Anything can happen. Anything usually does happen. As we begin the week and count down to the A-C-T-I-O-N part of the off-season, let's discuss some scenarios, some purely imagined possibilities and, yeah, some flat-out day-dreaming after a long, long month of down time. This is the NFL's off-season, and the Eagles enter it with as much potential maneuverability as any team. When you combine their salary-cap room, their number of draft picks and the potential to move players, the Eagles have the assets to have an explosive off-season.
At the same time, there is a lot of stability here, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, so you wonder just how much the Eagles want to disrupt a roster that came within one victory of a Super Bowl appearance last year.
Who knows? Andy Reid, Jeffrey Lurie, Joe Banner, Tom Heckert and Howie Roseman are about the only men who really, truly know the direction the Eagles would like this off-season to take. The rest of us can speculate, so that's what I am going to do here ...
*1. How Will The Eagles Upgrade The Offensive Line? *
This is a crucial, crucial issue with February 27 closing in. The buzz out there is that the Eagles are going to be players if a top-rated offensive lineman comes free, but is that really something the team can count on? When is the last time a superb offensive lineman made it to free agency? And in this day and age, when teams have so much cap room ...
Tra Thomas is scheduled to be a free agent in two Fridays. If he gets to that point, the Eagles need to have a strong plan to upgrade left tackle. The draft? There are probably going to be 3-4 left tackles off the board by the time the 21st pick comes up, so where does that leave the Eagles? A free agent? Is there one who is going to come free that is better than Thomas?
Would the Eagles, in this scenario, consider moving Todd Herremans to left tackle from his left guard spot? Do the coaches think that Winston Justice can make the move to left tackle?
Hey, Thomas has been the starter since 1998, and while he may not be quite at that Pro Bowl level, he is still pretty good. I admit, left tackle makes me nervous. I've taken Thomas for granted a little bit. He is there every week and he is solid. If the Eagles think they can have a strong, strong upgrade, good. Go for it. Otherwise, I am not a believer in the draft at this point. If the Eagles can get in position to get a top one or two left tackle, maybe. But not the fourth or fifth tackle off the board. I've been around too long with so many mistakes drafting offensive linemen. Not until Jermane Mayberry and Thomas did the Eagles start to get it right with their drafts of offensive linemen.
Right tackle is a similar question mark with Jon Runyan a free agent to-be and, worse, coming off knee surgery. That the Eagles have both tackle spots unsigned in a matter of 10 days is enough to cause some jitters about where the team might go next for their bookend positions.
*2. Where Does The RB Position Rank On The Team's To-Do List? *
Yeah, the Eagles need to have a plan in case Brian Westbrook isn't Brian Westbrook this season. I'm not necessarily buying all the doom-and-gloom concerns about Westbrook, who turns 30 years old this year and who has a knee that needs to come around after a tough 2008 season. I think Westbrook will be good to go this year, But just in case ... what is the plan?
The free-agent crop isn't going to be all that bumper this year, unless the Eagles reach out and spend a lot of money on a player like Derrick Ward or Darren Sproles. Anybody else out there who you trust to carry the load in this offense? The Eagles can still sign Correll Buckhalter, who has been very productive here but who is a player who has never been the go-to back in his collegiate or NFL career.
The draft? There are some excellent prospects, but here is the warning: Rookie running backs have never come in during the Andy Reid era and played a lot. Westbrook was as talented and as intelligent as any back as a rookie, yet he hardly saw the field. It is a complicated scheme for a back with the blocking responsibilities and the chores as a receiver. Running the football is the easy part.
What is the answer? From this perspective, it seems the Eagles either have to re-sign Buckhalter or make a free-agent signing. If they go the draft route, it's going to be a chore to get the youngster ready for the season.
3. Does Dawkins Leave, Or Stay? And The Rest Of The Free Agents?
Brian Dawkins is such a key part of what the Eagles do, and he is the headliner among the group of potential unrestricted free agents. What you are going to see in the next week, if tradition holds, is the murmur that conversations are being held and that, as teams return from the NFL Combine -- teams leave on Wednesday -- there will be announcements that players are re-signing. Next week is going to be the key time for that.
The Eagles aren't going to sign every one of their unrestricted free agents. Not going to happen. I will guess and say that three or four will be back, including Dawkins and cornerback Joselio Hanson. Hanson plays a strong role as the team's nickel cornerback and he has really come a long, long way in his Eagles career. He would be taking a risk to leave here.
Dawkins? Yeah, I think he will come back. He says he wants to be back. The Eagles say they want him back. That is usually a sign of a marriage. But now we're well within two weeks of the start of free agency. Time is ticking and as easy day passes, I can feel the rising anxiety level of the fans.
4. Is There A Trade Possibility Out There?
Here is where most of the fans are speculating. Agents are out on the Internet and in the media barking about the unhappiness of their players, some of whom have made it perfectly clear that they want to find a new home. The Eagles are listening, no question about it. They put out a bunch of feelers last year, and have always been active in trade talks. This is a team that makes a lot of moves before, during and after the draft.
So will the Eagles be able to get a trade done? The names you hear are exciting. What you don't hear is how the other team feels about said player, and if a trade is even a possibility.
But, look, the Eagles have a lot with which to work. They have extra draft picks. They have players who would be attractive in trades. They have cap room to do new deals.
A lot of the right things have to happen to get a deal done. When the Eagles traded for wide receiver Donte' Stallworth a few seasons ago, the conversations actually started three months before a trade was consummated. So maybe there are talks happening now, or maybe the Eagles will have a chance at the Combine to accelerate some casual talks.
5. What About Donovan McNabb?
McNabb has been in Philadelphia working out and is likely to be here through the month of February until school breaks for his family and he takes the clan out to Arizona. There has been no word of contract talks between the Eagles and agent Fletcher Smith. Otherwise, there has been a lot of nonsense going on around McNabb, who has been at the NovaCare Complex every day working hard for 2009.
Will he get a new contract? Will there be talks? Joe Banner said right after the season that the Eagles are open to have conversations. That is where it stood then and that, apparently, is where it stands now.
In the meantime, McNabb is in a great frame of mind as he goes through his daily routine.
*6. Just How High Is WR On The Need List? *
For the fans, it is the top priority. With 8,000-plus votes in the daily PhiladelphiaEagles.com, 42 percent of the votes say that wide receiver is the team's biggest need. I disagree, but the fans have their say. What do the Eagles think? They seem to think that wide receiver is a strong position here, well stocked with young talent and speed and some diversity, but if there is an opportunity to go get an upgrade, the Eagles will do that.
Is there truly an opportunity to get an upgrade, or, better, a superstar who is a difference-making player? We are going to find out in free agency and in the trade market and even in the draft. This is said to be a good group at wide receiver.
How much would the Eagles give up for a wide receiver? They traded a player (Brandon Whiting) and a draft pick to the 49ers for Terrell Owens five years ago. They traded a player (Mark Simoneau) and a draft pick to New Orleans for Stallworth in 2006.
Is there going to be an opportunity to get a star wide receiver, and if there is, will the Eagles make the move?
*7. Draft Prep: Where Do The Eagles Stand? *
They are in a good place, with their draft board organized and with a lot of pieces to use. The Combine starts this week and runs through early next week and then the Eagles have private workouts to schedule and players to rank. The team understands the importance of this draft, and the opportunity it presents. With extra picks in the first round, fifth round and sixth round, the Eagles can make hay with 10 selections.
Combine those assets, along with the room under the salary cap and some very specified needs and the Eagles can head in a lot of different directions in the weeks to come. Where they go, nobody knows quite yet. But is sure is fun to think of the options the Eagles have.