Consider this an eight-week season, absorbed in two-week quarters. The first quarter was very tough for the Eagles fans to digest, a topsy-turvy time with a multitude of moves -- additions and losses -- that caused a spirited emotional reaction. The second quarter has been more sedate, but every bit as enlightening. The final half of the season remains to be played, and with it will come more of a total perspective on the plan in place during this off-season.
To understand and appreciate things, we have to step back and look at the whole picture. That was a challenge in the first quarter of the season as the departure of Brian Dawkins in free agency dominated many quick-trigger opinions of the success of the execution of the plan the Eagles put in place. Now that time has passed and more moves have been made, it's a much different picture.
Consider how this roster has changed: The Eagles allowed Dawkins, left tackle Tra Thomas and some players who produced in reserve roles -- safety Sean Considine, running back Correll Buckhalter and tight end L.J. Smith -- to roll in free agency. They traded a couple of other veteran backups, cornerback Lito Sheppard and wide receiver Greg Lewis, for draft picks.
What have they added? Everything has to go right, so we'll see how it all unfolds through the summer, but the Eagles think they have added a starting offensive lineman -- position to be officially determined by the coaching staff, but right tackle seems a logical educated guess -- for Stacy Andrews. They added an experienced starting safety in Sean Jones, who had more success as a strong safety in Cleveland, and who figures to compete for a starting job in the Eagles secondary. Then the Eagles brought on board another safety, Rashad Baker, who played well in spot duty with the Raiders and also did a good job on special teams.
On Saturday, the Eagles signed a starting fullback, Leonard Weaver, who agreed to terms a day earlier and who made his rounds (more on him later) over the weekend.
Four players signed, two draft picks added for April, five players gone in free agency and two players traded.
How does it look now, versus the knee-jerk reaction from two weeks ago?
Obviously, it is different, and it is going to change even more as the Eagles go through the second half of the off-season, as they creep closer to the draft and as trade whispers become trade shouts and deals draw closer to reality. The most wonderful weekend of the year, the NFL draft, will provide the backbone of this off-season, and the Eagles go in with 12 picks, ample manueverability under the salary cap to do as they choose, and some great options.
How will it look then, versus how it looks now?
When you think that the Eagles could add two, maybe three, starters in free agency, that's makes for a very, very successful period of time. A thin crop of talent? Yeah, everybody agreed on that. To come away with two or three starters, then -- if it all works out, of course -- is a real positive.
And, yes, the Eagles lost some talent. They lost some leadership. They lost some defining players from an Eagles era. But this has happened before, and when it has happened before, the Eagles have come through well. Andy Reid has successfully identified players to promote, and the locker room has transitioned from one group of leaders to the next.
There is a long way to go in this marathon of an off-season (and, yeah, the draft is still five weeks out!) and who knows what is around the corner. I was convinced the Eagles were finished in free agency as recently as a few days ago. I knew the Weaver thing was still out there, but as the days went by without any kind of decision, and with other teams reportedly jumping in and showing interest, I kind of figured the door was closed on Weaver becoming an Eagle. I was wrong, though, gladly.
We're nearing halftime of this eight-week off-season. A few things come to mind as for the Eagles' approach. One, the roster has become quite a bit younger, and that's OK. That may be a great thing, actually. I want to see if youth makes a difference starting a season strong -- an area I think the Eagles need to improve -- and if fresher legs help in those late-playoff games.
Two, the mantle of leadership now extends to the next generation of Eagles players like defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and linebacker Stewart Bradley and safety Quintin Mikell. Everyone who has watched Dawkins and Thomas and Jon Runyan over the years now must step up just a little bit more in that area.
And three, what is very evident is that the Eagles are going in guns blazing into the draft. This is where the core of the team deep into the next decade will be added. And because the Eagles were able to fortify safety, and add a starter on the offensive line and at fullback, there are fewer definite needs in the draft. The Eagles have narrowed their must-have list for the draft considerably in the free-agency period.
Odds And Ends And This And That
- Weaver stopped by the Eagles Live! studio on Saturday and was in great spirits. He seems to have a wonderful personality and genuinely seems thrilled to be an Eagle.
"I've gotten a lot of love about being here," he said, "and if they want me to open holes, I'm going to do that. If they want me to carry the football a little bit, that's fine. And if they throw me the ball, I'm definitely going to catch it. Things are going to be great here. The system is pretty much what I'm used to running, and I think I'm going to get involved in the offense and do what they want me to do."
Weaver had other options in free agency, but went with the Eagles and the one-year contract.
"We are going to see what happens about that," said Weaver. "I'm just looking forward to learning everything I can and contributing any way I can."
- Just so everyone gets this straight, Weaver's signing means Dan Klecko goes back to defensive tackle. He isn't a lock to make the team, and he knows that. Nothing has ever come easily for Klecko, who will now bulk up to 280 pounds or so for training camp.
- Why so many one-year contracts? My theory is that many agents are caught at this point in free agency. The large money is off the table as far as lavish signing bonuses and guaranteed contracts for multiple seasons. So they want their players to get into a situation where the player can go out and have a good season and then take another crack at free agency in 2010. Keep tabs on how many players around in the league are in this situation now, and how many have their contracts extended by their current teams during the 2009 season.
- A wish list? It's becoming smaller for the draft. The Eagles need to add at running back, at tight end and maybe on the offensive line in the draft. Wide receiver, if they have a chance. On defense, one could argue that the team is set. I don't think a team is ever set. So anything goes on defense, although there are no glaring needs, even for depth purposes. It is a good situation to have.
- The Eagles will soon begin entertaining draft prospects at the NovaCare Complex. Then again, maybe they have already had some players in. Those visits are kept private.
- Head coach Andy Reid is slated to meet the media this week at the league's Annual Meetings in California.
- I aim to talk with Eldra Buckley soon, just to find out what he is all about. Buckley spent two seasons on San Diego's practice squad and is a tough running back whom the Eagles claimed off of waivers. I'm always looking for players who come from relatively obscurity and make it with the Eagles.