The news on Monday that a pair of highly respected veterans, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, were released was not overly shocking on the surface. Both players still have some football left in them, but their performances in 2012 were not to the levels of previous seasons, for various reasons.
Jenkins, signed as part of the 2011 unrestricted free agent signing class, saw his productivity drop and his playing time dip in 2012 as the Eagles struggled to get to the quarterback and, as the season went along, stop the run defensively.
The Eagles used him at tackle, moved him to end at times, and clearly did not get enough. Jenkins' sack total of 5 1/2 in 2011 dropped to 4 in 2012 and his snaps per game number decreased, along with his tackles numbers.
Patterson played in only 5 games after rehabbing from brain surgery in January, 2012, for an arteriovenous malformation. Patterson suffered a seizure in the 2011 training camp and came back to play the entire season. He had just 9 tackles in the 5 games he played in 2012 before contracting viral pneumonia, which forced him to spend the last three weeks of the season on the reserve/non-football illness list.
Both players are class act, leaders and examples of how to go about their business and their family lives the right way. For the Eagles, in the big picture of what's ahead, the moves continue to ripple through a roster that figures to have more major changes ahead.
We don't know what scheme the Eagles are going to play on defense in 2013, but we know this: There are going to be several new names to get to know, a new system to learn and, the goal clearly is, to have a much better defense in place.
These moves aren't about shedding salary-cap dollars and creating flexibility at this point. The Eagles have enough dollars to do as they wish within the salary cap. They can be players in free agency if they choose, but the wiser course of action might be to dig in and have a great draft and build for the long haul, while at the same time supplementing through free agency.
These moves are about a defense that wants an identity for a defense that nose-dived since Jim Johnson's passing in 2008. No matter the scheme, the Eagles felt that it was time to move on from Jenkins and from Patterson and become younger, faster and more physical.
The job is far from complete. The Eagles are going to have, it is apparent, new faces dotting the entire defense. It all started when the team, with Andy Reid still the head coach, released defensive end Jason Babin. When the team ended Reid's tenure and hired Chip Kelly and then he hired Bill Davis to oversee the defense, the coaches were given time to look through the 2012 season and evaluate the personnel and give their grades.
So Jenkins and Patterson are gone, hopeful to continue their careers on other teams. The Eagles still have to decide on cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who they have reportedly had conversations with to see if there can be a mutual understanding with his contract for 2013. There is still the matter of pending unrestricted free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and there has been no indication that the Eagles will retain him for another season. Derek Landri is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 12, too. Linebacker Akeem Jordan is also due to be an unrestricted free agent on March 12 after playing 14 games and starting 7 in 2012.
Who is a sure thing for this defense? Fletcher Cox, yes. DeMeco Ryans, I would think. Mychal Kendricks, no doubt about it. Maybe Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, but who really knows? Neither player had dominating seasons in 2012, so who knows what Davis thinks of those players as he looks ahead to find the right fits for his scheme?
There aren't a whole lot of other givens for the defense, which strives to return to the physical, intelligent, playmaking football we have long been accustomed to seeing in Philadelphia.
How many more changes before the defensive purging is complete? How much, then, can the Eagles rebuild the defense in a single offseason? If the team were to line up now -- purely hypothetically, of course -- who would play tackle in a 4-3? Would it be Cox and Cedric Thornton? Cox and Antonio Dixon?
You knew it was coming, right? You understand what is happening, don't you? The Eagles are overhauling their defensive personnel. They aren't saying a thing about scheme, likely because they want to retain the flexibility that most teams have in the course of a game. Teams change their fronts all the time in the NFL, so to be pinned down by a label just doesn't make sense.
What makes sense is that the Eagles are ripping up a defense that underperformed badly from 2009-2012. The problems mounted from one year to the next -- red-zone deficiencies morphed into poor overall tackling which resulted in so-so play against the run and magnified when the pass rush didn't get home in 2012 and, all the time, too many touchdown passes allowed ... this just wasn't the Eagles defense that the franchise needed to have.
Chip Kelly is known for his offensive brilliance, and for good reason. What Oregon did in his four years as head coach and in his two seasons as offensive coordinator grabbed the attention of an entire nation. Ultimately, though, he's got to rebuild this defense in order for the Eagles to win big in the near future.
We're seeing it happen right before our very eyes. The gutting of the defense is well underway, with a few moves still to come between now and the end of the draft in April.