As the Eagles move forward and put their plan in place for personnel acquisition -- arranging their draft board, setting up their interviews with draft prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine, re-configuring the current roster and finalizing a list of targets for free agency -- we wonder just how much Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman can fix in the span of a single offseason.
The wheels fell off for the Eagles from 2010 to now despite an influx of talent veterans in free agency. Catching up from missed draft picks in 2010 and 2011 has proven difficult. The Eagles have their work ahead.
Adding Tom Gamble as Vice President of Player Personnel is an important step in adding another highly respected and proven talent evaluator and planner to the mix. Gamble was a vital part of the rise of the 49ers, and he will have just as much impact here.
So what can the Eagles reasonably expect to fix in the next few months? I'd love to tell you it can all be fixed lickity split, what with an offensive line that is expected to be healthy after an injury-ravaged 2012, with a young draft class from last year blossoming into ready-for-prime time players in 2013, and with schemes on both sides of the ball that will better emphasize the strengths of this roster.
That is, in reality, asking for a lot.
The Eagles can get to some of the issues, certainly. They are armed going into the pivotal part of the offseason with a lot of money to spend within the salary cap, with eight draft picks, including the fourth overall selection, and with a lot of areas to address.
What can be fixed between now and the end of April? A few guesses as we count down the time to next week's Combine ...
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
The good news is that the NFL draft is loaded with talented offensive linemen, including a few tackles who should go in the top 10-15 of the first round. The Eagles may or may not get their chance at the first tackle off the board, but they will have ample chances to help themselves should they choose that route early in the draft.
With left tackle Jason Peters expected back after missing 2012 with an Achilles tendon injury, and with center Jason Kelce and guard/tackle Todd Herremans making good progress in their return from injury, the Eagles are going to be much, much better up front than they were in 2012. They actually have a chance to be much more than good if they add another front-line starter -- is Herremans a guard, or a tackle? -- and develop some depth.
Of all the problems the Eagles had a season ago, this position should be the easiest to improve.
PLAYMAKERS IN FRONT SEVEN
Seen as an absolute strength in August, the front four struggled throughout 2011 to get to the quarterback and to play effectively against the run. Now, the Eagles have some tough decisions to make. They could very well mix up their fronts and ask the personnel to do things that are markedly different than what they were asked to do last season.
Defensive ends Trent Cole and Vinny Curry, for example, may be too big to play pass-rushing linebackers if the Eagles go to a 3-4. Brandon Graham seemed to just find his stride as a 4-3 end in his third NFL season. Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are older veterans who have to prove that they can fit in to whatever the coaches want from the front seven.
If the Eagles go to a 3-4, they could use the early part of the draft on players to best fit the profile of that front. The team has drafted players to use in a 4-3 front for many seasons, so it's not like flipping a switch to have the players turn around and adjust seamlessly to a new scheme.
If the Eagles go 3-4, who plays the nose? Who joins Fletcher Cox as a defensive end? Where do DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks fit in?
Would the Eagles consider using a high, high draft pick on one of the highly touted pass-rushing linebackers who are considered top 10 talents?
The entire secondary is a gigantic question mark -- Nnamdi Asomugha's cap number of $15.5 million makes him difficult to keep, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 12, so the cornerback positions are entirely up in the air -- and the safety spots have to be addressed.
Philadelphia simply did not get the kind of play it needed from the deep secondary last season. Part of it was the scheme, and the added responsibilities when playing behind the Wide 9 front, and part of it was that the group of safeties simply did not perform to the needs.
So what does the new coaching staff do with Nate Allen, a second-round draft pick in 2010, whom the Eagles have counted on to be a top-shelf starter? Is Kurt Coleman someone the coaches see as a starting safety? Is Colt Anderson more than a special-teams ace and a good backup at safety?
Or do the Eagles rip it all apart and address the safety positions in free agency, the draft and any way they can? How do the Eagles get a safety who can change games?
The team hasn't had that caliber of player at safety since Brian Dawkins left town in 2009 as a free agent to sign with Denver. The Eagles had tried signing players in free agency and they've tried using high draft picks and neither approach has been as effective as desired.
Safety is again on the front burner this offseason.
ANOTHER OFFENSIVE OPTION OR TWO
What do we think we know about the offense? The line should be good, and *could *be great. Running backs LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown offer a world of talent. There is going to be competition at quarterback with Michael Vick and Nick Foles, and it's conceivable the Eagles will add more to the position. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper are productive players, and tight end Brent Celek is a hard-nosed tight end who gets open and makes plays.
Could it be, though, that in Kelly's offense all of that isn't enough? Could he look for another piece? Maybe another tight end who has more explosiveness, or an H-back type who moves in the formation to create favorable matchups, or a bigger body at wide receiver to help in the red zone.
As much as the Eagles need to rebuild the defense, they also need to score more touchdowns. Kelly's Oregon teams had all of that crazy speed and incredible depth offensively. The Eagles have some good pieces in place, but does Kelly yearn to add another difference-making kind of player to his offensive arsenal?