When Andy Reid was hired back in 1999, he talked about trying to build a winning program. I had never heard an NFL coach use the word program before. They normally talk about "the team." I thought that was an interesting choice of words by Reid.
Colleges have football programs. Players are there for three, four or maybe five years. You can't build everything around a player because he just won't be there long enough. You build around the coaching staff and a core of players. The core will always change as one senior class leaves and the new freshmen class hits the campus.
Reid wanted to bring this philosophy to the NFL. You build up a program. Because of age, injuries and free agency there will always be players who don't return the next season. The goal is to have a good enough core of players that you can maintain success when you lose someone, even a good player.
Reid has built the Eagles into a winning program. Think of all the coaches and players that have come through the NovaCare Complex in the last decade. Reid has been here so long that we are actually replacing the replacements to one-time stars. Who was going to follow Duce Staley? Brian Westbrook, that's who. Now we're asking who will replace Westbrook. LeSean McCoy, that's who. Remember when we wondered what life would be like without Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent? We replaced them with Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. Sheppard has been gone a while and Brown isn't getting any younger. The faces change, but the Eagles continue to win games.
The first order of business should always be to focus on keeping your own key players. The Eagles did just that by re-signing Leonard Weaver to a three-year deal and by keeping Jason Avant in place with a five-year deal. Both players were crucial cogs in an offense that set the franchise records for points scored in 2009.
The point of all this is to remind you to keep things in perspective when the Eagles don't make a major move in the first few days of free agency. Relax, people. We all wanted Julius Peppers to come here. That didn't work out. Do we now fold up the tents and go home? Heck no. You move on to Plan B. Don't go chasing your tail. The fact that Peppers didn't work should not mean the team goes after the next available defensive end. The Eagles are believers that free agency is a tool to be used carefully. Go after players that can truly make you better. Peppers is an elite talent. He is the kind of free agent you want to target.
The next two ends below him were Aaron Kampman and Kyle Vanden Bosch. The Eagles had no interest in them. Both players were above the age of 30. Both players have seen their production decline the last couple of years. Both players have also dealt with injuries in the last couple of years. Kampman tore his ACL late in the year and is in the middle of rehabbing. To the Eagles, spending big money on these players just doesn't make sense. Kampman signed with the Jaguars, who had an NFL-low 14 sacks last year and are desperate for defensive line help. Vanden Bosch signed with the Lions, who allowed an amazing 494 points last year. They need all the help they can get on that side of the ball.
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The Eagles still need to address defensive end. We all know that. The point is to go find good players who will give us a true upgrade. Juqua Parker is the incumbent starter for us at left end and he had eight sacks for us last year. Kampman and Vanden Bosch combined for 6.5. If those guys were younger or healthy, the Eagles might have been interested. Instead, the feeling is that the risk wasn't worth the potential reward. Time will tell us if this was the right thinking with those players.
The Eagles aren't ignoring the holes on the team. The problem is that there just isn't a strong crop of unrestricted free agents this year because of the CBA situation. The majority of top targets are restricted free agents and that means that all 32 teams are going to need to be creative. That also means the deals will be complicated and that a lot of patience is going to be required, from teams, the media and fans. This is a new situation for the entire league.
You can be sure that general manager Howie Roseman and Reid will be on the phone talking to other teams about what players might be available via trade. There are a couple of players who might be of interest. I could easily see the Eagles making a run at Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards. Minnesota put a first-round tender on him so we'd have to give up a first round pick if signed him away. We could also make them a trade offer. I don't know if the Vikings would settle for anything less. They do have a lot of money invested in the defensive line and might be open to dealing him.
Edwards plays left end. He is 6-5 and 270 pounds, the ideal size for that spot. He's big enough to hold the point on run plays, but also agile and athletic enough to be a good pass rusher. Edwards had 8.5 sacks in 2009 and is an ascending player. He's only 25 years old. He followed up a good season with a very good showing in the postseason. In a normal off-season, he would be an unrestricted free agent and teams would be all over him.
Washington cornerback Carlos Rogers could possibly be of interest. He was given a first-round tender, but has been public with his desire to play for another team. Rogers is a big, fast and talented cover corner. He is 6-0 and 190 pounds. He has good man cover skills. Rogers got beat deep a couple of times and was benched this past season. That led to a fallout with the coaching staff and is part of the reason he wants out. A new regime is in place, but Rogers still wants to be dealt. If you could acquire him for a third-round pick, that might be a real tempting deal. Rogers has some issues, but also has size and talent - a tough combination to find at cornerback. He might be worth the risk if the price was right.
There are a pair of linebackers the Eagles could check out. Derrick Johnson and Rocky McIntosh both starred in 4-3 schemes, but aren't ideal for the 3-4. Johnson went from starter to nickel linebacker in 2009 for Kansas City. He made some plays, but I don't know that they are committed to keeping him around as a role player. McIntosh has been a solid player for Washington. Now, they are reportedly switching to the 3-4. McIntosh lacks the ideal size for that scheme and could be on the market. Either guy could come in and take over the weakside linebacker spot opened by the release of Will Witherspoon. Again, the key question with each situation is what kind of compensation the other team would want. The Eagles won't give up high picks for either player, but might be willing to trade a current player or a mid-round pick.
I just threw out several names, but don't count on anything happening with these players. It takes two to tango and teams may be reluctant to deal these players. None of them is worth a king's ransom, financially or in trade value. I'm really curious to see how many trades go down this off-season.
As for unrestricted free agents, don't expect much action. The Eagles have been unofficially linked to running back Mike Bell, receiver Hank Baskett and defensive back Marlin Jackson. Bell is a good goal-line runner and would be a nice complement to McCoy in the backfield. Baskett is obviously a guy we know and like. He would be a good role player. Jackson is the mystery man. He has started at every spot in the Colts secondary. Jackson is a talented player with good size. His primary issue is durability. He's dealt with injuries in each of the last two seasons. I'm not sure if the Eagles would prefer him at corner or safety.
I still have interest in Rams safety O.J. Atogwe. He is a restricted free agent, but wouldn't require draft pick compensation. I recently watched tape of Atogwe and was very impressed with what I saw. He will turn 29 this summer, which is older than the Eagles prefer in a free agent target. Atogwe came into the league late. He's only played five years. Maybe that would change their thinking.
One thing to keep in mind when you are tracking free agency rumors is that agents love to use the Eagles' name in the press. Last year, we were linked to defensive end Antonio Smith quite a bit, but that wasn't true. Kampman's agent tried to use the Eagles name for bargaining leverage this weekend. It wasn't a true story, but it did help him to get a good deal for his client from the Jaguars. Don't believe everything you read.
Losing out on Peppers was a rough start, but it still doesn't change the main goal. The Eagles want to improve the overall talent level of the team. That is still possible. Peppers just would have made things a lot simpler. Roseman and Reid now have to get creative. Luckily, we have plenty of picks and some tradable resources. There will be some moves made. We won't be standing pat. Let's just hope the front office is still able to pull off an impact move this off-season. I know this is a huge cliché, but remember that the off-season is a marathon and not a sprint.