Finally, we're getting to a time when teams can actually do something. This is an exciting time of the year for the 31 teams that didn't bring home the Lombardi Trophy. This is the beginning of the new season. What happens in the next few months will help decide who goes to and wins the next Super Bowl. The key isn't to make the biggest signing or acquire the most new players, but rather to make the right moves. With that in mind, I've put together some thoughts on what the Eagles should do.
SIGN A PASS RUSHER
Trent Cole is a terrific player, but he needs someone on the left side to also get consistent pressure. Juqua Parker is a try-hard guy that does what he can, but he's ideally suited to being a backup and key role player. The big name on the market is obviously Julius Peppers. I'm sure the Eagles will talk to his agent. If they are in the same ballpark, Peppers could be the top target for us. We're hearing all kinds of crazy rumors about possible salary demands. You never know what is true and what is just nonsense.
Personally, I would go after Aaron Kampman. He isn't as gifted as Peppers. Kampman is also coming off a torn ACL. Those are serious concerns. I love the fact that he's an overachiever type. Those guys don't let up when they get a free agent deal. One of the biggest reasons that free agents struggle is that they get complacent after signing a huge deal and lose the edge that they played with in order to get the big deal. Kampman will never give you less than 100 percent. He says he's ahead of schedule in his rehab. Remember, we don't need him to be the answer to a bad pass rushing situation. We did have 44 sacks this year. Kampman would be here to add consistent pressure from the left side. He would also split time with Parker and other situational rushers that we mix in. You then hope he's back to full speed for 2011.
If the Eagles can't land one of these two, I hope they go after Derrick Burgess. Kyle Vanden Bosch is a bit overrated. Burgess would be a good fit for us. We'd obviously want to draft someone to develop behind him.
FIGURE OUT FREE SAFETY
We had a plan in place last year, but it didn't work as hoped. Quintin Demps didn't handle his promotion to the starting spot well in the off-season and that cost him the job before the season ever got underway. Sean Jones didn't adapt quickly to the position or scheme. Macho Harris earned the job, but played at the level you might expect from a rookie cornerback who was adjusting to a new position and the NFL. If the Eagles believe that Demps or Harris is the answer, fine. I trust that new secondary coach Dick Jauron can get better production from the current players.
I'm not sold that Demps or Harris is the answer. I'd like to bring in someone. The Rams placed a low tender on restricted free agent O.J. Atogwe. I think going after him would be really smart. Atogwe is a proven safety. He isn't coming off a major injury. He's not an old guy. Atogwe also played in Steve Spagnuolo's scheme this year as a Ram. That should ease the transition to our defense. Atogwe would be a good running mate for strong safety Quintin Mikell and would give us a pair of veteran safeties. Those guys are crucial to controlling the middle of the field.
CORNER A CORNERBACK
The secondary allowed 27 touchdown passes last year. That is unacceptable. We must get better coverage. Free safety is part of the equation, but we also need to improve at corner. I don't strongly believe in any of the players available as of now. Dunta Robinson is an unrestricted free agent. He has good talent, but might not be worth the money it takes to land him. The Chargers are reportedly shopping Antonio Cromartie. He has very good ability, but has been very inconsistent recently and has some off-field baggage. The one restricted free agent that I do like is Richard Marshall of the Panthers. They put a second-round tender on him. If we could trade one of our third round picks and land him I would do that deal in a heartbeat.
There have also been reports that the Raiders might be open to trading elite cover corner Namde Asomugha. I would absolutely call them and check on his availability. He is one of the few truly dominant players in the league. I would make a substantial trade offer if the Raiders were actually open to dealing him.
Most likely these deals won't pan out so I'll turn to the draft. My favorite cornerback all year has been Kyle Wilson of Boise State. I think he would be a terrific addition to our secondary. Wilson is a very gifted cover corner. He can also blitz and tackle. He will play on special teams if needed. Another corner I like is Devin McCourty from Rutgers. I don't think he's worth the 24th pick, but I doubt he falls all the way to our second-round spot. It might be worth it to move up and get him. McCourty is the best tackling corner in the whole draft. He is a great special teams player (coverage and returns). He's pretty athletic and a good cover guy.
I'm also interested in adding a corner like Javier Arenas or Syd'Quan Thompson if they fall far enough. Both guys would project to the slot in our system. Joselio Hanson was up and down last year after a strong showing in 2008. He might bounce back, but I would like to bring in a player to really challenge him for his spot. Arenas and Thompson lack size and speed, but both guys are outstanding players who could turn out to be good slot corners in the NFL. Those guys show up on game tape.
GRAB A VETERAN RUNNER
We're all excited to see what LeSean McCoy can do in his second year. He showed great promise as a rookie and players normally have a big jump from year one to two because they now have a better feel for things. All that said, we do need another quality runner. I like several guys in the draft, but it would be wise to add a veteran back to the mix.
The player I covet is Justin Fargas. The Raiders are reportedly going to cut him. Fargas isn't a great player, but he's the kind of role player that can help you win games. He is big at 6-1 and 220 pounds. He is used to being part of a running back rotation. He stood out in the game when we played at Oakland this year. Fargas ran like his life depended on it. If he does that for a team that struggles to compete, imagine what he might do for a team that actually wins and plays in meaningful games.
Fargas can block, catch, and run. He's the kind of north-south power runner that we could use on the roster. He's not a monster guy like Brandon Jacobs, but Fargas runs behind his pads and rarely goes down on first contact. I would also take a running back in the draft to develop behind Fargas and McCoy. I would spend a late-round pick on someone like James Starks from Buffalo. He's a big kid with speed and power. He missed the year with a shoulder injury, but had a very good Combine workout. He reminds me somewhat of former Eagle Correll Buckhalter.
IMPROVE THE LINE
I think the starting offensive line is in place right now. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans will man the left side. Stacy Andrews and Winston Justice will handle the right side. The starting center will be Nick Cole. Key backups will be Mike McGlynn, Fenuki Tupou, King Dunlap and possibly Max Jean-Gilles. Obviously, we all want Jamaal Jackson to get healthy and come reclaim his spot as the staring center.
If guard Mike Iupati is somehow on the board at the 24th pick I think the Eagles should (and would) take him. He has dominant potential. He could play either guard spot and possibly tackle. The only other offensive lineman who interests me in the first round is Vlad Ducasse of UMass. He has very good size and ability. He played left tackle in college, but could play there or guard in the NFL. Andy Reid and Juan Castillo love big, versatile linemen.
I get a lot of questions about center/guard Maurkice Pouncey from Florida. The Eagles would have to use the first-round pick to get him. I'm not sure he's worth it. Pouncey isn't as big as we thought during the season. He's still talented and a good prospect, but he's not special.
If we pass on a lineman in the first round, I would have interest in John Jerry with our second-round pick. He played right guard and right tackle at Ole Miss. He has trimmed down to 328 pounds. Jerry might be big, but he is good on screen passes and outside run plays that require him to pull.
UNDER THE RADAR MOVES
I won't get into the full quarterback situation. That is a long article by itself. If the Eagles make a move and acquire an additional draft pick, this is a deep draft class and that pick could turn out to be a good player. I would like to see the Eagles take quarterback Jarrett Brown of West Virginia. He'll probably go in the late fourth or fifth round. Brown is a project for sure, but has the size and potential to develop into a starting quarterback.
I know many fans think I'm crazy for not making linebacker more of a priority. I think the return of Stewart Bradley will make a bigger difference than most people realize. Bradley is a player the Eagles really feel strongly about. He will make the second level of the defense much better when he steps on the field. Will Witherspoon should be a good player on the weak side. Moise Fokou is probably the leader to start at the SAM position. He needs to be pushed, whether by Chris Gocong, some other veteran or a mid-round pick. We do need to find a good backup for the middle, just in case Bradley has any issues with his knee. It was fun to see Jeremiah Trotter at times last year, but I don't want a repeat of that. One veteran who might be of interest is Ryan Fowler. The Eagles tried to sign him a few years back, but lost him to the Titans in a weird situation. Fowler can play SAM or in the middle. He's also a solid special teams player.