safety is no doubt a position the Eagles must improve over last year. The Eagles aren't giving up on Quintin Demps, a third-year man, or Macho Harris, in his second season. At the same time, the Eagles should challenge the position. They could have done it with Rolle, but to do it they would have had to make an outrageous financial offer. They still can do it in free agency if they decide to sign one of the lesser-known names.
They can do it by having Demps and Harris step up. And they can do it in the draft.
Arizona replaced Rolle with Kerry Rhodes, acquired from the Jets for a fourth- and a seventh-round draft pick. Could the Eagles have made a play there? Sure, if they felt Rhodes was better than what they have or what they could have in the draft. Again, time will tell if the Eagles made the right decision here.
**But Why Not Take Some Chances?
Free agency is always a game of chance, and one that historically represents a minimal payback. Should the Eagles have made a big for Kampman, who suffered a serious knee injury last year and who is 31 years old? Maybe, if you wanted some excitement. But Kampman signed a contract worth a guaranteed $11 million from Jacksonville, so let's keep an eye on how that works out.
Left end is a position where the Eagles could use a dominating player, but they aren't exactly bare there, either. The team has worked a pretty good rotation with Juqua Parker, Victor Abiamiri, Chris Clemons and Darren Howard there. Will the Eagles address left end? They very well could in the draft. This draft is said to have as much defensive depth as any in recent years. The Eagles could use some help on defense, obviously.
Who would you like to see the Eagles go out and get? The second wave of free agency is here, and that group usually includes some players who help a team. Think Weaver, folks. The man signed three weeks into free agency, albeit a full class of free-agent talent.
**What About The Running Back Position? They Need One, Right?
Sure do, at least the way I look at things. There is no lack of veteran talent still available -- think Mike Bell, Justin Vargas, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson -- and the draft class has excellent talent. Should the Eagles have gone out and outbid the Bears for Chester Taylor? Well, Taylor is a quality player and he would have made a nice complement to LeSean McCoy, but Taylor also got a whopper of a contract from the Bears.
It seems logical to conclude that the Eagles are going to add a running back. Who and where and when, I don't know. They have a good track record at the position, so there is a trust factor here. Sooner or later, the Eagles will have more depth here. Make no mistake, though. They are trusting McCoy to be the guy. They invested a second-round pick in him and they think that he showed enough in a promising rookie campaign to earn the starting job.
Whoever comes here as a No. 2 back will, of course, compete with McCoy and will get his share of opportunities to play and to touch the football. Having a solid, steady, talented second back is a real need in this league, and the Eagles will get to it in time.
**Why Release Will Witherspoon? Was It A Money Thing?
It was only a money thing in the sense that the Eagles simply felt that Witherspoon's play regressed as 2009 marched into the cold, late weeks of the season. The Eagles evaluated the performance from every player in the weeks after the season and they concluded, obviously, that Witherspoon was not in the future plans.
As evidenced by the tender extended to Akeem Jordan, the Eagles think he is a worthy candidate to start at the WILL position. With Jordan there, competing with Omar Gaither, the Eagles feel they have a good situation. That doesn't mean they won't add to it, but for right now they like what they have. Stewart Bradley comes back to play middle linebacker as he continues his positive rehab from the knee injury. At SAM, the Eagles have Chris Gocong and second-year man Moise Fokou at the moment.
The Eagles could very well add to the linebacker spots. They want to see where Joe Mays fits in as he made definite progress -- seen mostly on special teams -- last season. They want to see how Fokou handles his first full off-season in the NFL. They want to make sure they don't ignore what they have, as well as what they can potentially add in the draft, through trades, in free agency ahead.
**Are The Eagles Rebuilding?
The idea that the Eagles are "rebuilding" implies that they won't contend this season. I don't agree with that term, or that expectation. The goal every year is to win the Super Bowl. At the same time, it is undeniable that the Eagles have turned this roster over in the last 12 months and are continuing to do so. The youth on this team is apparent. The over-30 club continues to dwindle. That's just the way it is in the league.
The Eagles last year were able to revamp the offense and still win 11 games. If they follow the strength of the draft this year, they will add pieces to the defense. We'll see if they do that. Certainly, though, the Eagles could use a draft like they had in 2009 when they gained instant impact from Jeremy Maclin and McCoy, both of whom could be future standouts in the NFL.
There are going to be more moves to be made, but the Eagles are doing now what the majority of NFL teams are doing: Staying out of the high-stakes game of free agency with players who are pushing or exceeding the age of 30. It makes for a young roster that has a chance to stay intact for a long, long time.
**What Is Going On At Quarterback?
Nothing, it seems. The Eagles are reportedly going to pick up the bonus on Michael Vick's contract and that is about all we know at this point. The trade rumors have quieted down substantially. Andy Reid has repeatedly backed Donovan McNabb.
And that's all at quarterback.
**So What Will The Eagles Do Next?
The team is reportedly having former Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson in for a visit on Tuesday. Jackson has been a good player, but his career has been sidetracked by two serious knee injuries. Any team that signs Jackson has to be convinced that he is healthy and that he can move well enough to help a defense in 2010.
Beyond that, rest assured that free agency continues behind the scenes. The Eagles made two very good moves by retaining Weaver and Avant. They are still evaluating existing unrestricted free agents and they are likely assessing potential restricted free agents to approach.
The draft is a month and a half away, and that is a critical time. Between now and then, the Eagles are going to make moves and they could very well surprise you with one or two of them. Who knows how close to the blueprint they come in the off-season?
A team that usually makes an early splash in free agency isn't doing so this year. That doesn't mean all is quiet. Things change quickly in the league and the Eagles know they have their work cut out for them in the weeks ahead.