The fun all starts on Friday. Teams will be making moves. We'll see free agent signings and trades. Finally, we'll get some action. I don't know how active the Eagles will be early on. As I said last time out, there aren't a lot of great targets for the Eagles. I know some of you want Albert Haynesworth. I think the situation is worth exploring, but I think a team desperate for a defensive tackle will overpay for him. We have a solid pair of tackles. Go get Haynesworth if the price is right, but don't get into some crazy bidding war for him.
The other name that is of most interest to Eagles fans is T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals wide receiver is a very good possession receiver with outstanding production in the last several years. I think a team that desperately needs a starting receiver will overpay for him. My biggest problem with Houshmandzadeh is that he's not the playmaker most fans think he is. The Bengals don't throw much to their backs or tight ends. They feed the ball to their receivers. That pumps up his statistics, but doesn't make him a special player. Is he good? Yes. Is he worth paying eight millions dollars a year and putting Kevin Curtis on the bench? Not in my opinion. I do understand many of you feel different. Heck, the Eagles might feel different. We'll see on Friday.
One thing to keep in mind as we head into the off-season is that the Eagles are a good team. The defense was top five and the offense top ten. The team made it to the NFC Championship Game. You don't need a lot of players added to this team. Some of the key moves will be retaining our own guys. Re-signing Joselio Hanson was an excellent start. He gives the Eagles three good cornerbacks, a must in today's NFL.
There are three key Eagles still unsigned. Left tackle Tra Thomas is a player the Eagles want to bring back. He's getting older, but is still a good pass protector. Safety Brian Dawkins is a player the Eagles expect to bring back. I have to assume the deal is being worked on this week. Correll Buckhalter is a guy that I'd really like to see return. He is a top-flight backup runner. He'd like to see if there are any starting jobs available to him. As much as I like Buckhalter, I don't see any team making him their primary running back. Bring back those three players and you eliminate your biggest roster holes. At that point you focus on improving the roster.
The offensive line is an area where there is going to be some movement. The Eagles may have the key pieces already in place. Assuming Thomas returns at left tackle, you can now move some guys around. I would slide Todd Herremans out to right tackle. He was brought here originally as a tackle. I think he's got the potential to be good out there. That opens a hole at left guard. I think Mike McGlynn gets that spot. He didn't get on the field very much in 2008, but did look good in the preseason. If the Eagles aren't comfortable with him at this point, they can go add a free agent. I tend to think the Eagles will give him a chance to start.
Jamaal Jackson stays in place at center. Right guard gets interesting. Shawn Andrews is still a mystery. We can't count on him for 2009. He's also too valuable to just write off. I think having Nick Cole projected there initially is the smart play. Hopefully Andrews returns and that makes Cole the top interior backup. Cole proved to be at least an adequate starter down the stretch and in the postseason. Getting Andrews back would be great. He is the Eagles' best offensive lineman.
There are a couple of interesting players in free agency who could be targets. Each guy is talented, but each has issues. Let's start with Daniel Loper. He played for the Titans the last four years. He has good size and is a talented blocker. The problem is that he hasn't started a regular season game in his career. He has one playoff start and several preseason starts. Loper has been stuck behind a pair of talented, durable tackles. The Eagles could bring in Loper to play right tackle or left guard. I watched some tape of Loper. He's very good at blocking on the second level. He uses his hands well. He doesn't have ideal feet for pass blocking, but is good enough for the right side. He's a better run blocker than pass blocker at this point.
Another guy of interest is Stacy Andrews of the Bengals. He is a big, talented blocker with a lot of potential. The problem with Andrews is that he tore his ACL and MCL late in the season. It is highly unlikely he'd be able to contribute before November. There's a good chance he could sit out the whole 2009 season trying to get healthy. Why would the Eagles be interested in him? First, he is Shawn's brother. That might help with Shawn's situation. Second, Stacy Andrews will come at a reasonable price because he is damaged goods right now. You basically pay him to get well in 2009 and then to become a starter in 2010. Maybe the Eagles think Andrews could play this year. They signed linebacker Shawn Barber prior to the 2002 season when he was coming off an ACL injury. He played like a star that year. Andrews has experience at guard and tackle. The Eagles could start him at either place when they see how healthy he is after the injury.
Tight end is an interesting position. Brent Celek is in place to be the starter as of now. Because he's so young the team may try to add a veteran to come in right away and challenge him for the starting job. There aren't great choices in free agency. The Eagles could pursue a trade for Tony Gonzales of the Chiefs. They could also find out if the Titans are willing to deal Bo Scaife. Was he franchised to keep or to be dealt?
There is a very deep draft class to choose from. My personal favorite is Jared Cook of South Carolina. He's 6-5 and 246 pounds. He has great hands. He ran a great time in the 40 at the Combine and he's a better blocker than people think. I'd also be curious to see if the Eagles want Brandon Pettigrew. He is 6-5 and 263 pounds. He's not a blazer, but Pettigrew is the best blocking tight end in the group. He also has very good hands. He would improve both the running game and the passing attack. Pettigrew could be very tempting at No. 21 in the draft, if he lasts that long. Don't be surprised to see the Eagles add a veteran blocking tight end. Somebody like Will Heller or Billy Bajema would be a good fit as the No. 3 tight end. We do need to add a pair of quality players to the tight end position this offseason. No matter what the Eagles do, they will aggressively address tight end. There are multiple options so I feel good about this situation even though we don't know what move they'll make.
Running back is a whole other story. I cannot figure out what I want the Eagles to do or what I think they will do. Brian Westbrook is still a very gifted running back. You want to bring in someone who is capable of starting, but also can be a backup while Westbrook is still the main runner. That is a tough balancing act. Ideally, Buckhalter returns. He is good enough to start a couple of times a year and is also effective off the bench. If he leaves, the team could add someone like Kevin Jones or Maurice Morris. I expect the Eagles to add a running back somewhat early in the draft. I'm not sure the Eagles would take a runner in the first, but it would be very tempting if Knowshon Moreno was available. If they pass on the first-round backs they could take a solid back like Andre Brown. They could go for an athletic pass catcher like Mike Goodson. They could also go for a big back like Rashad Jennings. He's 6-1 and 234 pounds. That would be an interesting complement to Westbrook.
Andy Reid knows the running game must be better. That means getting better on the line, at tight end and running back. He will find a pair of quality players to add to the running back mix. Both could be rookies, but probably one will be a veteran and the other a rookie. Fullback will also be addressed. As I've mentioned before, I think Dan Klecko may be the best option with a full year to train at the position. He will be challenged by Kyle Eckel and probably a rookie. I don't see any veterans that seem like great options. If Leonard Weaver was a better blocker, he would be the guy to go after. Unfortunately, blocking is not his strength. Quinn Johnson is my top fullback prospect in the draft. Tony Fiametta and Marcus Mailei are also quality prospects.
That brings us to wide receiver. I know a lot of you want the Eagles to add a star receiver. That would be great, but I don't know of any that caliber will be available. Anquan Boldin could easily stay in Arizona. The player I covet is a draft prospect, Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina. Nicks reminds me a great deal of Boldin. Nicks is 6-1 and 212 pounds. He has long arms and huge hands. He can make some really tough catches. He isn't a blazer, but he is a tough, physical receiver. He's got excellent run-after-catch ability. Nicks would be a great pick. He and DeSean Jackson would complement each other very well in the future. Nicks could be worked into the lineup initially. He doesn't have to come here and start. If something happens to Kevin Curtis, I do think Nicks is good enough to step up and contribute as a rookie. Another rookie who could be of interest is Brian Robiskie of Ohio State. He had the best Combine performance of any receiver. Robiskie is a polished player with great hands that should be NFL ready from the start.
I haven't talked much about the defense. I really like the group the Eagles have put together over the last few years. I'm not looking to replace any starters. I'd like a No. 4 defensive tackle to add to the mix. I'd spend a mid-to-late pick on that spot. Terrence Knighton of Temple and Khalif Mitchell of East Carolina interest me.
I think the Eagles need to add a backup linebacker. Omar Gaither and Tank Daniels both have experience on the weak side. I think a backup strongside player is the way to go. Jason Williams of Western Illinois or Victor Butler of Oregon State would be late round targets to consider.
The secondary will need at least one body. I expect Sean Considine to leave in free agency. That opens up a safety spot. Byron Parker was signed away from the CFL to come in and fight for a job. I fully expect the Eagles to add a player in the draft as well. The question at this point is whether they feel Quintin Demps is the strong safety of the future or free safety. He was drafted more as a free safety. William Moore had a good Combine and could be of interest. Otis Wiley has good ball skills and some return ability.
Cornerback is a spot where the Eagles might add a player. If they feel Jack Ikegwuonu is going to be all the way back, then the team waits until late to add one. The Eagles could also pick a player if it is someone they like a lot. The recent trend has been to go after ballhawks. Alphonso Smith is the top corner in this regard. He's a first-round player. That probably makes him a longshot. A guy I like is Joe Burnett of Central Florida. He had 16 career interceptions and has good ability as a punt returner and kickoff returner. If he falls to the fifth round, the Eagles would be smart to take a flier on him.
I wish I could tell you to expect a lot of big, exciting moves starting early on Friday. I just don't think that will be the case this year. I think the Eagles will add some role players in free agency and then focus on the draft. The problem isn't the Eagles being reluctant to go get free agents. This is just shaping up to be a very weak class. The best players appear to be on the defensive side of the ball. That's where the Eagles are strongest and need the least help.
I do hope the team explores some trade possibilities. The Eagles have some tradable commodities. The team also has quite a few draft picks. They can use them to make a deal should the right veteran come available.
Be patient. I'm saying that as much to myself as to you. I'll be checking updates every five minutes on Friday waiting for some word of an Eagles transaction. Just remember that the Cardinals and Steelers were relatively quiet last year in free agency and made it to the Super Bowl. The Raiders made big move after big move. They were awful and have now cut some of the big additions they made last year. Someone else can make the most moves or the splashiest moves. Let's hope the Eagles make the right moves.