The powers of recovery after a difficult loss are amazing, and I congratulate Eagles fans on this site for delving into free agency and the draft and what the Eagles might look like in 2009. I've got a couple of random thoughts about those subjects, as well as the state of the Eagles' coaching staff now that the word on the streets is that the Eagles are about to lose another good coach and good man, quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur. He is reportedly ready to take over the offensive coordinator's responsibilities in St. Louis under new head coach Steve Spagnuolo, another branch in Andy Reid's coaching tree.
First, free agency. The Eagles are putting together their plan and it is very early in the planning stages. All of these names that are being bandied about out there are just names right now. Between this day and February 27, when free agency begins at 12:01 a.m., a lot of these hot-shot names will be signed by their current teams and will never hit the free-agent market.
Why not? Teams are flush with room under the expanding salary cap. It is my belief that the Eagles will operate as the other teams will operate, by working from the inside out and trying to sign as many of their own players as possible before February 27.
There are some important names on the list for the Eagles, and some of these players won't be back. Safety Brian Dawkins, offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan, tight end L.J. Smith, running back Correll Buckhalter and safety Sean Considine all contributed to the team in the years past, to the success of Reid's Eagles. I'm sure the Eagles have already started to formulate a value for each player and have considered -- and at this point all the team can do is consider -- alternatives should those players move on.
When Team President Joe Banner talks of a "challenging" off-season ahead, he is, I think, referring to things like making decisions on those UFAs, deciding which players among the young-and-coming pool of younger talent are ready for increased playing time, how to manage free agency with a good amount of cap room and not many quality players to spend the money on, among other things.
The window here is open, folks. This is the NFL. Just about every team is in the game, and an Eagles team with good talent in every phase of the game, a strong coaching staff and a huge hunger is absolutely going to make some noise next season.
At this point, I'm not getting my hopes up about free agency. I don't know which of these "names" the fans are talking about are even going to make it to February 27. That fact, plus the understanding that so many teams have a lot of room under the salary cap, is keeping my expectations low.
I thought the Eagles did an excellent job in free agency last year, all things considered. They went out and signed cornerback Asante Samuel, who earned a Pro Bowl spot and was a big-play star in the playoffs. Defensive end Chris Clemons took time to adjust, but his playing time increased as the season progressed. I feel Clemons will be a factor from the start of the season in 2009.
The rest of free agency was spent on hit-or-miss players, and most of them missed. One of them, fullback Dan Klecko, stuck. By the end of the year, he was a pretty good player at a new position.
Gone are the days of bringing in four and five players as starters in free agency, especially for an upper-echelon team. The Eagles didn't get where they wanted to go this season. Everybody is disappointed about that. But the team is staring a bright future in the face. A challenging future, yes, but a bright one with all the players here and the resources available.
**NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- There is still no official word on the reported imminent hiring of Shurmur in St. Louis. If he goes, the Eagles must have an answer, and they must have the right answer. Donovan McNabb has worked with Shurmur since the time he was drafted in the NFL, and if Shurmur leaves McNabb is going to have an adjustment to make. Change can be good sometimes, though. If the Eagles have to make a move at the quarterbacks coach position, they need to make sure McNabb works well with the new coach and that both men see eye to eye.
- Three players have been signed to 2009 contracts, as announced the other day: wide receivers Shaheer McBride and Danny Amendola and cornerback Trae Williams. Both McBride and Williams were around long enough this season to get a real taste of how the Eagles do business, and it would not shock me one bit to see them both push for a roster spot next year. Amendola, I just don't know enough about him.
- I've looked at the list of names of players who are eligible for free agency and it really doesn't excite me a lot. Then again, last year didn't excite me until it started. I throw names around in the office, too, just like you do on the boards, and then was reminded by a colleague: "This is so stupid. There is no way of knowing what is going to happen." Amen, brother.
- We put a poll up on the home page the other day asking what the offense needs most of all, and the answer that got the most votes was no surprise: A game-changing wide receiver. You know, I disagree. I would certainly welcome one, but I think the Eagles are in pretty good shape there with DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis and Jason Avant leading the way. I would proabably say the Eagles need to get their offensive line situation sorted out first and foremost, given that both Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in six weeks.
- Midway through the regular season, Hank Baskett was an integral part of the Eagles' passing game. He was used in situations, yes, but he was also a target. And while Baskett finished with a career-high 33 catches, he didn't get that many opporunities down the stretch with just 5 catches in his last four regular-season games and only 2 receptions in the playoffs. He is going to be an interesting case as a restricted free agent this year. Baskett came on, and then he faded from the offense. Why?
- I'm going to be very intrigued to see what the Eagles do with Victor Abiamiri next season. Will he compete at left defensive end for the starting job? Is he going to rotate between end and tackle in nickel situations? I hope you noticed how much Abiamiri contributed when he was healthy this season. He has a chance to be a very good player in this defense.
- I admit that it wasn't too long ago that I thought Brent Celek's ceiling was as a backup tight end in this league. Now I think he has proven he can start, and that he can be a good player in the NFL. That said, tight end is still a priority area for the Eagles in my opinion. Smith is a free agent and Matt Schobel is the only other tight end on the roster.
- I know Quintin Demps is getting heat for his late hit on Kurt Warner on Sunday, and it was a dumb move, but the young man is going to be a terrific player for this team. It may not be next season, but Demps will be a starting safety here in the near future.