When I was a kid my grandmother had a magnet on her refrigerator that read "Lord, give me patience. And I want it right now!"
I think that is the way most of us feel about the off-season. We understand that the team is shaped over a matter of months. Free agency and trades take place in March. Some of that spills into April. There is the draft. The team signs undrafted free agents. There are a few pro personnel moves made in June and July. Sometimes there will even be a trade or signing in August, as the organization sees the players perform in training camp and preseason games.
While we understand the process, we don't have the patience to handle it well. Not knowing is the hardest part. If Andy Reid and Howie Roseman would just tell us their plans we could stand the wait. It wouldn't be easy, but at least we would know what to expect. Now we have to sit around guessing, hoping and then yelling when things don't go the way we want.
Here we sit on March 15th, just 10 days into the off-season. There were no splashy moves, but don't think that we're done. Last year, the Eagles and Bills got together at the Scouting Combine to discuss a potential trade for offensive tackle Jason Peters. That deal was on and off for quite a while. Things heated up in mid-April and Peters was traded on April 17th. There is still plenty of time for the Eagles to pull off a big move or two, if things work out.
Since we last talked, the Eagles signed defensive back Marlin Jackson, receiver/returner Chad Hall and receiver Hank Baskett. They passed on signing veteran running back Justin Fargas and will reportedly host restricted free agent running back Mike Bell on Tuesday.
First, understand that no one thinks these are moves that will offer major impact in 2010. This isn't a case of the Eagles saying "Marlin Jackson will be the 2010 version of Darren Sharper." They don't think that Hall is Wes Welker, junior. The Eagles saw a chance to add players that they liked. It really is as simple as that. We still have holes to fill. Reid and Roseman know that. They are talking to teams about various deals and have been for a while. If (and that is the key word) the Eagles are able to make a big move, it may not happen tomorrow or even next week. Trading for established, high-quality players is tough. Teams are reluctant to part with those guys so the negotiations are not fast or easy.
Now, about the moves we did make. Jackson is here to compete for the starting free safety job. There is no question about his talent. We just need to find out how healthy he will be by the summer. Jackson has ended the last couple of seasons with a torn ACL, one in each knee. The Eagles understand that this is a player you can't count on because of that. He was not brought in to be "the answer." Jackson is just part of the puzzle, so to speak.
One of the reasons Jackson has good value for us is his versatility. He can play cornerback, safety or be the nickel back. Quintin Demps or Macho Harris could have a great off-season and jump back to the lead at free safety. Jackson could then challenge Joselio Hanson as the slot corner. If anything happens to Asante Samuel or Sheldon Brown, we can slide Jackson out wide.
All of this depends on his knees. Jackson has to show us a couple of things. He needs to show that he hasn't lost his athletic ability. Defensive backs must be able to run, cut and burst to the ball. Knee injuries can erode those skills. We saw that with Jack Ikegwuonu. Jackson also needs to show us he can be durable. If he needs to take time off to rest the knee during mini-camps or training camp that will be worrisome. The regular season is a grind. You need players who can handle that.
Hall is here to compete for a roster spot, but more realistically a practice squad spot. He has to adjust to a pro offense and to the speed of the NFL. Hall also spent the last couple of years away from football. That's a lot for a young guy to overcome. Hall played at Air Force so you know we're getting a high-character, hard-working player that will do everything in his power to make the team. Dave Spadaro wrote a great story on how Hall ended up an Eagle.
Hall reminds me a lot of Danny Amendola, a receiver/returner who was here last summer. Amendola ended up in St. Louis and played well for the Rams. He and Hall are both undersized players who lack top speed. What they have is excellent quickness, good hands and the ability to make tacklers miss. There is a place for guys like that in the NFL. Hall could be a good role player and returner. One thing is for sure. There will never be questions about his effort or intensity.
Baskett returns to Philadelphia to be a key backup for us. The trade of Reggie Brown meant that there was a need for a veteran receiver on the bench. We're set with starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. We have one of the top slot receivers in the league in Jason Avant. Baskett is a perfect fit for what we need. He can start if needed. He is also willing to do the dirty work. Baskett will play on special teams. He will block on run plays if asked.
I hated to see Fargas go unsigned, but remember that he was cut by the Raiders reportedly for failing a physical. He also visited Kansas City and Cleveland, but neither team offered him a deal. He came here and left without a deal. I find it hard to believe that Fargas is asking for huge dollars. There has to be another hang-up. The only issue that makes sense is an injury concern.
We still need a good backup running back. There are some players left on the market. I also like the group of running backs available in the middle rounds of the draft. This is one spot where the Eagles can afford to be picky. I know some people wanted LaDainian Tomlinson, but he wasn't a player that interested me very much. He wanted to go somewhere that he could get some carries. That just wasn't going to happen here. Best to let him go elsewhere and find a role player who is a better fit.
What Ends Are Still Available?
One of the key questions of the off-season is what we should do at left defensive end. The big target in free agency was Julius Peppers, but he ended up in Chicago. We passed on the other highly regarded free agents. I have mentioned a few times the possibility of going after Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards, a restricted free agent. It is starting to feel like that isn't going to happen.
The Eagles could very well sign a veteran player to a short deal to take care of 2010. That would not solve the problem long term, but that's OK. No team addresses every issue in a given off-season.
One player that has been linked to the Eagles a couple of times is Derrick Burgess. I've watched some game tape of him and I still think Burgess can be a solid starter on the left side. Teaming up him and Juqua Parker would give us a good 1-2 punch opposite of Trent Cole.
This clearly isn't the ideal scenario. We'd all love to add a stud pass rusher. That guy just isn't available right now. Adding Burgess would help us to be able to go into the draft and focus more on talent than need. This is a very strong draft class at many positions, but there are not many good pass-rushing defensive ends. There are several prospects who look more like linebackers for the 3-4.
If the right prospect drops, you grab him. You don't have to reach for a player based on need. We did that back in 2003 with Jerome McDougle. That didn't work out well at all.
We still have needs at other spots, but those positions have more depth. You can find a good cornerback in the first, second or third round. Heck, there might be a good corner sitting on the board even after that. The same is true for safety. There are a ton of defensive tackles to choose from. If we don't make a pro move at defensive end we better spend a first- or second-round pick on one. The position thins out in a hurry after that.