Each day that creeps by, every hour that escapes and all of the pages being flipped on the calendar give more and more reason to think the Eagles are finished with free agency and that they are focused on the draft. There are no bombshell trades on the horizon, no change-the-roster moves ahead. The Eagles have a roster that they insist can win a Super Bowl, and they have the arsenal to add major pieces in the draft.
So what if they are done in free agency? And what if they don't have a "blockbuster" move to make before the post-draft mini-camp begins? What if the Eagles are going with what they have, plus the reinforcements from the draft?
Would this team be good enough to win a Super Bowl?
Good questions, all. Clearly, if the Eagles felt a need to go out once the free-agency period began and sign every player they could, they would have done so. Instead, the Eagles have been judicious. They signed Stacy Andrews to help fortify the offensive line. They shored up safety by inking Sean Jones and Rashad Baker.
Otherwise, the changes the Eagles have made have been done so to purge the roster of some veterans who made key contributions over the years. They are interested in promoting from within -- giving Quintin Demps a chance to start at free safety, for example -- and by filling in the acknowledged holes via the draft.
Are you on the edge of your seat expecting a foundation-jarring move, either a trade or a signing? Yeah, well, maybe you can lean back now and get comfortable. If it happens, great. Fun. Excitement. If not, don't be surprised. The pace of this off-season has come to a grinding halt around the league. League owners and head coaches meet in California next week for the Annual Meetings, so perhaps at that time there will be a loosening of the logjam.
Just don't count on it too much, at least for the Eagles.
Let's pretend the season started tomorrow. The Eagles would start a lineup very similar to the one that advanced through two rounds in the NFC playoffs and one that fell just short in the conference championship game in Arizona. Donovan McNabb would be the quarterback, with Dan Klecko/Kyle Eckel at fullback and Brian Westbrook at halfback. Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson start at wide receiver, with Jason Avant as the No. 2 wide receiver and either Hank Baskett or Reggie Brown at 4/5. Brent Celek is the tight end.
Up front, the biggest question mark for the Eagles in the off-season, there would be changes. No Tra Thomas. Probably no Jon Runyan, but that door is not yet closed. He is recovering from knee surgery, and the Eagles won't know about Runyan until June or so. In their places, the Eagles could move Shawn Andrews to left tackle and use Stacy Andrews at right tackle, or they could slide Todd Heremans from left guard to left tackle. Inside, the team would have Herremans, Jamaal Jackson and Nick Cole, the same group that started in the post-season.
On offense, then, nine of 11 starters would return. Obviously, the Eagles have to get some work done between now and September, and that work is expected to come in the last weekend in April, in the draft.
The defense returns almost entirely intact, with the obvious exception that Brian Dawkins is now a member of the Denver Broncos, and that the Eagles traded fourth cornerback Lito Sheppard to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick this year and a conditional draft pick next year. The defense has some questions within the returning players -- who is the starting left defensive end? Is Akeem Jordan the real deal at WILL linebacker? Can Chris Cocong take another step forward at SAM? -- but most eyes will be on free safety and the idea of replacing Dawkins.
I have several theories about this position. One, it sure isn't going to be fair to expect Demps to be Dawkins. Dawkins made a ton of big plays in his 13-year Eagles career, was voted to seven Pro Bowls and goes down as one of the greatest Eagles ever. Demps is a second-year player who has a lot to learn. He has to gain the instincts of a seasoned veteran very quickly. He has to learn the ins and outs of the scheme and the adjustments within the scheme.
Demps also has a lot to offer, so let's give Jim Johnson and his defensive coaching staff a chance to work with him. They are going to utilize his speed and his coverage skills. They are going to move him around the field a little bit and maybe see what Demps can do on a blitz.
The coaches may also make that position a hybrid spot, and move Quintin Mikell to free safety in some looks and use Sean Jones at strong safety. They want to find out what Rashad Baker can do in the defense. Johnson has some flexibility with his personnel here and he can give so many looks to take advantage of each player's skill set.
The key in this grand plan is that the young players upon whom Andy Reid and his coaching staff have so much trust take the necessary steps forward. Players like Jackson, Celek and the Andrews brothers on offense. Young men like Brodrick Bunkley, Trevor Laws, Stewart Bradley, Victor Abiamiri, Demps and Chris Clemons on defense. The law of averages in the NFL say that the players that provide the most impact are the ones who are drafted and groomed in a single system, not the ones who sign on as free agents. The Eagles are putting that theory to the test moving forward into 2009.
All of this could change in a heartbeat, of course. The Eagles could sign a free agent or make a trade and my words could be blown to smithereens. But I'm not holding my breath. I don't see anything coming down the pike. I think the Eagles passed on so many free agents because they like what they have more than what they could have signed off the streets. I think they trust their draft evaluations enough to believe they are going to make hay in April and set up this roster for a long run of sustained success.
If that is the way it goes, and if the Eagles now are largely what they are going to be in August, is the team good enough to win it all? The approach the team is taking is crystal clear. The blueprint for the off-season was laid out long before free agency came around, and the Eagles have steered clear of rash decisions and herky-jerky moves.
They have been disciplined and exact in their movements for the last few weeks. They made the decision to take this approach in the off-season and this is what they have done.
What's next? I don't know, but I'm starting to think free agency is over and the draft is all that matters. It is going to be an extraordinary weekend, with 12 draft picks in all. The draft is the backbone of every NFL franchise, and it appears the Eagles are ready to address any needs they think they have then, and only then.