The ending is always so abrupt and unsettling. One day the Eagles are playing in the postseason and the next day they are cleaning out their lockers and making plans for the next six months. The coaches stay around and review the season play by play, while the front office takes on the laborious task of focusing full time on 2011.
There are going to be changes here. There are always changes. And there are going to be significant moves, difficult decisions and new directions ahead. Head coach Andy Reid didn't want to speculate about the future at his Monday press conference, less than a day after the promise of a season ended in the disappointment of a 21-16 loss to Green Bay. We can talk about the future here, speculate all we want. Who knows, who really knows, with all of the labor unrest, how much of an offseason we are going to have?
I'm going to obsess here, just like you. The Eagles were a fun team to watch, but they were also flawed. After racing out to a 10-4 record and clinching the NFC East title, the Eagles lost three straight games to end the year. There is a sour taste here, then. What do the Eagles need to be a Super Bowl team next season?
Here is a list of things off the top of the head, a list that will change about 50 times in the months to come ...
POSITIONS OF NEED, IN ORDER
1. Defensive end: At the top of the list a year ago, it remains the pressing need. The Eagles didn't get to the quarterback in the last half of the season with a four-man pass rush. Trent Cole finished with 10 sacks and he plays hard on every snap, but he went without a sack in six of the final eight games, including the playoff loss. Juqua Parker recorded six sacks, but four of them came in September.
Reid was asked about the front four on Monday and took the high road, saying that the loss of Brandon Graham, the team's first-round draft pick, contributed to the lack of rotation, depth and pass rush. The decline, however, was well established prior to Graham's injury at Dallas in December.
Darryl Tapp was a good, all-around end who is going to be a staple in the rotation for the next few seasons, and he along with Cole and Parker are players the Eagles can count on. But they need a whole lot more. Is Graham going to make his way back after undergoing surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament? History suggests it takes players two seasons to come all the way back. How about Victor Abiamiri, once a second-round draft pick who has been plagued by injuries? Will Daniel Te'o-Nesheim going to make a quantum leap in Year 2?
This position needs a lot of help. The Eagles have addressed defensive end for years. They understand the need to have multiple pass rushers. If they can find any in the months to come, they will certainly add to the position.
2. Cornerback:I like Dimitri Patterson. I like the way he battles. He has size and he has toughness and athletic ability. He is going to be a much better player having gone through the ups and downs of this season. And rookie Trevard Lindley has long arms, strength and he may develop into a good press cornerback. Joselio Hanson is a valuable, versatile guy to have on the roster.
But the Eagles, if they can find one, need another elite cornerback to team with Asante Samuel. Whether that is in free agency or in the draft, the Eagles need more help in the secondary. They need to have corners who can shut down receivers -- as much as that is possible in this NFL -- to allow Sean McDermott to create with the front seven and his safeties.
3. Right Guard: The right side of the Eagles' offensive line was injury-riddled all season. I'll bank on Winston Justice and say that he gets healthy and has a great offseason, using his benching on Sunday as extreme motivation, and that King Dunlap gets another year better. I'm also of the belief that Austin Howard can develop into a good swing tackle to add some depth. Right tackle should be fine.
Right guard is another issue. Both Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. They are both good players, but they are not dominating, Pro Bowl-level guys up front. That is what the Eagles need to get to at the line of scrimmage. Too many times during the season protection was a problem. Too many times the Eagles didn't have the confidence to line up and win the battle in a short-yardage situation with a smash-mouth approach running the football.
Go get a top-shelf right guard and watch how much this line improves. Center is a question mark with Jamaal Jackson coming back from injury to challenge Mike McGlynn, but the line isn't that far away. Having another "good" player is fine and all, but what the Eagles really need is a "great" player at right guard. It's been a long time since Jermane Mayberry, a Pro Bowl player, manned the position.
4. Safety: Quintin Mikell is a prospective free agent and Nate Allen is coming off a torn patellar tendon injury. Nate Coleman looks like he is going to be a fine player, but size is always going to be a question mark. Colt Anderson is a football player through and through, but is he big enough to be a punishing player over the course of a full season?
Isn't the object of the defense to be more physical, more brutal? The Eagles lack size and they aren't in the class of a team like Baltimore or Pittsburgh when it comes to playing that physical style. If there is an area to add some physical presence, it is at the safety position.
WILL THERE BE CHANGES ON THE COACHING STAFF?
You know the rumors that are out there, that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is a candidate to be the head coach in Cleveland and that other coaches could be working with other teams next year. That remains to be seen. The Eagles made significant changes last year when they added Bobby April to coach special teams and Dick Jauron to coach defensive backs. Reid said on Monday that defensive coordinator Sean McDermott would return in 2011, but that won't stop reporters from speculating outside the organization.
It is a good coaching staff that needs to examine everything -- scheme, tendencies, practice habits, everything -- as it done after every season. There haven't been as many coaching changes around the league as we thought there might be a month ago. There might not be as much job-hopping as there has been in past offseasons.
*WHICH INJURED PLAYERS CAN THE EAGLES COUNT ON NEXT YEAR? *
Jackson should challenge for the starting center job. Stewart Bradley will be back, but will he still be the middle linebacker or will the Eagles, impressed by Jamar Chaney's play, keep the youngster in the middle and move Bradley to SAM? There are many possibilities here with some talented players in place.
Abiamiri is set to play and he will hope to stay healthy and help at defensive end. Safety Marlin Jackson is itching to play and he is a veteran guy, but can he stay healthy? Fullback Leonard Weaver has a long, long way to go to recover from his knee injury. Allen is expected to be ready for training camp, in whatever form that takes. Rookie Ricky Sapp has added 10 pounds and will remain at defensive end. The Eagles want to see his burst off the edge.
In the big picture, though, it probably isn't wise to count too heavily on injured players returning. It historically doesn't happen too often.
WHAT IMPACT WITH THE LABOR UNREST HAVE ON THE EAGLES?
It is unknown, and it is the same for every team. Players can train at the team's facility until early March when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. At that point, teams can have no contact with players. That includes injured players, which is why a player like Graham, who needs to rehab throughout the offseason, is such a question mark.
We are entering a new world for the NFL. Players are going to have to be focused and motivated on their own, or they will pay the price. There is a lot of work to do for the Eagles -- a lot of promise and a lot of work -- and we're going to follow them every step of the way in the long, long months in front of us.