Behind the scenes, the Eagles are busy planning for a free-agency period that promises to be one-of-a-kind in its (apparently) uncapped nature. In a matter of the next few weeks, the Eagles will tender their restricted free agents, reach out to those who they may try to extend with longer-term contracts and prepare for an off-season of wheeling and dealing.
The list of unrestricted free agents -- should there be no new Collective Bargaining Agreement -- is a short one with only four players, but that list of restricted free agents is a tricky one, containing many players who are key pieces here.
Let's take a look at the lists for free agency as the Eagles look to initially take care of their own before venturing out into the world of free agency ...
*UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS *
*S SEAN JONES *
Signed to a one-year contract during last year's free agency, Sean Jones made some contributions to the Eagles' defense in 2009. As the team got on a bit of a run midway through the season, Jones stepped up as the starter at free safety and played pretty good football. He started nine games, picked off a couple of passes and recorded a quarterback sack.
But Jones never established himself as *the *guy at free safety and fit more of the description of what he was billed to be: More of an in-the-box strong safety than a pure free safety. Jones made some plays during the course of the season, but at the end of the year Sean McDermott went back to Macho Harris and, well, that's where we stand at free safety. For now.
Of course, many expect free safety to be a primary position to address in the off-season. Does Jones fit into the equation?
*LB JEREMIAH TROTTER *
It was a great story and Jeremiah Trotter played as well as the Eagles could have reasonably expected. Trotter was physical and he played hard and he provided leadership in the young locker room as the Eagles make their playoff run. The future for Trotter? He wants to continue to play and he would be a nice backup somewhere. Here, the middle linebacker spot belongs to Stewart Bradley unless the Eagles plan on moving Bradley and adding a middle linebacker somewhere.
It would seem to be a long shot to think that Trotter will return to the Eagles in 2010, but stranger things have happened. Who ever thought he would be an Eagle in 2009?
*DE JASON BABIN *
Nice player who goes at it hard on every snap, and Jason Babin's performance in 2009 should have put him back in the minds of NFL coaches. He has great energy coming off the edge on the right side of the defense and he played well on special teams. Free agency may prove to be a great thing for Babin as he searches for a more permanent situation.
Defensive end is certainly a position the Eagles could add to in the months ahead, and perhaps Babin is someone they would like to get back in the right kind of role. He isn't a starter here, though, and he is probably looking for more playing time somewhere.
LB TRACY WHITE
A terrific special teams player, Tracy White upgraded his status in 2009 by showing the coaches that he could cover in the passing game. White, in fact, became a nickel linebacker and did a good job late in the season.
Linebacker is certainly a position the Eagles need to look at and evaluate. They get Bradley and Omar Gaither (see below) back after injuries, and they will expect Will Witherspoon to play faster in the scheme with an off-season of working as an Eagle.
White is the kind of player you want to keep around. He isn't a star, but he is a good role player who does a lot of good things. It will be interesting to see what happens to White moving forward.
*RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS *
*FB LEONARD WEAVER *
Free agency generally has more losers than winners, but the signing of Leonard Weaver last year proved to be a perfect win-win situation. Weaver played great football and won a spot on the Pro Bowl roster. The Eagles used a true fullback just about perfectly, and the marriage here is so perfect that it is hard to think Weaver would leave in free agency this year.
The key will be in how the Eagles tender Weaver, one of several key players scheduled to be a restricted free agent. That's why what is happening behind the scenes is so integral in the off-season success. The Eagles have to want Weaver back and Weaver has indicated that he wants to return. We'll see how the business of the business unfolds for Weaver and the Eagles.
*WR JASON AVANT *
Another key player in the off-season puzzle, Jason Avant fits in well with the Eagles for the long haul. Avant is a premier slot receiver in this league and the trio of Avant, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin is as young and as talented and as set as any trio in the league.
At the same time, the NFL is a business and Avant has a chance to cash in on his success. He will be an important player to tender and to retain for the Eagles.
*CB ELLIS HOBBS *
Prior to a neck injury that ended his season, Ellis Hobbs was making a very positive impact here. He proved that he was one of the game's best kickoff return men and Hobbs was perhaps the best dime cornerback in the league. It could be argued that Hobbs was pushing Joselio Hanson for more playing time before the injury.
We haven't heard from Hobbs in quite some time. The last word, after his surgery, was that Hobbs was expected to make a full recovery and be ready to go in 2010. It would be quite a plus for things to work out that way, and for Hobbs to play in Philadelphia for at least another season.
*OL NICK COLE *
Now here is an interesting player to watch in the free-agency period. Nick Cole has basically been a starter the last two seasons for the Eagles and has shown he plays both guard and center well. With Jamaal Jackson recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Cole could be a key player for 2010 at center as the Eagles determine whether Jackson can be healthy in time for the year.
Is Cole a really good starting offensive lineman, or is he better suited to the role of reserve at both guard spots and center? How much is Cole worth as a restricted free agent? The Eagles tendered him last year at a second-round draft pick level, so they obviously believe he has a lot of value.
*TE ALEX SMITH *
Although he isn't much of a pass catcher, Alex Smith helps an offense by blocking well, by getting to the right spots and by serving as an option for the quarterback. For Smith, though, the picture here is one of a bunch of talented young players. Brent Celek is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and second-year man Cornelius Ingram is hoping for some good luck from a health standpoint so he can show some of his enormous ability. Martin Rucker is going to press for a roster spot, too.
Now, the Eagles may consider hedging their bets given Ingram's health history and may want to keep Smith around, just in case. We'll know a lot about how the Eagles feel about Ingram by how they treat Smith's pending restricted free agent status.
LB OMAR GAITHER
Coming off the tough injury, Omar Gaither has a lot to play for this year. He is a valued member of the defense in all three phases of the scheme and it's likely that Gaither will have a busy role in the defense in 2010.
Gaither wants to be a starter and is good enough to start, but there are clearly no guarantees of that here. The Eagles don't have their spots settled, but they should have great competition, with Gaither in the mix.
*OG MAX JEAN-GILLES *
He is another player who wants to start and it would seem that Max Jean-Gilles is in the mix as the Eagles project what they want to do with the right guard position. Jean-Gilles is a big, strong blocker who isn't the most athletic player on the field. His strength is his strength, not his quickness. Jean-Gilles provides excellent depth and he is a player who can help at any point in the season or at any time in a game.
Do the Eagles see him as a starter? Where do they tender him? Is he is the kind of player who would interest another team if the Eagles tender him at a modest level?
LB CHRIS GOCONG
Moving Chris Gocong to SAM linebacker seemed like such a great idea four years ago, but the experiment clearly hasn't gone as the Eagles hoped. Gocong lost his starting job in 2009 and did not emerge until he played a really strong game in the playoffs against Dallas. Now what?
Well, Gocong is a very good football player. He is terrific on special teams. He plays good downhill football from the line of scrimmage. But he is a linebacker?
In a perfect world, Gocong would love to stay here and be a starting linebacker. But, well, this is the NFL, and there isn't a player more in flux than Gocong. If he were an unrestricted free agent, Gocong could consider options from teams that play a 3-4 scheme and become a full-time edge rusher. But as a restricted free agent, Gocong's next step is uncertain.
*P SAV ROCCA *
After a much-improved 2009 season, Sav Rocca has the benefit of working with new special teams coach Bobby April, as well as facing legitimate competition from Durant Brooks. Rocca, a tremendous holder who made great strides with his directional kicking last season, has plenty of leg left and would seem to be a sure thing to return to the Eagles this season.
But you never know. There aren't many punters out there. And with an uncapped year ahead, who knows how 32 NFL teams are going to approach free agency?
**LB AKEEM JORDAN
**A good, young linebacker, Akeem Jordan should be in line to compete for a starting WILL job in 2010. His injury last year really hampered the linebackers. Jordan continues to improve his body, improve his technique and he could be one of those young players ready to blossom in his fourth NFL season.
But, as with everything, Jordan's status is a bit unknown as free agency nears, as the Eagles near time to announce their tenders and we get a clear picture of the intentions this team has for 2010.