We all know the Eagles have a very busy, very unique several months in front of them. They have attacked the off-season vigorously to date, changing out key pieces of the coaching staff, overhauling the personnel department and putting everything in order for what is ahead. I can go down a checklist of what needs to be done -- it seems to change every day -- but for the purposes of this moment let's put an order to the moves to be made, based on the order of their importance to the team ...
**1. Sorting Out The Quarterback Depth Chart
We have discussed the scenarios for weeks, and we will continue to do so until something happens. And I really, really, really believe that something will happen It sorta, kinda has to happen, as I see it.
So, clearly, how the Eagles handle what is an enviable situation is the top task of the 2010 off-season. The Eagles are flush with three starting-quality quarterbacks in a league where good quarterbacks are hard to find. Teams are going to call, if they haven't already. So what will the Eagles do?
They'll listen, and they'll play the hand with three aces.
"It is a unique situation where we have three quarterbacks of this caliber on the roster," said Eagles President Joe Banner. "I don't think I've even seen the situation, and it's a great position to be in. It does present a very difficult decision or series of decisions to make, but I don't think there's a team in the league that wouldn't like to have the problem of having too many good quarterbacks and then having to figure out what to do with that."
The team doesn't have the answer yet, but the Eagles are very well aware of how important it is to play the quarterback situation the right way.
**2. Making The Right Decision With RB Brian Westbrook
This is a really important move for a lot of reasons. How do you handle one of the all-time great Eagles who is coming off an injury-plagued season and who could be a concussion away from ending his career, especially with a reported roster bonus of $5.2 million due in the spring? It is a tricky, touchy situation.
Not only do the Eagles have to evaluate Westbrook and his ability to come all the way back after a tough 2009, they have to measure that against the expected progress of second-year man LeSean McCoy. Is McCoy, in fact, ready to be the go-to running back right now?
Westbrook has talked since the season ended of his interest in coming back and playing more, and of his confidence that he can again reach star level. That sounds great. It is good to hear Westbrook speak with such hunger and confidence. Everybody wants to see Westbrook back on the field and playing well.
But this is not an easy decision, not at all. How much responsibility do you give a player who is coming off such a difficult year?
**3. Filling The Need At Free Safety
The Eagles took a step backward at free safety in 2009. They allowed Brian Dawkins to leave in free agency and never found an answer to upgrade -- or even match -- Dawkins' play at the position. Quintin Demps, Macho Harris and Sean Jones didn't make enough plays and didn't provide the kind of play the Eagles really needed at such an important position.
So the hole is still there, and it is a gaping one in the back end of Sean McDermott's defense. The Eagles certainly don't want to give up on Demps or on Harris and they have to decide whether to retain Jones, a pending unrestricted free agent. Clearly, though, this is a huge defensive priority.
It wouldn't be a shock to see the Eagles add a free safety in free agency or in the draft. There are going to be some prime candidates out there. The Eagles need a player who can run in space and cover out of the box. They need a playmaker. They need somebody who is a good, solid tackler, who is physical and who is intelligent enough to master McDermott's scheme quickly.
Maybe it is Demps, who needs to approach this off-season differently than he did last year's. Maybe it is Harris, who should benefit greatly from a strong off-season. And maybe Jones, another year removed from his knee injury suffered in Cleveland, stays and makes a bid for the job.
Whatever, the Eagles need to be better here. Much, much better.
**4. The Andrews Brothers: Can They Help In 2010?
The Eagles got next to nothing from Shawn Andrews and Stacy Andrews combined last season, a vast disappointment. What plans do they have for either, or both, moving forward?
Stacy reportedly has wording in his contract that allows the Eagles to end his deal (you'll have to ask the great Adam Caplan about the details), but regardless, the Eagles have a lot invested in Andrews and they need to determine accurately how much they can count on him to start and to play well this year. If Stacy isn't a go at right guard, what do the Eagles do? Does the position suddenly become a high, high draft priority?
As for Shawn, he has missed all but one-plus game the last two seasons. He says he is rehabbing to play again after another back surgery. Is that for real? Will we ever again see Shawn Andrews in an Eagles uniform?
**5. What Is The Strategy In A No-Salary Cap 2010 Season?
This is certainly a macro issue for the Eagles and for every team in the league with the unknown future staring us all in the face. With a slew of key players set to become restricted free agents -- including fullback Leonard Weaver, wide receiver Jason Avant and offensive lineman Nick Cole -- the Eagles probably want to retain as many of the players as they possibly can on that list.
Once free agency begins, assuming there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement, what happens? Do teams go on a spending frenzy? Or is the market going to be dry as dust, forcing teams to really become creative to shake up rosters?
My guess is that there will be more trade action throughout the NFL than there will be all-out spending spree. Players who are truly unrestricted have already played in the league six seasons and approaching that not-so-magical age of 30 and, well, I just don't see teams going crazy over players of that age.
So I think it will be relatively tame, and that is why I rank the free agency time fifth on the list. When April rolls around, of course, the NFL draft becomes the No. 1 issue. The Eagles have seven draft picks, could have a couple of more in the late rounds if they are awarded compensatory picks from the NFL, and they have plenty of moves to make.
Top to bottom, each decision the Eagles face is critical. There are no easy answers in the off-season. The Eagles have some distance to cover to get to the top of the NFC. They have already done a lot making moves off the field. Next up is what you see on game days. It's nearly time to re-shape this roster.