Free agency is still in the first week and already we know the Eagles are going to have a different look in 2009. Gone are Brian Dawkins, Lito Sheppard, Sean Considine and Correll Buckhalter. Tra Thomas and L.J. Smith are in negotiations with other teams. The Eagles have added Stacy Andrews and defensive back Shawn Springs visited. That's a lot of action, although most of it involves guys moving on.
The biggest story is the departure of Brian Dawkins. He's been the starting free safety since early in the 1996 season. Do you remember who started that year with the job? I'll give you some time to mull that one over.
I absolutely hated to see Dawkins leave. I wanted Dawkins and the Eagles to find some middle ground and come to terms. The problem is that Dawkins was trying to get as much money as he could from his final deal. The Eagles had a value placed on him and it wasn't as much as what the Broncos offered. I understand both sides. Dawkins is looking out for his family. The Eagles love him, but don't feel like they can just give him what he wants. The difference in the deals wasn't thousands of dollars. It was millions of dollars. Business is business. You can't give away millions, especially in today's turbulent economic times.
Back in 1996, Dawkins was a backup to Eric Zomalt. Bonus points if you remembered that. Dawkins was a rookie. He had been taken at the bottom of the second round. It wasn't as if he was some elite college prospect that was expected to develop into a star. He got on the field and immediately showed he was ready for the NFL. The arrival of Jim Johnson in 1999 pushed Dawkins from a good young player to an elite playmaker. Johnson realized he had a special player and used him very creatively. Dawkins thrived in his time under Johnson and went to seven Pro Bowls in his time as an Eagle. His next stop after Denver should be Canton.
One thing I think people have to realize is that the Eagles knew Dawkins was on the way out, whether it was now or in a year. They drafted Quintin Demps last year so that they could start developing a player behind Dawkins. His departure was not a complete shock as some national media members have made it out to be. Demps showed enough progress last year for the team to be encouraged about his potential.
Demps has excellent speed. That will enable him to be a good centerfielder type of safety and cover a lot of ground. He has excellent ball skills. Demps was an interception machine in college. The big concern I had with him was his tackling ability. Demps got better and better as the season progressed. I'm not too concerned with his tackling at this time.
The visit from Shawn Springs is interesting. He's played cornerback for almost his entire career, but has logged a bit of time at safety. It is possible that the Eagles are bringing him in with the idea of having him battle it out with Demps for the free safety job. You always want competition, especially at spots where you have young guys with no starting experience. Those players need to be challenged to bring out the best in them.
Springs has good size at 6-0 and 207 pounds. He can hit and tackle. He's got good man-coverage skills. He is starting to show some age, but that is OK unless you're bringing him in here to be a starting cornerback. I don't think the Eagles are doing that. He's here to compete for the safety job or to become the dime corner. While that is certainly possible, it just doesn't seem likely.
Let's now focus on the player who we know the Eagles added, Stacy Andrews. I watched some tape on Andrews to get a good feel for him. He's a very interesting guy. Andrews is 27 years old, but his best football is still ahead of him. You can't always say that. He didn't play football in high school. He only started a handful of games in his first three years with the Bengals. Andrews took over at right tackle in 2007 and played well. He started 29 games in the last two seasons. He is just now getting ready to hit his stride.
Andrews is big at 6-7 and 342 pounds. He carries it well. This isn't some giant tubby guy. He's athletic for a big man. He was actually a basketball and track guy in high school and primarily a track guy in college. Andrews has pretty good feet. He needs to work on his kick-slide technique for pass blocking. He has a tendency to hop as he retreats. I'm sure Juan Castillo will make that a focal point this spring and summer.
Andrews' run blocking is inconsistent. There are times when he fires off the ball and just mashes a linebacker. You get very excited seeing that. Other times he'll come off the ball and engage a defensive lineman, but won't get the kind of push you want. Andrews knows how to handle guys smaller than him. He's got to get better at blocking big guys. That requires sinking your hips, locking onto the defender with your hands and being tenacious about moving the guy. The more right tackle he plays the better I think Andrews will get at this.
The one area where Andrews will be a big drop off from Jon Runyan is in attitude. Andrews has the basketball and track background. He needs to play with a bit more edge. As the great Josey Wales once said, ""You've got to get mean. Plum mad dog mean."" Runyan has a nasty streak in his playing style. He's mean and aggressive. Hopefully Andrews will develop more of that. I don't expect him to ever be Runyan, but I would like to see him become more of a bully out there.
The timetable for getting Andrews on the field is a mystery. He and his agent have been pushing the notion that Andrews will be on the field this summer. I tend to be skeptical of that. He tore his ACL. This isn't like a bad wrist where you can slap a cast on it and go play. Tearing an ACL is serious business. The one hope is that since Andrews is an offensive lineman he'll be able to come back quicker. Guys who do a lot of running and cutting have a harder time returning to an effective playing level. I hope Andrews is on the field from the beginning, but I get the feeling that the Eagles will be doing some shuffling on the line during the first half of the season.
The big question up front right now is who will play left tackle. Tra Thomas sounds like a sure bet to leave. The first thought with Andrews signing is to kick out left guard Todd Herremans. There is another possibility, Shawn Andrews. He seems to be re-energized by the signing of his brother. Shawn Andrews mentioned the possibility of playing left tackle on Eagles Live! after his brother signed. He said he's actually more comfortable on that side than the right side. Andy Reid talked in the past about Shawn Andrews possibly moving to left tackle.
I think Andrews could play left tackle. He does have good feet. He isn't as big as Thomas or Herremans, but Andrews uses his hands well and just knows how to block guys. I'm not sure that Reid or Castillo has made up their mind on exactly what to do. They have options.
Losing Correll Buckhalter to the Broncos is good and bad. I hate to see him go, but I'm happy that Buckhalter will have his chance to get plenty of touches. I'd love to see him run for 1,000 yards or have some kind of terrific year. He was a good backup here for a long time. The good news about his departure is that the Eagles now have to aggressively address the backup running back position. The big names are Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, LeSean McCoy and Donald Brown. Any or all of those guys could go in the first round. Moreno is the best player. One name to keep in mind after that group is Rashad Jennings of Liberty. I could easily see Reid liking Jennings.
I'm not sure if the Eagles will add a veteran running back. They haven't shown any interest in the guys on the market this far. I'm not hearing anything about the Eagles going after a runner. That goes back to enforcing the notion that the team will be aggressive in the draft about landing a good back.
I don't know how many free agent moves the Eagles have left. I can see them going after a couple of backups, but I would imagine most of the big shopping is done. I do hope that tight end.is one area where the team definitely adds a veteran player. We need to add a pair of tight ends to the roster. One will come in the draft. The other can also come in the draft, but I would prefer a veteran. This could be a trade or a free agent signing.
I know a lot of fans are nervous because the Eagles have lost several guys without making a bunch of counter moves. Do not panic (too late for that?). The Eagles have a pretty stable starting lineup. Other teams are running around filling holes right now. It would have been nice to upgrade some spots, but the right players simply didn't make it to free agency. There is still plenty of time to work on trades. The draft is going to be critical for finding some additional talent.
The Eagles need to add a safety in the draft. I think Demps is the free safety of the future. Quintin Mikell is entrenched at strong safety, but he's older and we do need to add a rookie to the mix. Here are some guys of interest:
- Louis Delmas –The best hitter of the draft. Delmas is a very physical tackler. He isn't big, but plays like it. He's got OK athletic ability. While a punishing hitter, Delmas can make coverage plays as well.
- Patrick Chung – Helped himself out quite a bit at the Senior Bowl. Chung showed good man coverage skills. He is a good hitter and tackler. Struggles at times in off coverage, but has a lot of talent to work with.
- Michael Hamlin – Another good combo safety. Hamlin is comfortable coming up into the box to play the run, while also effective when dropping back into coverage. He has excellent size.
- William Moore – Coming off a disappointing season, but still a very talented player. Moore had a great junior year. He looked like a special player. Injuries slowed him in 2008 and he never hit his stride. Struggled at the Senior Bowl, but did start to look like his old self at the Combine.
- Otis Wiley – He's somewhat under the radar at this point. Wiley has played both free and strong safety. He has nine career interceptions. He can return punts. He's a solid tackler. Wiley is only a fourth- or fifth-round guy, but he is the kind of player I could see the Eagles liking as a backup or someone to develop into a future starter.
I post draft notes on almost a daily basis at ScoutsNotebook.com. We also try to post a new mock draft on a weekly basis.