The offseason is here. It isn't as much fun as actual football games, but I really do enjoy the process that teams go through in adding role players, big name free agents and drafting college players. It is fun to see how each team goes about its business. Some are aggressive. Some are patient. Some focus on a couple of players, while other teams believe in volume. There is no magic formula. You simply need to find the right players.
So what are the Eagles' goals this offseason? Let's break them down into simple principles that should apply every year.
1. Upgrade the roster
2. Fill holes
3. Build for the future
These ideas may seem really generic, but sometimes you'll find thinking like that will help you to make the decisions that shape your roster.
Upgrading the roster is an idea that gets overlooked by some and abused by others. The point here is to look at available talent and see which players would be an upgrade on the ones already in place. You may have a solid player that you like, but if an elite player hits the market you need to at least consider adding that player. The most fundamental goal is to improve the team.
The Eagles have an outstanding set of defensive tackles. Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are the best pair of interior players we've had in Philly since Jerome Brown and Mike Pitts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Albert Haynesworth of the Titans is scheduled to be a free agent. He is the most dominant front seven player in the entire league. The Eagles would be crazy not to discuss whether he is worth pursuing. I think Tennessee will end up paying him huge dollars to stay, but you never know. He's nothing close to a need player, but is so good that you have to consider him as a target. That's the kind of thinking that should go on.
You don't go through this with every available player. NFL teams refer to the best players as blue chip players. The next level down is red chip players. Those are the kind of players a team must focus on in terms of upgrades. Brian Westbrook is a blue chip player. Trent Cole is a red chip player. Older and younger players are more complicated. Stewart Bradley is an ascending player. Brian Dawkins is descending. Each has value, but they can't be rated the same as players in their prime who have arrived at a certain plateau.
You don't want to replace an existing starter with an outside player unless it is a clear upgrade. The problem some people have is that too often they think every change means upgrade. You have to study a player's body of work to really know how good he is. We know our own players inside and out. Players from other teams we know through highlights. Naturally those players are going to look attractive. The grass is always greener on the other side, as the saying goes.
Set talent aside and you have to deal with the logistics. How much money will it cost to sign the player? If dealing with a trade, how much compensation is needed? You can't sink a great deal of resources into a move unless there are unusual circumstances and that move could drastically improve the team.
You do have to be careful about passing on talent at a position where your team seems set because you are always one play away from needing someone. I figured DeSean Jackson would be the punt returner and a role player this season. After all he had Kevin Curtis, Reggie Brown and Jason Avant clearly ahead of him. A couple of injuries later Jackson was the starting Z-receiver and had a tremendous rookie year.
Filling holes on the roster is pretty straightforward stuff. The interesting angle here is how you go about that. Do you sign a major free agent, a mid-level free agent, a developmental player or do you draft someone? There is also the question of whether to count on one guy or whether to bring in multiple players to compete.
The Eagles will address fullback this offseason. Think about what they've done in the past. Cecil Martin was a sixth-round pick in 1999. Jon Ritchie was signed as a mid-level free agent in 2003. Josh Parry was elevated from the practice squad in 2004. Thomas Tapeh was drafted in 2004 and got the job in 2006 and 2007. This season the Eagles promoted Jason Davis from the practice squad, signed Dan Klecko as a free agent and added rookie free agent Jed Collins. They had three guys compete for the job. Naturally it went to a fourth guy, Tony Hunt. Then he got cut and Klecko moved back from defensive tackle. Crazy.
The Eagles had success and disappointment with different methods. Again, it isn't how you find the guy. Just find the right guy. They didn't do that in 2008. You can bet they'll be more aggressive with fullback this year because of that.
Building for the future is something the Eagles have done an excellent job of over the years. Westbrook was drafted when Duce Staley was still a good player. Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown were picked with Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor already in place. The Eagles understand the importance of adding young players to develop. Think back to last year's draft class. Jackson was added for the future. He just happened to get the chance to play. Bryan Smith was picked for the future. Mike McGlynn was taken for the future. Jack Ikegwuonu was obviously taken for the future. I won't even go to the late rounds.
You'll see plenty of people talk about the Eagles draft needs. Most of them will be off-target because they'll focus on current holes instead of areas where the team would like to get younger for the future.
The Eagles also help the future with some free agent signings. Joselio Hanson was brought in here as a young guy who could develop into a good role player. He's done just that. Juqua Parker wasn't young, but was largely unproven when he arrived. He became a solid starting defensive end. Could Kyle Eckel fall into this category this offseason? There will be other signings of players who aren't well known or proven players, but those guys do have potential.
Each of us has different thoughts about what the Eagles should specifically do. I'll share some of my thoughts in the future. I'm still reviewing tape of the college all-star games. I need to watch some NFL games to check on free agent targets.
The Eagles have a real good core of players already in place. This team doesn't need a whole lot of changes. There are some holes to fill. There are aging spots where youth is needed. As I said earlier, the team will also be looking at any available players that can upgrade the roster. Always try to get better. That's the name of the game in the offseason.