Philadelphia Eagles News

Eyeing The Needs And How To Fill Them

We all have our lists. We eye up this Eagles roster and see that, clearly, there is more work to be done. There are holes to fill. There are moves to make. With what is left of free agency -- still some quality and starter-level players, but mostly depth players are there -- the focus will soon move to the trade market and the draft.

And that is where the Eagles will make the brunt of their roster additions. They laid out the groundwork over the weekend -- go get their No. 1 target, offensive lineman Stacy Andrews, understand that several key players would leave in free agency, try to trade Lito Sheppard and then anticipate the rest of the market.

If the Eagles wanted to go out and sign four players right now, they could do that. They aren't doing that. So what in the world are they doing? They obviously have a plan, and they are doing a lot of things behind the scenes to execute that plan. All of that stuff is private.

Here, I have my own list of needs and some possible scenarios for the Eagles to consider as they look to fill those needs ...

**OFFENSIVE LEFT TACKLE

**

Tra Thomas has been the starter since 1998, but he is now an unrestricted free agent. He can sign with any team, and there have been no reports of him visiting another city or of Thomas and the Eagles closing in on any kind of deal. What gives?

Maybe the Eagles feel they have a solution in house. They know that Todd Herremans has played the position before, as a rookie when he did a good job down the stretch before suffering an injury that ended his season. Maybe they think that Shawn Andrews is the man to fill the position. It was interesting to hear Andrews say on Saturday that he felt more natural playing the left side of the line, rather than the right side of the line where he has been a dominating guard.

There are a handful of young linemen who are going to be given a chance to step up, including Nick Cole, Max Jean-Gilles, Mike McGlynn and Mike Gibson, along with King Dunlap, and probably Winston Justice. They aren't necessarily the solution, but they are in the mix to earn some reps in the summer.

Maybe the Eagles are expecting Thomas to come back after he tests the market. That is a risky option, one the Eagles are not historically prone to take.

Perhaps, in the end, the Eagles think the best solution is to address the position in the draft. It is expected that five or six left tackles will go in April's first round.

The point is, the Eagles have options here. They secured Stacy Andrews, the kind of physical, dominating right tackle they wanted to add. The rest of the pieces will fall into place.

**RUNNING BACK

**

The Eagles need to add a back who can provide the all-around skills that this offense demands, and they could use a player who is a durable, between-the-tackles runner. From this perspective, the Eagles can't look and settle for a player who can carry the ball 6 or 7 times a game. They need someone they can turn to in the middle of a game, at any point in a series of plays and in the course of a season to be a go-to back should Westbrook suffer an injury that sidelines him for an extended period of time.

Anybody out there who fills that description? The leading candidate in free agency was Derrick Ward, who had an outstanding season for the Giants in 2008. Ward signed a deal with Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Other candidates? NFL veterans like Kevin Jones and Ahman Green are out there, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of a market for players like that.

The Eagles have Lorenzo Booker, who is looking to rebound from a first Eagles season of relative inactivity, and Kyle Eckel, who could get looks at either halfback or fullback in the coming months.

Then there is the draft. Again, it is said to be a strong group, headlined by Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells and Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, and supplemented by several backs expected to be taken at some point between late in the first round and early in the third round.

The Eagles are considering all of the possibilities. Again, they have looked down the road here and they understand the big picture. They want to fortify the position. They want to improve their depth. By allowing Correll Buckhalter reach free agency, they knew a hole was created. The task is to fill the hole, and then some.

**TIGHT END

**

With L.J. Smith expected to leave in free agency -- he has not done so yet -- the Eagles need a second tight end to complement Brent Celek. They may also bring in someone to challenge Matt Schobel for the third tight end spot. Celek came on big time in the post-season and earned his starting job. He has been working hard, well in advance of the team's off-season conditioning program, and is primed to take his game to another level in 2009.

To that end, though, the Eagles need to add some punch and power to the position, too. They passed on trading for Kellen Winslow, who fetched a second- and fifth-round draft pick from the Browns in a deal that landed Winslow in Tampa Bay. And there isn't much out there in free agency. Fans are clamoring for the Eagles to go and approach Kansas City with a can't-turn-it-down offer for Tony Gonzalez, but the Chiefs already turned down a wave of offers during the season for the Pro Bowl tight end. You never know, though. Maybe the new regime in Kansas City will have a change of heart.

Anyway, the Eagles could be waiting until the draft to address the position. The top-rated tight end in the draft is Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew, who could be a good fit here. Will he be on the board at 21 when the Eagles have their first pick, though? That has to be part of the calculation at this position.

There are other tight ends who are athletic, good pass-catching prospects in the draft. The Eagles could lean in that direction, or they could work the trade route or they could wait to see what happens in the post-draft period and add a more one-dimensional (blocking) tight end becomes free.

It is Celek's job as the starter. The Eagles need a strong No. 2 who can be a starter if needed.

**SAFETY

**

This is a position thinned by the departures in free agency of first Sean Considine and then Brian Dawkins. The Eagles have Quintin Mikell stationed at strong safety, and he is a player on the verge of Pro Bowl recognition. Second-year man Quintin Demps is in line to start at free safety, and the Eagles are high on his big-picture ability.

They also have Byron Parker, signed from the CFL, but there is no way to count on Parker, who has never done it at this level of football.

So the Eagles will add a safety. They will probably add two or three, in fact. And that incoming group could come from a combination of free agency, where there are a handful of veterans who have starting experience who are still on the streets. The draft is said to contain a few safeties who are considered borderline first-day draft picks, and the Eagles will likely be active looking there.

They need to have someone come in and compete with Demps and provide insurance there, and they need both safeties to help on special teams. The Eagles like to carry four safeties on the active roster.

**CORNERBACK

**

The Eagles have Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Joselio Hanson, a strong threesome that played very well last year. It would not be a shock to see the team add a cornerback, either in free agency or in the draft, just to make this a sturdy-as-can-be position.

The free-agent market is loaded with veterans who, at this point, still think they are getting a big payday on the market. Don't expect the Eagles to sign one of those players, because history shows that this is the time when big contracts turn into big mistakes in free agency. Instead, the Eagles could add somebody down the line, or use a draft pick on a prospect from what is regarded as a strong group of cornerbacks.

They are excited to see second-year man Jack Ikegwuonu, who missed all of last season recovering from his pre-draft knee injury. The book on Ikegwuonu is that he was regarded as a first-round talent prior to his injury. He has talent, but there is much more to playing the game at this level than simply having great athletic ability.

With 11 draft picks, it would make sense if the Eagles use one here. Competition at this position is a good thing.

WIDE RECEIVER

If the Eagles have a chance to land an upgrade to an already-good group of wide receivers, they will do so. There just isn't that "No. 1" receiver on the market. The team showed no interest in T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who took a mini-tour in the first few days of free agency. Ditto the lack of interest in a veteran like Marvin Harrison, who remains free to sign.

Unless the Eagles swing a trade for an established veteran, the only way they will upgrade wide receiver is through the draft. There are some tall, fast and very talented receivers expected to go in the first couple of rounds of April's draft.

**OTHER NEEDS

**

The return game will need to be addressed should the Eagles have Demps starting at free safety and DeSean Jackson even more heavily integrated into the offense. So the Eagles will keep an eye on this.

Losing Considine means the Eagles have to find some help in the coverage game on special teams, an area likely to be addressed in the draft.

And the Eagles will always be on the lookout for depth on their offensive and defensive lines, particularly along the interior of the lines. Maybe a veteran they like is someone they will target in the weeks to come, or maybe a mid-round draft pick to find a good guard or center, or a role-playing defensive tackle, is the ticket to fill those needs.

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