Last week, I put out my to-do list for the Eagles. The key items were trading Kevin Kolb, addressing cornerback, improving the defense and finding a backup quarterback. I think you have to give the Eagles an A for their work. Heck, maybe you give them an A .
The shocking move was signing cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. He was the prize target in all of free agency. I had resigned myself to thinking that he wasn't a realistic option for the Eagles. His price tag was going to be through the roof and he'd have enough suitors to get a huge deal. Teams actually turned out to be somewhat restrained. They didn't just throw huge sums of money at Asomugha. That allowed the Eagles to get into the mix for his services. As it turned out, Asomugha's first choice all along was to join the Eagles. He just had to see what kind of deals were going to be available.
Last year, the Eagles' biggest weakness was right cornerback. The addition of Asomugha changes that completely. It might now be the strongest position on defense. He is a lockdown corner that will have tremendous impact on the defense. Teams can no longer throw to that side with any confidence. The coaching staff can build coverages and blitzes around Asomugha and his ability to control one side of the field. The last Eagles cornerback with this kind of ability was Troy Vincent.
The Asomugha addition was a bonus move because earlier in the week the Eagles had traded Kolb for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Anyone who has seen DRC in action at Lehigh knows just how talented this young man is. He's tall and speedy. He can stay right on top of receivers. DRC has tremendous potential and now gives the Eagles another big, physical corner. Asante Samuel is still here and remains one of the premier ballhawks in the NFL.
Pass coverage is greatly improved, but the Eagles didn't stop there. They signed defensive end Jason Babin to come in and boost the pass rush. Babin racked up 12.5 sacks last year for the Titans. He thrived in Jim Washburn's wide-nine system. Now Babin returns to Philadelphia and will man the left end spot. Babin played here in 2009 and showed flashes of real ability. He wasn't an ideal fit for that system. The wide-nine is a whole other story. Babin is tailor-made for that. He's allowed to line up out wide and fly off the ball after the quarterback on every play. He's a speed rusher in a system built for speed rushers. As a bonus, Babin can help teach the Washburn system to the other linemen.
In today's NFL, pressure off the edge isn't enough. Guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady get the ball out so quickly that you must get pressure up the middle. The Eagles weren't sure how the defensive tackles would do at rushing the passer. That led to the signing of Cullen Jenkins, formerly of Green Bay. Jenkins has played in a 4-3 and 3-4 in his career. He's been an end and defensive tackle. The Eagles can use him at both spots, but will primarily have him at tackle. The goal is to have him get inside pressure. That's an area where the Eagles have been sorely lacking in the last couple of years. Trevor Laws did show some promise last year. He and Jenkins could form a nice tandem on passing downs.
Vince Young is now the backup quarterback. Think about that statement for a minute. Crazy, huh? Young at times in his NFL career has looked like a stud quarterback. He's also had some issues. His career got derailed in Tennessee due to some odd circumstances. Young says that is all behind him. Andy Reid is giving him a clean slate. Young has a tough situation since he'll have to learn a complex offense in a limited amount of time, but I'm sure the coaches will adjust things so that he can master some basic parts of the scheme. He's also physically gifted enough that he can make plays with natural ability until he gets up to speed. The other key thing about Young, as Reid pointed out, is that he's a winner. Young is 30-17 in the NFL as a starter. That's impressive.
The Eagles remain high on Mike Kafka, but he's awfully young for a team that expects to compete for a Super Bowl. Young is new to the team, but you feel like he's good enough that should he need to take over for Mike Vick for a few games, the Eagles could get by. Young signed a one-year contract. Kafka can be the backup in 2012 if he plays well and continues to show progress. There isn't direct pressure on him to play at a high level right away. Young's presence gives Kafka the chance to develop.
The Eagles added a pair of lesser known free agents in Johnnie Lee Higgins and Donald Lee. Higgins has a definite chance to win a roster spot. He has some success as a receiver in Oakland. Higgins has 57 career catches. He has the speed to be a vertical threat. In college (at UTEP), he was very effective on short throws over the middle. Higgins has good run-after-catch skills. He also is a good kick returner. He's handled both kickoffs and punts.
Higgins is here to fight with Chad Hall and Sinorice Moss for the fifth receiver spot. There are some other good young players in camp, but those are the three guys I think most likely to battle for a roster spot. Higgins has the most experience and production of the trio. He's also the biggest of them. Higgins isn't someone you project as a starting receiver, but he could be a good role player and kick returner.
Lee joins a deep group at tight end. Brent Celek and Clay Harbor are the main guys. Cornelius Ingram and John Nalbone have limited NFL experience and hope to win a roster or practice squad spot. Rookie Martell Webb is the biggest of the bunch. He's more of a blocker than receiver. Lee is a good pass catcher. He's got 198 career catches and started six games for the Packers last year. He's got plenty of starting experience, but also knows how to be a good backup. Lee is here to push Celek and Harbor, while also giving the team some insurance in case anyone gets hurt.
The Eagles have been active and aggressive in upgrading the roster. It has been very exciting to follow. I spent most of last week clicking between PhiladelphiaEagles.com, ProFootballTalk and Twitter. The updates were fast and furious. Rumors had players coming and going all over the place. Some were dead on the money, while others proved to be way off the mark. It was unlike any week I've ever seen in my time as an NFL fan.
While the week of action was a great deal of fun, free agency isn't the way to build a team. You don't want to get too old too fast. You also don't want to load up on "mercenary" types. Ask any Skins fan and they can tell you about plenty of great offseasons that resulted in nothing but misery. Luckily, the Eagles organization never loses sight of the big picture. The team did add some 30-year-old players. Some guys were brought in that might only be here for a year. The Eagles also acquired a pair of draft picks during the week. The Eagles are now absolutely stocked for the 2012 draft (and the draft class appears to be deep). The Eagles have cap room left and will look to sign some core players to long-term contracts.
Many fans wonder if the Eagles will add a veteran safety. I don't think they will. I hope they don't. I like the group of young players the Eagles have assembled. Nate Allen was a second-round pick. Jaiquawn Jarrett was also. Kurt Coleman showed good potential as a rookie. Colt Anderson was great on special teams. Marlin Jackson could be the veteran of the group if he can just stay healthy. Why add some "name" player to this group? The Eagles aggressively added Allen and Jarrett in the last couple of drafts. Let the young guys play.
The Eagles are smart. Adding veterans in and of itself means little. If you have young players capable of playing now, give them a shot. Find out what the young guys can do. Allen looked really good at times in 2010. I'm excited to see Jarrett and Coleman battle it out. I'm curious to see if Jackson can just stay healthy. He's still talented.
The Eagles get it. You must improve the talent on the team, but also must keep an eye to the future. The Eagles had a very strong roster to start with. They have added the best free agent group of any team. The Eagles also have a tremendous set of resources for the 2012 draft. This team is built for now as well as the future.
Read more of Tommy Lawlor's Fan-Demonium columns here.