We all want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. The question is how to go about that. People love to speculate about formulas for what it takes to win. Let's look at the last four years. Things change so often in the NFL these days that you don't want to go back much further than that.
2007: New York Giants
2008: Pittsburgh Steelers
2009: New Orleans Saints
2010: Green Bay Packers
Two teams ran the 4-3 defense and two ran the 3-4. The last two teams had explosive offenses. The previous two teams were built more on defense. Two of the teams were wild card entrants into the playoffs. Only the Saints were a team that looked special all year long. These are just simple descriptions, but you can see that there is no definitive pattern that must be followed.
So how does an organization go about building a Super Bowl team? There is no magic formula. I wish there was. Think back to 2004, when the Eagles last went to the big game. Everyone remembers the huge additions of Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens. People tend to forget some other factors. Donovan McNabb stayed healthy all year long and had the best year of his career. Brian Westbrook thrived in his first year as the feature back. Jeremiah Trotter returned to the team and took over the starting role about mid-season. He was terrific from then on out. Three of four starters in the secondary went to the Pro Bowl. Think about the backup players. Ike Reese had the best season of his career. Backup defensive tackle Sam Rayburn (remember him?) had six sacks. Six. The top four tackles this past season combined for eight.
The point in all of this is that you need to improve the team with outsiders (draft/trade/free agency), but you also need the guys already on the roster to step up and have big seasons. More than a few guys peaked in 2004. That isn't all due to Kearse and Owens. One thing that helped was having a lot of young, emerging players in place.
Green Bay benefited greatly from that this year. Linebacker Desmond Bishop, receiver Jordy Nelson, and defensive lineman B.J. Raji all had critical roles for the Packers. Each player had the best season of his young career. Young stars like Tramon Williams, Clay Matthews, and Josh Sitton took their game up a notch. All of this progress was aided by the fact that established stars like Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson continued to play like stars. Rookies also came through for Green Bay. Bryan Bulaga, Sam Shields and Frank Zombo started when called upon. They made some mistakes, but performed well enough for the team to win the Super Bowl.
The Eagles have a young core of players in place. Some of the players are starters, others just role players. While the youth made life frustrating at times during 2010, it should pay off in 2011 and beyond. This is a critical piece of the offseason puzzle - internal development. As much as we want to look around the league for players to target in trade or free agency, the biggest factor in making a Super Bowl push will be current Eagles developing and improving.
Would the 2010 Eagles have won the NFC East without guys like LeSean McCoy, Mike McGlynn, Trevor Laws, Antonio Dixon, Moise Fokou, Dimitri Patterson and King Dunlap all improving greatly from 2008 or 2009? No way. Now the question is whether those players can take another step forward. We need to see who can emerge from the group of rookies and unknown players like Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Keenan Clayton, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Trevard Lindley, Brandon Hughes, Riley Cooper, Clay Harbor and Jamar Chaney. Each guy has to find his niche and be good at that. For Chaney and Allen, that means becoming impact starters. For Cooper and Harbor, that means becoming better role players. Different players have different expectations.
We cannot count on only getting better from within. The Eagles do need help from the draft and through pro personnel moves. We all agree on certain areas as being unsettled. Right cornerback is a major hole. Right guard might be one. If Jamaal Jackson comes back (as he sounded very positive about in his recent Inside The Studio interview), McGlynn could shift over to right guard. That might be the best possible solution. McGlynn is probably best suited to guard and that move would keep some semblance of continuity since you're not adding an outsider to the mix. Depth would still be a concern.
I've written a few times already about my thoughts at left defensive end. I know many of you don't want to spend a high pick on a player for that spot. I understand the argument against it. There is a good case to be made both ways. Strong safety could be a spot to address. Quintin Mikell is a free agent. I'm sure the Eagles are interested in keeping him, but teams are so desperate for safety help that I can see another team making Mikell an offer he can't refuse. Coleman showed starting potential as a rookie, but the Eagles might think of him ideally as a number three safety and want to add a different player.
Right tackle is a position that many fans and media members want addressed. I think the Eagles will stick with Winston Justice. Dunlap did some good things in his starts in 2010. Plus, Austin Howard is in place as a possible challenger. I'm just not sure adding Gabe Carimi, Derrick Sherrod or whatever other rookie is the flavor of the moment makes a lot of sense. No one would argue that Justice is a 100 percent lock to keep his job, but a rookie wouldn't necessarily help the situation. I'd rather see how Justice worked out with Howard Mudd as his new coach. Also, see what Mudd can do with Howard and Dunlap. Would you be comfortable with a rookie protecting Mike Vick's blind side? The coaches would have to build game plans around that. They can do that with Howard and Dunlap, who are already here. The one caveat to changing my outlook on this situation is Mudd. If he thinks that there is a player in the draft or free agency that he could do great things with, go get that player.
Linebacker is a mystery. The pieces may already be in place, if the Eagles re-sign Stewart Bradley. I have to think if he signs a new deal it will be somewhat contingent on him remaining the middle linebacker. So if Bradley stays in the middle, Chaney moves to the weakside spot and Fokou is the SAM. I actually have no problems with that alignment. Should the Eagles and Bradley not work out a new deal, things get interesting. Chaney then moves to the middle and the weakside spot is open. The draft is weak in terms of 4-3 linebackers so this would really need to be a pro personnel move.
This leads us into a tough part of the offseason. What are your priorities? The Eagles can't add pricey veterans at every opening. The thought of getting Namdi Asomugha at corner, Chad Greenway at linebacker, Davin Joseph at guard and Jason Babin at defensive end sounds great, but just isn't realistic. This is where you have to focus on specific players that you really believe in, and that make economic sense.
Many fans are locked in on Asomugha, and rightfully so. He is a great player. He is the kind of guy you don't mind giving a huge contract. The problem is that there could be 20 or more suitors. While we don't have a great situation at cornerback, think about a team like the Texans. They are desperate to make the playoffs. They had a dreadful pass defense in 2010. I could see them offering a record-setting contract to Asomugha. Is he worth that to us? I'm not so sure.
I don't want to discuss every single free agent option, but you have to see the big picture when talking about offseason moves to make. It isn't as simple as choosing the players you want. You also can't think in terms of just one year. Football teams are built over several seasons.
Many fans were mad at the Eagles for not adding a star cornerback last year. There simply weren't great options. The Eagles felt that Brandon Graham could be a special pass rusher so they aggressively went after him in the draft. The cornerback class thinned out very quickly after the first round so the Eagles found a player in the next tier they wanted (Lindley) and went after him. Free agency choices were limited because of new restrictions. There was no great option. Sure, Antonio Cromartie was available via trade, but he's not a player that every team felt was worth going after, the Eagles included. The Eagles could have forced the issue and wasted a resource (money and/or draft pick) going after a player they didn't believe in. Instead, they decided to fix other spots and put cornerback off a year.
That decision might prove to be very wise if we have any kind of normal free agency. Guys like Asomugha, Champ Bailey and Johnathan Joseph will be on the market. There are also players like Carlos Rogers and Ike Taylor who could be of interest. Those are infinitely better choices than the team had last year. The corner class in the draft also looks pretty good.
The Eagles won't make every move that people want. That just doesn't happen, outside of the NBA or New York Yankees. The Eagles need to formulate a plan to address the weak spots on the team and to add as many talented players as possible. The point so many people overlook is that you have to focus on what is available. One of the reasons I'm so interested in the team going for a defensive end in the first round is that it is a very deep group and chances are the Eagles would land a good player. I'd love for the Eagles to add a stud linebacker prospect, but I just don't see those guys available. I think both Von Miller and Akeem Ayers will be long gone by the time the Eagles pick.
I can't wait for the offseason moves to take place. We know the draft will be in late April. We'll have to wait and see what happens with free agency. Crazy situation. The official start of the new league year is always like Christmas, with all the moves that are made. That is the same as opening gifts. Sometimes you get the awesome BB gun (Asante Samuel) and other times you get a robe from your aunt (Dhani Jones). This year Christmas will come either in March or any of the next couple of months, or maybe not at all. I hate all the waiting, but we'll just have to talk a lot about the draft until we get some resolution on the other situation. This could be one strange offseason.