Philadelphia Eagles News

What Is Right Mix On The Roster?

The tea leaves aren't always correct, of course. Nothing on paper is guaranteed to come true. The 2011 draft class suggests there is a continued youth movement afoot, but that is all it is at this point, a suggestion. The Eagles were already pretty darn young, as you know. The 2010 team averaged a shade over 25 years in age, ranking third-youngest in the NFL last season.

Still there are some positions that could get a lot younger this year. Let's take a look at some of those spots and then step back and evaluate the entire roster as it stands now.

KICKER

There are many questions here, of course. David Akers, a Pro Bowl performer who made 32 of 38 field goals in 2010, turns 37 in December. He still has plenty of leg strength and accuracy. He is still one of the very best in the game. Nobody argues that. But Akers is slated to be a free agent, and that is why the Eagles applied the transition tag to him back in March. What is still unknown is whether that transition tag will be valid after the new collective bargaining agreement is reached between the league and the players.

The Eagles drafted Alex Henery in the fourth round in April after his record-setting career at Nebraska. He has a big leg and a great history of success at the collegiate level, but that doesn't guarantee success in the NFL.

So ... It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out. Akers is the best kicker in franchise history and one of the best in the history of the game. He is still as reliable as anyone from 40 yards and in. His kickoffs are terrific. He has been through the big moments an NFL season has to offer.

The contract situation is a complicated one, and an unresolved question in many ways. The Eagles made sure to protect themselves by selecting Henery, an exciting prospect.

STRONG SAFETY

Eight-year veteran Quintin Mikell posted his third straight season with 100-plus tackles and was a leader in a young deep defensive backfield last season. He is scheduled to an unrestricted free agent, however, no matter the new rules (whether a player is unrestricted after four or six seasons) in the league.

The Eagles think they have a group of young safeties ready to step up and challenge for playing time. So even if Mikell returns, there is going to be competition from players like veteran Marlin Jackson, second-year man Kurt Coleman and rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett, the team's second-round draft pick in April. Should Mikell leave in free agency, the Eagles will be extremely young in the deep secondary.

Regardless of Mikell's status, the Eagles want to see their young safeties mature. They want to see Jackson healthy. They want depth and competition. They should have plenty of it at the safety spots. Nate Allen is expected to be healthy and ready to go, and in theory he could be the leader of the safeties in his second NFL season.

MIDDLE LINEBACKER

Does Stewart Bradley stay or does he go? He has been an Eagle for four seasons and, depending on the new NFL rules, could be ruled an unrestricted free agent. What happens if the league's rule say that players are eligible to be unrestricted free agents after four seasons and then the new deal is done and teams have, say, 72 hours to reach out to their own players to get deals done? Where would Bradley's interests and the Eagles' interests mesh in such a short period of time?

Injuries have eaten away at Bradley's four seasons here. He became a starter in 2008 and performed very well, and in fact appeared ready to become one of the NFC's finest at the middle linebacker position. But then he spent all of 2009 on Injured Reserve after suffering a torn ACL in the summer and last year he missed four games with injuries (concussion, elbow injury). Can Bradley stay healthy enough to become an elite player?

When Bradley went down last season, rookie Jamar Chaney stepped up and played well down the stretch. Then the Eagles drafted three linebackers, two of whom -- Casey Matthews and Greg Lloyd -- who could get looks at middle linebacker in practice at some point.

It is truly unknown whether Bradley returns. The Eagles tendered Bradley at a second-round compensation level should he be a restricted free agent in the NFL's new world, so they clearly value him as a player here.

But the unknown is Bradley's free-agency status. The Eagles have to make sure they are prepared to welcome Bradley back or move on without him in Juan Castillo's defense.

BACKUP QB

The biggest question since the end of 2010 is Kevin Kolb and his status. Trade rumors have swirled forever, it seems. The Eagles have a true commodity here -- a veteran backup quarterback who is still young enough to be a quality starter for many years to come in this league.

If Kolb leaves, who backs up Michael Vick? It could be Mike Kafka, who enters his second season having not thrown a pass in a regular-season game. If you think there isn't much of a drop off in terms of experience, you are mistaken. Kolb has shown he can go in for weeks at a time and win games and perform well. We haven't seen enough from Kafka to know how he will play in the regular season.

Of course, the Eagles could keep Kolb and head into the year with a three-deep situation at quarterback. Or they could trade Kolb and sign a veteran as a hedge against Kafka's lack of experience.

Quarterback is obviously a position to watch intently when the team gets back on the field.

Overall, the roster is young enough to expect improvement for years to come, and experienced enough in the key positions to have terrific veteran leadership. The offense looks like it will be largely untouched from last year -- first-round draft pick Danny Watkins is certainly expected to make an immediate contribution at right guard -- and should only improve as Vick has a preseason of working with the starters and the pieces around him get better.

The defense is experienced at the line of scrimmage. There are obvious personnel questions elsewhere, which add to the intrigue of the months ahead. Special teams with Akers and punter Sav Rocca's status (he is not signed) undetermined have a ways to go before all of the pieces are in place.

But there is a good blend here, one that is going to change with free agency, with the trade market and with some non-drafted rookies who come in and surprise. Andy Reid always has a vision of what he wants: A solid group of veterans leading the way for the younger players. The only difference with this group is that, based on what happens ahead, the over-30 club could be as small as it has ever been here as the roster churns and the Eagles build for a sustained run at division titles and deep playoff runs once again.

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