Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has a wish list, and a series of suggestions as the Eagles get into the meat of this ultra-critical week prior to and including the start of free agency. We have waited a long time for this week to arrive, to see what plans the Eagles have to shape their roster for 2009.
So I have my suggestions, too. Not specific players necessarily, because throwing out names doesn't do much for anybody. As free agency approaches, I have some requests of my own ...
**1. Get The Offensive Line Right
This is an obvious first item on the list. Both Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on Friday. Nick Cole is a restricted free agent. Shawn Andrews is coming off a terrible season during which he wasn't right mentally and, later, physically. Max Jean-Gilles is just now walking after breaking his ankle. Winston Justice never stepped up.
And despite all of those challenges, some Eagles keep harping "wide receiver, wide receiver, wide receiver." Amazing. Certainly, yeah, it is hard to believe that Andy Reid would ever go into a season with major question marks on his line, but right now, there are major question marks.
They need to be resolved, and this week we are going to see just how the Eagles plan to go about resolving those questions. They have until 12:01 a.m. on Friday to sign Thomas, or he becomes an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any NFL team. Should the Eagles sign Thomas, they have resolved their left tackle question for 2009. Thomas played solid football last year, and while he may not be a dominating player every week, he is still a starting-caliber left tackle who is sound in his technique and is way above the norm in his football IQ.
But if the Eagles don't sign Thomas, and then they lose him in free agency, the questions become even more profound. Yes, the Eagles can move left guard Todd Herremans to left tackle and trust that he would do a good job. He played well there as a rookie. But then what? What about left guard? What about the ripple effect of Thomas leaving?
Maybe the Eagles have a bigger plan in mind here and maybe we won't know how it all looks until after the draft. There are a bunch of good offensive tackles in this draft. Maybe that is the strategy, or maybe the Eagles plan to shift around a lot of their players up front.
Perhaps there is a plan to go into free agency and sign one of the linemen there on Friday or Saturday. Maybe the Eagles plan to clean house, so to speak, and move around some of the pieces they have in place. There are some young players who should push for playing time in 2009.
Whatever happens, this week is the big clue. Sign Thomas and one chip is in place. Then the Eagles can look to upgrade the interior of the line, if they wish, and they can fill the hole that Runyan's lapsing contract and knee surgery creates.
**2. Get A Running Back Who Can Carry The Ground Game
This is meant as no lack of respect for Correll Buckhalter, who I think was highly productive and underused the last couple of seasons. I have always felt he was an excellent complement to Brian Westbrook. But the picture has changed at running back for the Eagles. I have full faith that Westbrook will come back from his injury-plagued 2008 season and have a great 2009 campaign. But what if he gets hurt again? Who carries things? Do the Eagles have an answer if Westbrook goes down for an extended period of time?
This offense has been so reliant on Westbrook over the years, and he has delivered. It's time the Eagles create more options in the backfield. They are going to look again at Lorenzo Booker and see if there is something he can add to the offense in his second season here. But the Eagles need to be satisfied that they have a running back, in addition to Westbrook, who can carry the ball 20 times a game every week.
Is Buckhalter that guy? He could be, although he has not had that chance in college or in the NFL.
With all the Eagles have going for them in the off-season -- all the cap room, the ability to maneuver with trades, and two first-round draft picks and 10 picks overall -- they have the chance to get themselves an impact back, if they choose.
**3. Fill A Hole At Tight End
Brent Celek is the starter at the position. Fine with me. He earned it by the way he played late in his second NFL season. Now Celek is having an off-season dedicated to improving his game, not recovering from an injury or preparing for the draft. He should be an improved player in his third NFL season.
But with L.J. Smith expected to leave in free agency, the Eagles have a need at the position. Come Friday at 12:01 a.m., they have Celek and Matt Schobel, and Schobel has not shown that he is anything special here. His production has been limited. So what the Eagles really have at tight end now is Celek and a player in Schobel who hasn't done a whole lot.
The Eagles need a tight end. There isn't anything in free agency. The draft offers some possibilities, including consensus No. 1 prospect Brandon Pettigrew. Could he be on the board at No. 21 when the Eagles make the first of their two first-round draft picks? And if he isn't, how will the Eagles address the position?
Chris Baker was released by the Jets last week, so there are options out there. There are more players who are going to come free, so keep your eyes on the tight end position. Celek is the starter, but the Eagles need one, maybe two, tight ends to make this position complete.
**4. Challenge All Positions
The Eagles have a lot of "good" players. This is a "good" team. This is a team that had every bit of talent to win the NFC last year and, even, to win the Super Bowl. But, but, but ...
So I'm going to repeat and repeat: Don't fall in love with the talent on this team. No where, no how. The Eagles must be creative in the off-season with a free-agent class that appears to be woefully thin on depth or, even, top-end talent. Work the trade routes, look at waivers, be bold and intelligent the draft and add more players. Add a difference-maker or two -- not sure how, exactly, I admit -- and this team can be a Super Bowl contender for years to come.
The Eagles have a lot of good things working for them and they have a chance to capitalize on this off-season ahead. But don't fall in love. Please, please, please. They have never really done so in the past, so I don't expect them to this time, either. I'm just saying ..
**5. Bolster The Safety Positions
Yeah, I'm nervous that Brian Dawkins is unsigned. It makes me a tad nervous. But I've been around long enough to know that situations like this often come down to the last day or two, so stay tuned.
I think Dawkins will be back. If he is, great. Get him in there for another season, and at the same time keep pushing Quintin Demps and see how close to ready the second-year player is to become a very good starting safety on this team. I am high on Demps.
But if Dawkins is not signed, well, then it becomes really interesting. Then I'm looking for an upgrade, a safety who can cover sideline to sideline and who can blitz and who can support the run and who can be physical and emotional and all of that stuff that Dawkins has been.
Sean Considine is probably going to test free agency. That's my guess. That means the Eagles have to add a safety and, while I'm excited to see Canadian Football League star Byron Parker, I'm not putting all my eggs in that basket. The Eagles have a chance to upgrade here and replace what Considine gave them -- great special teams play, solid play from the line of scrimmage -- and then some.
6. Add An Upgrade At Wide Receiver
Yeah, this is on the list. Not quite as high as some of you think it should be, but it is there. If the Eagles can add a player who can clearly change the dynamic at wide receiver, I'm all for it. Again, don't fall in love with players. That includes wide receivers. The Eagles have good ones here. DeSean Jackson is going to be a star if he continues to work hard, add some strength and learn every day. Kevin Curtis is due for a bounce-back year after his injury-riddled season of 2008. The other receivers on this roster offer traits and talented and are good players when used and called upon.
But, of course, a player who can upgrade this position would be great. I know the Eagles haven't been good enough in the red zone the last couple of seasons, even with an offense that otherwise was excellent at moving the football. So if a better wide receiver can be added to put the ball in the end zone, I'm all for it.
I am not getting names here. I have been inundated with questions about Marvin Harrison, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Michael Crabtree for days. Would the Eagles add one of them? No idea. Free agency hasn't even started. No clue. Would the Eagles trade for a veteran receiver? No idea.
But they should be open to the possibility. Why not? Don't fall in love with what you have, right?
To repeat: The Eagles have a good group of wide receivers. It is also a group that can be improved upon, and I am all for that across the board with this team.
Look, the Eagles have plenty of assets. No position should be safe, really. The Eagles can add pieces if they can find the pieces to add. And they are in the process of doing just that as we speak. The days ahead are critical. The time is ticking. The next steps are going to be fast and furious ...