This is going to sound crazy to some of you, but I think the Eagles are in "win now" mode heading into 2008. Before you have me shipped off to a padded room let me explain my thinking.
I think we'd all agree that the Eagles front office keeps one eye on the future and one on the present. They are never going to sell out and stock up on aging veterans. That falls outside their philosophy. However, I do think they are approaching 2008 more aggressively than other years.
I know some of you will think that is insane for a couple of key reasons. First, the team did not go acquire a star receiver in the offseason. Second, the team traded back in the draft rather than using the 19th pick. Those moves do not indicate a team with a sense of urgency. I understand that side of the argument.
Let's first look at why the front office would do things differently. The team has missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. Andy Reid has a terrific track record in Philadelphia, but he's not interested in the past. He wants to get back to the top of the NFC East and into the postseason. Also factor in that Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook aren't getting any younger. These are the kind of special players that you don't find with regularity. I think you can see where Reid, Joe Banner and Tom Heckert would alter their thinking for 2008. Again, I'm not talking about a drastic change in tactics. The team didn't load up with a bunch of free agents. I'm talking about a more subtle change, but change nonetheless.
Look at some role players and you should see a difference. We've been trying to find a punt returner for several years now. Reno Mahe, Dexter Wynn and Jeremy Bloom all were late picks or undrafted. The team hoped to develop one of them into a good return specialist. None of the guys panned out as hoped. So what did the Eagles do this offseason? They spent a second-round pick on a player considered to be the best punt returner in the draft. No more using a late pick and hoping the player works out.
You can see a similar situation with backup defensive tackle. The Eagles thought Sam Rayburn was the answer, but that situation fell apart. They spent a late pick on LaJuan Ramsey and hoped he would develop. They kept Jeremy Clark on the practice squad for a year and hoped he would develop. The team signed free agents Ian Scott and Montae Reagor, but neither worked out last year. Scott was cut. Reagor had a sack in the opener, then disappeared for the rest of the year. What did the Eagles do this year? They took Trevor Laws in the second round. According to Joe Banner, the team had a first-round grade on Laws. The team isn't looking at him as a backup so much as a third starter.
The Eagles aggressively filled two holes on the roster. No more taking chances on late-round guys or scooping up role players in free agency. They went and got very talented players to fill backup spots or act as role players. To me this is a definite sign that the organization is in more of a "win now" mode.
Look at the moves the Eagles made in free agency. The Eagles aggressively went and signed cornerback Asante Samuel on the first day of free agency. The team already had a good pair of starting corners and solid backups. They didn't go looking for a solid cornerback to add to the mix. They went and got the best one available. This gave the team the best trio of corners in the league.
Shortly after adding Samuel, the team signed defensive end Chris Clemons to bolster the pass rush. Trent Cole has been healthy and productive the last two years. There was no pure pass rusher to take his place should anything happen to him. Clemons adds insurance in that regard. He's not on Cole's level, but is a good pass rusher and would be a big help if called upon to start. I think one other reason the team went after him was that final drive in the loss to the Bears. We simply couldn't get enough pressure and it basically cost us the game. Being able to bring a guy like Clemons off the bench could make a big difference in that kind of a situation. The Eagles didn't count on a late draft pick. They didn't go for a marginal free agent. They aggressively went for a player in his prime coming off a good season.
The addition of Lorenzo Booker is also interesting. He's a very similar player in terms of skills to Westbrook. Why go for a player like him and not some bigger, stronger running back who would be more of a complement? Reid will certainly find creative ways to use Booker and take advantage of his skills as a receiver. Booker may also end up being the kickoff returner. There is another reason for getting him. Like Samuel and Clemons, he provides the Eagles with an insurance policy. The offense has really bogged down the last few years in any game where Westbrook wasn't able to play or had to leave early. The team just didn't have anyone with his kind of big-play ability or versatility. That is no longer true with Booker on board.
Other moves also signal to a different approach to the season. Backup tight end has been an up and down position the last few years. The Eagles had a solid trio in place in L.J. Smith, Brent Celek and Matt Schobel. Rather than just stay put, the team added free agent Kris Wilson. Should anyone get hurt there will still be three players in place. Wilson also provides competition to Schobel and Celek. His presence doesn't guarantee they'll play better, but it does put pressure on them. The team wanted competition for the fullback spot. The original goal was to have Jason Davis and Dan Klecko fight for the job. Klecko showed in the mini-camps that he wasn't going to fit in at that spot. The team didn't hesitate to make a move. They shifted Klecko back to defensive tackle and traded for Luke Lawton.
These aren't the kind of over-the-top moves that some teams will make. As I said earlier, the Eagles have a philosophy of looking to the future as well as the present. They will adjust that philosophy somewhat, but won't break away from it. You can see this in the fact that they cut Takeo Spikes. The Eagles wanted to get their young linebackers on the field. There could be some growing pains, but the team feels the upside of the group is worth any risk.
The Eagles were more aggressive in the way they addressed problem areas and backed up key positions. The question now is how well the moves will work. The road to 6-10 is often paved with good intentions. History and simple math tell us that not all of the moves will work exactly as hoped. The key is to get more right than wrong. I think the Eagles made pretty smart moves. Each of the guys added this offseason has enough talent to handle the job expected of them. The players are new to the Eagles and some are new to the NFL, but they don't lack talent. We tried to fill these roles with developmental players in the past. That isn't the case in 2008. The guys in these spots are expected to play well immediately and help the team win this year. It is time to get back to winning.
A LITTLE OF THIS ...
I'm not too concerned about Lito Sheppard hiring Drew Rosenhaus to be his agent. No matter what you think of Rosenhaus, he's a pretty smart guy. I think he'll have to see that the only logical course of action is for Sheppard to play for the Eagles in 2008. If he has a great year teams will be more willing to deal for him and give him the kind of contract he's looking for next year. The only X-factor in this is if another team loses a corner this summer and lets Rosenhaus know they'd be interested in trading for Sheppard. Then things could get interesting.
Brian Westbrook hired a new agent and is seeking a new deal. Hopefully he and the Eagles can work something out. Obviously this is a situation that bears watching.
I posted my thoughts on the Brett Favre situation on my site, ScoutsNotebook.com. I side with Ted Thompson and the team. Favre has created a real mess. I hope it somehow works out. The most disturbing news in that situation was the rumor about him going to the Carolina Panthers. Since we have their first round pick in next year's draft, I want Favre to land elsewhere.