One thing about the Eagles is for sure in the wake of a flurry of weekend moves: Andy Reid's 30-and-over club is a very select membership for training camp. Youth is going to be served on this football team, from the interior of the team (the offensive line) to the flanks (safety) and everywhere in between.
At this point, the Eagles' roster has nine players who are already 30 or who will be 30 at some point during the 2009 season. The list includes starters like quarterback Donovan McNabb, running back Brian Westbrook, wide receiver Kevin Curtis, cornerback Sheldon Brown, placekicker David Akers and punter Sav Rocca, and it includes reserves such as defensive lineman Darren Howard, tight end Matt Schobel and quarterback A.J. Feeley.
That list could change, of course. Maybe the Eagles sign back Tra Thomas, who is currently an unrestricted free agent. Maybe one or two of those in the 30-and-over club don't make it to September as Eagles. We all understand how things change so quickly.
The point is, the roster has been overturned radically in the last couple of years. McNabb and Westbrook remain the veteran headliners, but players from the Class of 2005 (Trent Cole, Mike Patterson), the Class of 2006 (Brodrick Bunkley, Chris Gocong, Jason Avant) and the Class of 2007 (Stewart Bradley, Victor Abiamiri and Brent Celek) are emerging as the core of the team. The way this team has been built, to date, is really diverse.
Take a look at the secondary, where the Q Times Two duo of Quintin Mikell (non-draft free agent) and Quintin Demps (fourth-round draft pick, 2008) are set to become the first Q-rated defensive backfield tandem in NFL history. At cornerback, Brown was a second-round draft pick in 2002 and Asante Samuel signed in free agency last year. Two of the three starters at linebacker (Bradley and Gocong) were draft picks, and Akeem Jordan was a non-drafted player in 2007. Key reserve and could-be starter Omar Gaither arrived in the draft of 2006 and prospect Joe Mays was a late-round draft pick in 2008. Special teams aces Tracy White and Tank Daniels were signed as veteran free agents in 2008.
Up front on defense, the draft produced Cole, Patterson and Bunkley and, if he earns a starting job, Abiamiri. Beyond them, the Class of 2008 chips in with draft picks Trevor Laws and Bryan Smith and the Eagles plucked Darren Howard and Chris Clemons from free agency. Astute signings off the NFL scrap heap landed the Eagles two good players in defensive end Juqua Parker and Joselio Hanson.
McNabb is the grandfather of this team now. He, of course, was Andy Reid's first draft pick back in 1999. Think about that. All of a sudden, McNabb is the oldest player on the team entering his 11th season. Ooops, check that. McNabb turns 33 in November and Akers turns 35 in December. Check again: Rocca is 36 in November.
Moving on ...
The offensive line features players from the draft (Shawn Andrews, Class of 2004; Herremans, Class of 2005, Max Jean-Gilles, 2006, Mike McGlynn and Mike Gibson, 2008), from free agency (Stacy Andrews), and from the pool of non-drafted rookies (Jamaal Jackson, Nick Cole). The draft produced the starting tight end, Celek, and one of the starting wide receivers, DeSean Jackson (Class of 2008). Curtis was signed as a free agent, Jason Avant comes from the 2006 draft), and Reggie Brown was a 2005 draft pick. Both Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett were not drafted.
Westbrook was a product of the 2002 draft, while fullback Dan Klecko was signed as a free agent last year. Backup quarterback Kevin Kolb (2007) and third-stringer Feeley were draft picks, although Feeley was then re-acquired when he was released by the Chargers.
What does it all mean? It means that the Eagles are churning the roster, as they call it in league circles. It means they are going to continue to do so the off-season continues.
And it means that this team is really, really young. Ready to compete, absolutely. This is not a rebuilding team. The Eagles have trust in players like Bradley to lead the defense. They have confidence that Mikell is ready to be the go-to player in deep coverage. Samuel, in his second year with the team, is going to have more of an impact in the locker room. He already had a huge impact on the practice field and in games last season.
But, of course, there is more work ahead. The Eagles have a roster to keep on improving, keep on churning. This is a young man's game, as the Eagles' approach shows.
NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- This is an interesting perspective from SportsLine.com's Pete Prisco: "Thumbs up: To the Philadelphia Eagles. They added a power right tackle in Stacy Andrews, traded away disgruntled corner Lito Sheppard for a fifth-round pick next year and a conditional 2010 pick, then stood tall as Brian Dawkins, one of their aging leaders, signed with Denver. This is an organization that gets it." In the next paragraph, Prisco writes, "Head-scratcher: To the Denver Broncos for signing Dawkins to essentially a two-year, $9 million deal. The money is fine. It's just that Dawkins isn't the same player he was a few years ago. He wasn't the best safety on the Eagles roster last season. That was Quintin Mikell. Dawkins is a great guy in the locker room, but he lacks coverage skills. In a division with a San Diego team that features Philip Rivers throwing it and Kansas City with Todd Haley and now Cassel throwing it, the safeties need to have cover skills."
- I have to be impressed with what the Giants have done in free agency. They have added great depth to their defensive line, signing players like Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, and they have a good player at weakside linebacker in Michael Boley. I'm not big on Washington's move, because I think the chemistry there is going to be difficult to create, but Albert Haynesworth is a star talent. Dallas has lost a couple of players and the trade for Jon Kitna is puzzling. Still, there is a long, long way to go in the off-season.
- Andy Reid and Juan Castillo are the experts and they will do the right thing, but I can't get over the idea of moving Shawn Andrews out to left tackle. I watched Andrews absolutely dominated John Abraham in the last game of the 2006 season when Andrews played right tackle, and he said in a conference call on Saturday that he feels more natural on the left side. Andrews has the feet, the power, the agility, the everything to play tackle or guard and to play well. If the Eagles don't bring back Tra Thomas, giving Andrews a look at left tackle would be worthwhile. The Eagles could then have Andrews at left tackle, Herremans at left guard, Jackson at center, Nick Cole at right guard and Stacy Andrews at right tackle.
- There are no visits scheduled for the immediate future. And by the way, let's clear a couple of things up right here. Contrary to reports, running back Derrick Ward did not visit the Eagles over the weekend. And the team did not express an interest in former Ravens center Jason Brown, who signed with St. Louis.
- Scratch safety James Sanders off your wish list. He re-signed with New England on Sunday. The Eagles will add a couple of safeties, but more and more it appears that Demps is going to be the first guy to get a crack at starting at free safety this season. There are another half-dozen or so unrestricted free agents who have starting experience in this league who are still available.
- Will another player wear No. 20 again? I can't imagine that Jeffrey Lurie will let that happen. Brian Dawkins wore it so well for 13 seasons, just as Reggie White wore No. 92 in his time with the Eagles.
- What is next for the Eagles? I honestly don't know. The next wave of free agency is to find role players, and the Eagles can use some of them at the positions we have talked about -- backup running back, tight end, safety, etc. Wide receiver? Yeah, if the Eagles think they can acquire a player who takes this group to another level.
- Let's talk about Winston Justice, the second-round draft pick in 2006 who has yet to impress here. I didn't include him in my roster rundown on How They Were Built because, quite frankly, I think Justice is a long shot to fit in the plans this season. The team's off-season conditioning program starts in a couple of weeks and I will be interested to see what kind of shape Justice is in, and to see how much time he spends working on his game. My opinion: Justice needs a huge off-season and preseason just to make this team.
- Backup running back? Yeah, it's a need. My guess is that he comes from the draft. And my guess is that the Eagles address the position in the first two rounds on April 25.
- If I were to guess right now -- and that is all we can do at this time of the year -- I think the Eagles will use both of their first-round draft picks on April 25. I even had this daydream that the team traded up to get another first-round pick, using that surplus of picks they have. The Eagles have 11 selections for April. I see them trying to load up on picks in the first four rounds.