A begrudging congratulations to the New York Giants, a team that thrived in the face of adversity instead of capitulating like so many others. This team lost, what, six starters to season-ending injuries before the regular season even started? To still have enough talent and depth to overcome that volume of devastating injuries is beyond remarkable. From 7-7 and on life support to 13-7 and Super Bowl champions, they pretty much did the exact same thing the Packers did en route to winning the Lombardi Trophy last season, all the way down to weathering the mass-injury plague. I may hate the Giants, but, damn, do I respect them. Which is more than I can say for any other team in the NFC East.
And with that, the 2012 season has now begun.
My reaction to Jeffrey Lurie's post-season press conference, in which he essentially said Andy's getting one more chance, can be summed up in one word: "Whatever." Seriously, whatever. Nearly three weeks later, Steve Spagnuolo's signing with the Saints elicited an identical response. My reaction when it was announced that Juan Castillo would remain defensive coordinator? This might come as a shock, but that too got nothing more than a shoulder shrug and "whatever" out of me. All we've really learned in the month following Lurie's bizarre postmortem is that the supposedly unacceptable is, in fact, perfectly acceptable. At least for one more season. The status quo, aside from the hiring of Todd Bowles -- a move I really like, by the way -- to replace scapegoat du jour Johnnie Lynn, remains. Andy Reid has decided that if he's gonna go down, then dammit, he's gonna do down with his guys. And really, if the 2012 season is truly the end of Andy in Philadelphia, then this is how it has to happen, right? Stubbornly. His way.
My indifference when it comes to this franchise has reached an unprecedented level. I almost feel like an outside observer or some kind of casual, neutral fan. I really never thought it would be possible for a team I love so dearly to drive me away and engender such intense feelings of apathy, but here we are, and the Eagles have succeeded. It's just a thoroughly unlikable team that has devolved into a league-wide laughingstock. I didn't even watch the last four games (for the first time ever), that's how apathetic I was, how detached I'd become from the situation. This season was a disgrace, and the organization's upcoming actions will prove a lot more than the owner's verbal diarrhea. This isn't a team nor franchise that I can be proud of right now, and that's what upsets and disheartens me the most. As I've said before, I can accept losing (Lord knows I've had plenty of practice). That's not the issue. What I can't accept is how this Eagles team lost games. I don't ask for much, just that the team plays hard and puts forth an acceptable effort that shows me they care as much as I do (if not more). To start, enough with the olé bullshit in lieu of making a tackle on defense and being so scared of getting hit on offense that you go down a yard before the first down marker. In other words, populate the roster with guys who aren't soft pussies.
I never thought Andy Reid was going to get fired, not at any point. I also think keeping him for next season is the right decision. It's been 13 seasons, why not give him one more shot? It worked for the Steelers with Bill Cowher in his 14th season, might as well try here. I say let's beat this dead horse until it's dead again. Maybe it'll surprise us and spring back to life. Unfortunately, I don't have confidence that Andy can beat any of the other elite coaches in the league in playoff games because the decade-plus of anecdotal evidence I have against him is damning. Then again, that's what Steelers fans thought of Cowher until he won the Super Bowl in, yes, his 14th season as head coach. That's what I'm holding onto at this point. How pathetic. I also must say it was almost cute to watch Andy attempt to make nice with the media at his most recent press conference. This should be an interesting subplot to monitor if it continues.
Alright, back to rant mode. The bitter pessimist in me says the Eagles will go 10-6 this upcoming season but lose in the first or second round of the playoffs. If that earns Andy an extension, I'll probably just give up entirely. For real this time. Perhaps I'm too jaded and negative, but I think Andy is still resting on the merit and reputation he earned during his first six seasons here. Hell, the entire organization is doing the same thing. In the last seven seasons, the reality is that Reid has been a pretty average coach, with a .554 win percentage (62-49-1). In that time, the Eagles have mustered a meager three playoff wins -- for example's sake, the Arizona Cardinals have four -- in seven tries, while the overall body of work has been underwhelming. Yet this organization still sees itself as being among the league's elite (the only elite NFL team from the NFC East is the fucking New York Giants). The fact of the matter is the Eagles have not been part of that exclusive fraternity since Rodney Harrison intercepted Donovan McNabb to end Super Bowl XXXIX. And, really, as far as I'm concerned, that era of Eagles football officially ended (again) with the loss in the NFC Championship Game to Arizona -- a feeling that was only further reaffirmed with Jim Johnson's passing six months later. Jeffrey Lurie, Joe Banner, Andy Reid, and Howie Roseman can spin it any way they want, but that doesn't make the truth any less true.
The Eagles have broken my spirit. It began in earnest with the playoff loss to Green Bay when LeSean McCoy got a pathetic 12 carries (after I implored Andy/Marty not to abandon the run game no matter what), while this past season only served to cement my disillusionment. I honestly don't even feel I'm going to be all that excited for next season because, just as I wrote in August, I doubt the Eagles will give me any reason to believe in them. Again, changes to the roster are all well and good from a superficial standpoint, but I need to see a change on the FIELD -- you know, where games are actually won and lost. And then I need to see that change on the field SUSTAINED, to the point that it becomes part of the team's identity instead of fleeting schizophrenia. I'm just tired of the same shit over and over and over and over and over and over again. Watching the playoffs the last month, one thing is obvious to me: The Eagles don't have what it takes to even make a Super Bowl, much less win one. Collectively, there's no toughness, no grit, no steely resolve, no wherewithal to dig deep and gut out a win in the final minutes. Until this team gets meaner and more physical on BOTH sides of the ball, it will continue to fall short of the ultimate goal. It's really that simple. For the love of God, start drafting bigger, more athletic players, instead of the undersized "fastballs" with "high motors." This is especially necessary for a defense that was the SMALLEST IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE this past season. If there isn't a change in philosophy with the Eagles, there won't be a change on the field either. That's one thing the front office and coaching staff don't seem to understand; and if they do, refuse to acknowledge it. Wait, hold on, given Howie Roseman's comments down at the Senior Bowl, perhaps he understands a philosophical change -- at least to the draft process -- is needed. Hey, it's a start.
Overriding snark aside, I like that Roseman, though it's certainly far from just his fault, took ownership of what's happened with the Eagles recently on the personnel side and conceded that some reevaluation of the team's draft methods is necessary. Admitting a mistake is the first step in correcting it and shows a certain level of humility, so at least we can point to this as progress for an organization that is loathe to admit it's capable of missteps. But Roseman's words, much like those of owner Jeff Lurie, won't matter if the subsequent actions don't show the organization is committed to practicing what it is now preaching. I've written this before about the Eagles, and I'll write it again: Time to put up or shut up. Roseman gets a lot of shit from the all-knowing public, which, as we all know, would be doing such a better job if it ran the team. Often disparaged as "the accountant" (or "the lawyer") and Joe Banner's pet project, Roseman has been unfavorably stigmatized by the fire-breathing masses due to his deep connection to the current regime. The pompous opinion that because Roseman is not a former player he can't possibly know how to judge talent is misguided and, frankly, unfair. However, until his draft hauls surpass mediocre, he'll do nothing to silence the critics, and the Eagles will continue to come up short. Hitting on late round picks is admirable, but acquiring impact players in the early rounds is paramount. The reason the Eagles made such a splash in free agency after the lockout ended was because they'd drafted so poorly on defense in recent years and needed to compensate for the dearth of talent on that side of the ball. People realize that Trent Cole is the only defensive player drafted by the Eagles since 2005 to make the Pro Bowl (or really even be just an above average NFL starter), right? Championship rosters are built primarily through the draft, while free agency should be utilized sparingly and only as a complementary component. That's how the Eagles used to construct their teams.
Overall, my stance has not changed and will not change. Saying the right things is easy, but we're long past the point with this franchise where words mean anything anyway. Unless the actions going forward reflect a change in organizational philosophy, what is said by Lurie, Reid, Roseman, Banner, et al. will be nothing but a bunch of hot air meant to appease the desperate fans who are too gullible to understand they're being treated like morons. Personally, I'm fed up with being lied to and having my grasp of the situation patronized (at least Michael Curry gets it). If you want to wallow in delusion about this franchise's ability to compete with the elite, feel free. I refuse to be a Kool-Aid-chugging lemming who will continue to feed the machine and blindly follow it right off a cliff.
Hmmm... you know, that actually felt better. Cathartic, really. Now I'll do exactly what Andy and Howie will spend the next month doing. Time to evaluate the roster and devise a plan for free agency and the draft.
/Puts on GM hat
/Gives nod to all-knowing public
7 - Michael Vick - Make or break season for Vick, especially since most of his bonus money will be paid out and the Eagles could easily cut him if they decide to go in another direction. From the euphoria of his comeback season to the disappointment of an all-too-real fall back to earth, Vick finds himself at a crucial career crossroads. It's time for him to prove whether he's matured enough as a quarterback to be one of the true elites in the league, or if this past season was indicative that the new Michael Vick is essentially the old Michael Vick. One thing I believe in my bones: Asking Vick to throw the ball 35-40 per game times is not a recipe for success. It's just a shame Andy and Marty don't share my opinion.
3 - Mike Kafka - Let him compete for the backup job with a veteran free agent signee (Shaun Hill, perhaps?). I'm not opposed to drafting a quarterback who the team might regard as a possible successor to Michael Vick. The only problem is I don't see that guy in this draft and would rather just hold out for Geno Smith next season. Speaking of Geno, he's awesome. Makes pro throws, spins a really pretty ball. I've been a fan since he smoked Maryland as a sophomore in the third start of his career. It was fun to watch Geno enter the national scene in 2011 in Dana Holgersen's offense, and then even more fun to watch while he announced himself as a legitimate Heisman Trophy threat in 2012 (he's my pick to win) by throwing for six touchdowns in the record-breaking 70-33 annihilation of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The Monday Night Football crew could hardly contain itself, and Jon Gruden compared the wiry quarterback to Randall Cunningham -- or, "Starship 12" -- every other play. I'm really looking forward to Geno's senior season at West Virginia, as well as the successful NFL career that will follow.
25 - LeSean McCoy - Finished eighth in the league in carries, fourth in rushing yards, and first in touchdowns. Speaking of things the coaches -- in this case the offensive mastermind duo of Marty MornHINweg and Andy Reid -- must realize and acknowledge, the offense NEEDS to be built around Shady, not Michael Vick and the passing game. Please, Marty/Andy, for the love of all things holy, just fucking do it.
Edit: I couldn't disagree more with Ron Burke's opinion about McCoy's contract situation and sincerely hope the Eagles are able to sign Shady to an extension before training camp starts. Please, don't let this get messy. He turns 24 in the summer, and if anyone is well worth the risk inherent with giving a running back boatloads of guaranteed money, it's him. McCoy is durable (hasn't suffered a serious injury in college or the pros, knock on wood) and deserves that kind of financial commitment, especially because he's not signing this contract at age 26 or 27 when running backs are already nearing the tail end of their prime. The way I see it, Shady has at least five or six years left as a dominant player. Perfect. Give him six years (I'd probably even do seven) at $60-$65 million with $30-$35 million guaranteed. I think that's more than a fair offer, no? It would make him the second-highest paid running back in football behind Adrian Peterson, who signed a $100 million deal with $36 million guaranteed. It sucks and is unfortunate that Peterson blew out his knee at the end of the season, but I'm not a proponent of withholding a contract offer because a player might get injured. I feel even more strongly about it when said player doesn't have an injury history, even if he plays a position as dangerous as running back. You can't operate out of fear of the unknown.
28 - Dion Lewis - Impressed in the preseason, and then again when he filled in for McCoy at running back in the last game against the Redskins. I like Dion more than I thought I would coming out of college.
10 - DeSean Jackson - I was ready to run him out of town during the season, but I've since taken a step back and cooled off. Play hard, that's all I ask. If DeSean truly would accept the franchise tag and promise that his monetary compensation won't be an issue in the upcoming season, then you fucking franchise him. He'll be getting paid as one of the top five receivers in the league, and he'll have an entire season to prove he deserves that kind of money on a consistent basis moving forward. Given how little the Eagles have had to pay DeSean over the course of his rookie contract and what a predictable soap opera the issue became, I think it'd be good karma for management to fork over the $9.5 million said tag will cost -- you know, almost for services rendered. Hopefully both sides here can cease the endless dick-measuring contest, cut all the bullshit, and come to a resolution. Yet somehow I have that sneaking suspicion this is headed for disaster. Again.
81 - Jason Avant - Keep catching the ball on third down and having the best hands among the wide receivers. Not talking shit about the fans is a good idea, too.
14 - Riley Cooper - Thought he was going do more this past season, hope he does in 2012. Cooper has ability, and we see glimpses of it when he gets playing time.
18 - Jeremy Maclin - An enigmatic and inconsistent season for Maclin coming off his health scare. The drop on fourth down against the Falcons and fumble at the end of the 49ers game were particularly brutal. Maclin will have an entire offseason to train without any distractions and has proven over his first two seasons that he's a damn good wide receiver. Time to break that 1,000-yard barrier in 2012.
87 - Brent Celek - Someone who I can say I'm genuinely proud wears an Eagles jersey. Celek plays the game the right way. I think he's the best tight end the franchise has had since Pete Retzlaff and doesn't get the respect he deserves around the league. Given how sexy and trendy the position is becoming with big, freakishly athletic superstars, it's easy to overlook just how good Celek is. Hands, route running, toughness, competitiveness, durability, and a deceptively good athlete with enough speed to break big plays. I'll never forget the moment he first endeared himself to me and couldn't tell you how happy I was when the Eagles drafted him. I even called in to WIP the same night of the selection to tell the host how much Philly would love Celek, and that he would be the starting tight end within three years. By the time he started to emerge as a player at the end of his second season and into the playoffs, I'd already made up my mind that he'd be my next jersey purchase. It's been satisfying to witness how Celek has evolved into a legitimate weapon. He is one of the better players at his position and should be utilized frequently in the passing game. There's no reason Celek shouldn't hit 1,000 yards receiving next season if he gets enough targets. We're talking about a guy who performed at a Pro Bowl level over the past eleven games of the season despite playing with a sports hernia AND torn labrum! Holy shit. Aren't these typically injuries that keep guys out for months? Maybe Celek's a cyborg, sent to earth to show humans what it's like to be the toughest, most indestructible motherfucker in the universe. His lucky escape unscathed from what otherwise could have been a horrific car accident on his 27th birthday is perhaps just further evidence of that.* Put together 50 guys who want it as much as Brent Celek, and you'll have yourself a Super Bowl-worthy roster.
*But in all honesty, as Brent said the next day, what an idiotic and regrettable decision. Getting in a car with a drunk driver? Come on, dude; what is this, high school?!
82 - Clay Harbor - I like Harbor's skill set and think he can be a significant contributor on offense. More two tight-end sets, please. Hell, I'm in favor of drafting one of those big, freakishly athletic tight ends that are all the rage -- because they're so fucking good -- and running three tight-end sets.
62 - Jason Kelce - The classic Mudder has developed into a Jeff Saturday clone and has a chance to be one of the best centers in the league if he can get stronger without sacrificing the speed, quickness, and agility that make him so unique and effective. The Eagles, who have a pretty favorable track record when it comes to picking guys from Cincinnati (Trent Cole, Brent Celek, Jason Kelce), need to draft players from that school every year. In fact, I say it should be team policy. No, really, it should be team policy. Top candidates for April's draft: Derek Wolfe (DT) and Isaiah Pead (RB). Remember Wolfe for later.
63 - Danny Watkins - Though he waffled between solid and inconsistent, Watkins got better as the season went along and started to show the promise that had so many people championing him as a future Pro Bowler before the draft. Still not there yet, though, but hopefully it's just a matter of time, coaching, and continued reps.
69 - Evan Mathis - Perpetually underrated journeyman who's found a home in Philadelphia playing for Howard Mudd, which Mathis says is the best thing to happen to his career. Seeing as how he ended up being the team's best free agent signing, I'd say it's a move that has worked out for both sides. Re-signing him is a priority. I also immensely enjoy Mathis's Twitter personality, especially when he responds to ridiculous Eagles fans who get mad at him for defending his coach.
71 - Jason Peters - Excelled in Mudd's scheme and made himself into the best left tackle in football. There are few things I enjoy more than watching Peters get out in space and clear the way for Shady. Just turned 30 a few weeks ago.
79 - Todd Herremans - Classic unsung hero who, like Celek, doesn't get the credit or recognition he deserves. Highly versatile and a Pro Bowl-level performer at whatever position he plays, whether it be guard or tackle. He'll be turning 30 next season. I hope Herremans is a career Eagle.
73 - Julian Vandervelde - Make him earn a spot in training camp.
93 - Jason Babin - Still not a fan of Babin's self-centered, douchetastic attitude or disdain for even pretending to play run defense, but there's no denying his impact as a pass rusher. He is one hell of a weapon in Jim Washburn's scheme. Besides, he's not going anywhere.
97 - Cullen Jenkins - A veteran leader, on a team devoid of necessary veteran leadership, who knows what it takes to win. Wore down in the second half of the season but is just as valuable for what he contributes off the field as well as on it. Dear Eagles management, pick up Jenkins' option and pay the man the $7.5 million he deserves.
98 - Mike Patterson - Happy to hear the ATV surgery went well and look forward to having Patterson back as part of the DL rotation.
90 - Antonio Dixon - Recovering from torn triceps injury that ended his season in Week 4 against San Francisco; possesses enormous upside and remains one of my favorite players on the team. Remember how good he can be? Dixon is a restricted free agent, and I'd put a first round tender on him if necessary.
94 - Derek Landri - An afterthought when he signed during training camp, Landri quickly made an impression on coaches and teammates, which made him the most difficult of the final roster cuts. After Dixon's injury, Landri was brought back and immediately made an impact, ingratiating himself and attaining cult-like status among fans because of how hard he played. It was actually refreshing to witness, given the state of the team. Watching Landri only made the deplorable effort of some of his teammates more glaring. Seemed like he was blowing a play up at or behind the line of scrimmage (or blocking a field goal) whenever he got on the field. Overachiever and maximum effort guy who goes all out every snap. Landri was a real bright spot in an otherwise miserable season and must be re-signed.
72 - Cedric Thornton - Sleeper for next season. Thornton is an impressive physical specimen with size, strength, quickness, and tremendous upside who actually caught my eye during the 2011 Senior Bowl.
58 - Trent Cole - Of course.
55 - Darryl Tapp - Had his moments; acceptable rotational DE. Would still look for a possible upgrade in the draft.
54 - Brandon Graham - Make or break season coming up for the guy who's now unfortunately known as the player the Eagles selected instead of Earl Thomas or Jason Pierre-Paul. The Jerome McDougle comparisons are underway, as well. I liked Graham at Michigan and am rooting for him now -- he's been unfairly judged as a result of having to rehab a major injury. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, especially when the other two players associated with his struggles are very much in sight and mind. Fans can really be brutal sometimes. I just know that Washburn thought Graham was the best DE in the draft and likely can't wait to really work with him. That's good enough for me.
76 - Phillip Hunt - Like Thornton, Hunt is another sleeper for next season. He's one of those "fastball" types that the Eagles love and is much-maligned by the fan base, but this guy can play. Flashed legit NFL ability during the preseason and made a noticeable impact on every game. When he got real playing time later in the regular season, Hunt proved his preseason performance was no fluke.
56 - Akeem Jordan - Special teams staple and capable backup.
51 - Jamar Chaney - Regressed in 2011 while playing in a less than desirable situation. Tackling was just atrocious. Still shows potential and promise.
57 - Keenan Clayton - I didn't even know who Clayton was when the Eagles selected him. Nothing special, but he's started to show his utility as a player, especially in coverage, and fills a linebacker/safety hybrid role.
59 - Brian Rolle - Easily my favorite rookie and one of the few playmakers the Eagles have on defense. I know he's small and all that, but the guy is a heat-seeking missile who can play. I'm eager to see how he progresses in his second season.
50 - Casey Matthews - Was most certainly not put in a position to succeed earlier in the season. What the shit, Andy and Juan? I thought you guys always say you need to do a better job of that. As I wrote both before and after the draft, Matthews is fine as a backup and special teams player, but he's not an NFL caliber starter.
24 - Nnamdi Asomugha - Here's to hoping Year 2 of the Nnamdi experiment goes better than Year 1. Hey, Juan, how about you just leave him in man coverage against the other team's best receiver. Thanks. Signed, Everybody. I hope Todd Bowles, the third piece of the Eagles' revolutionary defensive coordinator triumvirate, will be able to get the secondary playing like something other than ass.
21 - Joselio Hanson - You could do worse at the slot cornerback position, but make Hanson earn his job in camp.
31 - Curtis Marsh - Was one of my sleepers in the draft last year (see Matthews link) and I still love his size, length, athleticism, and overall talent. I know Marsh had two clunkers on special teams this season, but I'm more concerned how he plays at corner. Look forward to seeing him get a chance.
27 - Brandon Hughes - Actually thought he played fine when given the chance, but another guy who has to earn his spot again in camp.
29 - Nate Allen - Had a tough season coming back from a ruptured patellar tendon. I was skeptical when Nate and the Eagles said he'd be full strength by the start of the season. Turns out I had good reason to doubt the reports. My dad ruptured his patellar tendon over a decade ago and said he didn't start to feel 100% until nearly a full year later. I know Pops isn't exactly a professional athlete, but still, that's a serious injury for any human to suffer. Allen was a step slow both in the preseason and at the start of the season and struggled mightily. He looked like a guy who didn't have enough trust in himself at times and was up and down overall. While Allen showed the flashes -- the Buffalo game, for example -- we saw during his rookie season, he didn't make any marked improvement overall, with the blowout loss against the Patriots being perhaps his worst game as a pro. Fully healthy for 2012, I expect a bounce-back season for Allen and still feel he has Pro Bowl potential -- just like I did when the Eagles drafted him.
42 - Kurt Coleman - There are times I love him, and there are times he drives me insane, but on the whole he's cool with me. I still think he's best suited as a backup.
30 - Colt Anderson - Wishing Colt the best of luck as he continues to rehab after undergoing surgery to repair his torn ACL. If there's one guy who went balls to the wall every time on the field and did not deserve to suffer a season-ending injury, it was him.
26 - Jaiquawn Jarrett - I liked Jarrett at Temple but was concerned how he'd adjust to the speed of the NFL game, as well as whether he could play the same style he did in college at his size (click on the link in the Matthews paragraph). The fact that he was barely able to get on the field over the incumbent safeties on the roster is not encouraging and does nothing to assuage my fears. Big offseason and upcoming 2012 season for Jarrett.
9 - Vince Young - Just leave. Now.
11 - Steve Smith - Yeah, Eagles, good work, he sure was ready by Week 1! And then when Smith did get on the field, he played like a giant pussy and was utterly useless. Money well spent. Hey, Steve, how sweet was it to leave the Giants for the Dream Team? Given the fact that he pocketed a cool $5 million from the Eagles this season, I'm sure he's not too upset.
22 - Asante Samuel - Good riddance, you self-aggrandizing piece of shit. Get the fuck away from my football team. The front office is not without a heaping load of the blame in this debacle, but I've had enough of Asante's act and me-first attitude.
Edit: I also don't like Asante as a player. At all. His playmaking ability, which is disappearing, isn't worth the number of times he's burned on a fake, or blatantly ignores and disrespects his defensive coordinator on the field so he can freelance, or dogs it on a tackle "attempt." Asante just isn't worth the headache (or the money; he'll make $9.4 million in 2012 and $11 million in 2013). Throw advanced stats at me about how good he is. I don't care. I go by what I see on the field and how I feel about it. Get rid of Asante now while he still has some value and before his decline accelerates.
31 - Ronnie Brown - Brown was responsible for the biggest, most incomprehensible brain fart of the season, but at least he was sorta responsible for saving someone's life at the trade deadline. Call it a wash.
32 - Owen Schmitt - I'd like to bring Schmitt back, but it's become increasingly apparent that a traditional fullback really doesn't have a place in this offense. An H-Back type of player, however, does.
53 - Moise Fokou - A Terp with a sweet name, but an insignificant and disposable player.
65 - King Dunlap - I give King a lot of shit, but he's played solidly as a backup and with his rare physical traits will likely garner interest from other teams as a potential starter. I bet he leaves for greener pastures.
67 - Jamaal Jackson - Standup guy who deserves better anyway.
74 - Winston Justice - No longer needed now that Herremans has taken his job.
75 - Juqua Parker - Nothing personal, but it's probably time to fill this spot with a younger player who also won't jump offside on 4th and 1 when it's obvious the other team has no intention of running a play. It's been real, Juqua.
91 - Trevor Laws - Followed up a season of promise with a total dud and is now a bona fide bust. It's time for Laws to go somewhere else and see if he doesn't suck there.
95 - Victor Abiamiri - I'm sure someone else will take his annual spot on IR.
96 - Greg Lloyd - Irrelevant.
Unrestricted Free Agency
DeSean Jackson - WR - 5'10" / 175 - DOB: 12/1/86 - 1 year, $9.5 million (Franchise Tag)
Evan Mathis - RG - 6'5" / 302 - DOB: 11/1/81 - 4 years, $18 million ($9.5 million bonus)
Derek Landri - DT - 6'2" / 290 - DOB: 9/21/83 - 3 years, $6.5 million ($3 million bonus)
Players of interest on the market:
Offer: 2 years, $15 million ($8 million bonus)
It looks like he's set to return to DC, but that won't stop me from indulging. This is more a pipe dream than anything else, especially since I've had to watch Fletcher waste away on the Redskins the past five years. He won't do anything to quell the clamor from fans, like me, for bigger linebackers, but he will put an end to the subpar play the Eagles have gotten from the middle linebacker spot. The ageless wonder is the most durable player in the entire league -- no, seriously, Fletcher somehow hasn't missed a game in his entire 14-year career -- and just had arguably his best season at 36 years young. Also don't underestimate his value as a veteran leader both on and off the field. Adding another Super Bowl champion to the roster is never a bad thing, either.
Now, if the Eagles decide they want to dip into free agency to find a more long-term solution at middle linebacker (I'd rather use the draft for that), there are plenty of enticing options. I think both Curtis Lofton and Stephen Tulloch, who seem to be the most popular names among Eagles fans, will stay with their current teams. My personal favorites on the market are David Hawthorne of the Seahawks (you remember him, don't you?), who has made himself into one of the league's best middle linebackers, and the relatively unknown Larry Grant of the 49ers, who's ready to emerge from the collective shadow of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Signing either would be fine by me.
Offer to Hawthorne: 6 years, $45 million ($20 million bonus)
Offer to Grant: 5 years, $18 million ($6 million bonus)
Offer: 6 years, $37 million ($17 million bonus)
Disclaimer: I wanted the Eagles to draft Tyvon Branch in 2008 and am not surprised he's developed into a good pro. Another underrated player who's quietly turned himself into one of the league's premier strong safeties. Branch played cornerback at UConn but had the build and playing style of a strong safety -- which is to say he excelled as an attacker and tackler way more than a cover guy. Then he made waves at the combine after running a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash. Branch is still not a man-to-man cover guy, but he's solid in zone coverage and a terror down near the line of scrimmage who's among the best tacklers in football. I wanted Roman Harper last offseason, and I want Tyvon Branch now. He's precisely the hard-hitting, intimidating presence the Eagles need in the secondary. It's a vital element of the defense that has been missing since Brian Dawkins left.
And before any nonsense starts, people who say the Eagles shouldn't go after Branch because of being "burned" by the lack of immediate payoff from the Asomugha signing... well, they're dumb. That's not how a competent, rational business should operate. If anything, Branch being a former teammate of Asomugha should provide even more impetus for the Eagles to pursue him in free agency because there's already a level of comfort and camaraderie between the two (unless they hate each other and I just don't know about it).
Offer: 3 years, $8.5 million ($3.5 million bonus)
Okay, let's try this again. I wanted the Eagles to sign Corey Graham when the free agency period started last offseason following the ratification of the new CBA. Instead, he re-signed with the Bears in a reserve role, still managing to record three interceptions and two forced fumbles (both coming against, of course, the Eagles) to go along with 16 total tackles. Graham is already one of the best special teams players in the league, and there's a lot of untapped potential in him as a cornerback. It's my hope that the Eagles would sign him to take Hanson's spot in the slot.
Other assorted conjecture:
- I've long been an admirer of Bears DE Israel Idonije. Maybe it's because his name is Israel. Maybe it's because he went to the University of Manitoba. Maybe it's because he had to earn his keep primarily as a special teams player for the first six years of his career before getting a chance to start last season (and put up 49 TT, 8 sacks, 6 STF, 1 FF, 1 FR). Maybe it's because he's one of those rare 6'6", 275-pound athletic super freaks. Idonije will turn 32 next season, but, like Babin, doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his body. I'd feel comfortable offering a three- or four-year contract, but I imagine he'll remain with the Bears.
- Want to bring in another one of Washburn's guys? Jason Jones (DT/DE, 6'5" / 276) of the Titans is on the market and, along with Cullen Jenkins, is one of the league's best interior pass rushers. Switched from DT to DE in training camp, he's coming off a subpar season after it seemed like he was ready to break out. Perhaps Jones could be had at a reasonable price and returned to playing DT.
- Paul Soliai, an AFC Pro Bowl replacement for Haloti Ngata, is back on the market. I was hoping the Eagles would go after him last offseason, but the Dolphins franchised him. I'll always have a soft spot for the gargantuan yet nimble and athletic defensive tackles of Samoan descent.
- In my fantasy world, I'd love to sign BenJarvus Green-Ellis, if only because of his nickname, how hard he runs on every single play, and the fact that he has never fumbled in 510 career carries as a pro and 464 as a collegian. That's unbelievable. I'd also build the offense around the ground game, with something like 250 carries for Shady and 150 for the Law Firm. Yeah, this will never happen.
- Low risk/high reward free agent candidates:
Chaz Schilens - WR - Oakland Raiders - 6'4" / 225
Kroy Biermann - DE - Atlanta Falcons - 6'3" / 255
Trevor Scott - DE - Oakland Raiders - 6'5" / 255
Craig Steltz - SS - Chicago Bears - 6'1" / 210
Early Mock Draft
1 (15): Luke Kuechly - ILB - Boston College - 6021 / 237
Believe me, like so many other fans, I'm also hoping Kuechly is the pick here. He's already going to the Eagles in what seems like 95% of the mock drafts floating around on the internet. There's no point in profiling Kuechly because I'm sure you've already read enough scouting reports. If he's no longer on the board, I'm in favor of trading down and getting another pick or two. If Kuechly's gone but the Eagles decide to stay put, Melvin Ingram (DE - South Carolina - 6017 / 276) or one of the top DT prospects would be a worthy selection.
Note: In the event that a middle linebacker is signed in free agency, the Eagles should go in a different direction with this selection (i.e. Ingram), or, as mentioned above, trade the pick.
2 (45, via AZ): Coby Fleener - TE - Stanford - 6056 / 245
Probably not a popular pick position-wise, but I am serious about running more two and, yes, even three tight end sets. Fleener's a big play threat (averaged ~20 yards per catch this past season) who can stretch the field. Incredible athlete with soft hands and can run; was a favorite target of Andrew Luck, and you couldn't watch a Stanford game without realizing his obvious talent. The thought of pairing a monster like Fleener with Celek and Harbor makes me happy in my naughty area.
2 (47): Casey Hayward - CB - Vanderbilt - 5110 / 188
I was close to making Lavonte David the pick here because I'm a huge fan of his and think he'd make for the perfect linebacker/safety rover in the NFL. In the end, however, I decided to go with a pick that is perhaps a little off the board. I've seen Casey Hayward slotted anywhere from the third to fifth round, but I think he's an excellent player and a potential immediate starter in the NFL. When there's a guy on the board who you want, you take him, even if it might be considered a "reach" by the talking heads. That's what I'm doing here. I know, the Eagles already have their starters in Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, and I've already posited signing free agent Corey Graham. But remember that Rodgers-Cromartie will be a free agent after this upcoming season, and, if he reverts to Pro Bowl form, will command a hefty contract. In the event that the Eagles are uncomfortable meeting his monetary demands, it'd be prudent to have a backup plan for the 2013 season. That's where someone like Hayward would come in, at least in my alternate universe. Besides, you can never have too many cornerbacks.
Here's my scouting report on Hayward:
The best college cornerback you've never heard of; underrated and under-hyped, but a guy who I think can start in the NFL from day one. Hayward won't really stand out from a physical standpoint or because he's got blazing speed, yet when you watch him play it's obvious he's legit. Instincts, intelligence, technique, and overall feel for the game are second to none. Flashes excellent ball skills with the hands of a wide receiver (seven interceptions this season, 15 total in his college career) and had multiple dominant performances, including in the Liberty Bowl against Cincinnati. Hayward shut down Alshon Jeffery in the South Carolina game and had six passes defended -- two of which should've been intercepted -- against Arkansas when charged with covering the likes of Joe Adams (see below) and Jarius Wright (though he did give up a touchdown to Wright). Willing, solid tackler for a corner who attacks the ball carrier and never shies away from the physical parts of the game. Just looks like a pro and has apparently been drawing rave reviews during the Senior Bowl practices.
3: Tyrone Crawford - DE - Boise State - 6041 / 285
Watch out for this guy. Crawford is an athletic freak with great size, 4.75 speed, and the raw skills to dominate. His quickness, acceleration, explosion, and strength make for a deadly combination. A junior college star who transferred to Boise State prior to the 2010 season, Crawford led the Broncos in tackles for loss (13.5) as a backup, to go along with seven sacks. He came into 2011 as a starter and immediately made his presence felt against Georgia, totaling five tackles (one for loss) and 1.5 sacks. The Windsor, Canada native has undeniable NFL talent and all the tools to succeed at the next level. It's just a matter of getting more playing time, refining his technique, and learning to harness his tremendous ability. Tyrone Crawford, remember the name. He and Billy Winn, who's actually considered the better prospect, make that Boise State defensive line a destructive force.
Update: He's only gotten better since and shined during the week leading up to the East-West Shrine Game. Crawford's upside is through the roof, as it's rare to find players with his combination of size, athleticism, and explosiveness. I was on the bandwagon early, and it appears others are finally starting to catch on.
4 (via TB): Audie Cole - OLB/ILB - North Carolina State - 6041 / 248
Certainly looks the part -- dude's built like a brick shit house. I watched a few NC State games this season (including the hilarious Maryland contest; stood out against Maryland last season, too) and really liked Cole's play. Lacks ideal athleticism but has a certain burst to his game; possesses long arms, is strong, instinctive, and a dangerous blitzer. Should be able to play inside in either a 4-3 or 3-4 or strong side in a 4-3. Makes up for lack of speed by being a step ahead and knowing where the play is going.
4: Derek Wolfe - DT - Cincinnati - 6047 / 286
Don't care if he's undersized as a DT (I'm sure teams that run a 3-4 will have interest in him as a DE), I know Wolfe can flat out play. He's quick, disruptive, and deceptively strong with a tremendous burst off the ball; uses leverage to his advantage and is a crafty player who looks very polished. At times Wolfe was simply unblockable as both a run stuffer and pass rusher; consistently penetrates into the backfield and wreaks havoc on opposing offenses -- and when I say "consistently", I mean literally every game. He's a better athlete than most give him credit for and can move all over the defensive line. Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year, finished with a staggering 21.5 tackles for loss (1.65 per game) and 9.5 sacks. Classic overachiever who'll be overlooked and passed on because of his unsexy measurables, but some team is going to get itself one hell of a player in the mid-to-late rounds. Here's to hoping it's the Eagles.
5: Andrew Datko - OT - Florida State - 6061 / 321
Datko would probably be getting a lot more love if he hadn't suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in October (and he has a history of shoulder problems). I actually think he's better than his more highly-touted OT prospect teammate Zebrie Sanders. Four-year starter, imposing physical specimen, plus size, long arms, continues to get stronger, quick off the snap, gets to the second level, can block in space, lauded for work ethic, exemplary character both on and off the field. Overall, Datko is one of those rare combinations of size, strength, and athleticism; the wealth of playing experience only helps his case. Has the talent to be a top-100 pick but could slide due to health concerns. Definitely worth a gamble in the fifth round, if not earlier.
6: Jordan White - WR - Western Michigan - 6001 / 215
Actually first wrote about him before last year's Combine, when I mistakenly thought he had entered the draft. It's amazing to me how underrated and undervalued Jordan White still is, especially in light of the ridiculous senior season he just had -- 140 catches (led the nation), 1,911 yards, and 17 touchdowns! Not a bad way to improve upon the 94-catch, 1,378-yard, 10-touchdown campaign he had in 2010.
You probably saw him in a number of SportsCenter highlights this past season -- that tends to happen when a player goes for at least 12 catches in a preposterous 8 of 13 games. That includes a 16-catch, 238-yard, 3-touchdown performance against Toledo in a 66-63 loss (a game in which another of my favorite wide receiver prospects, Eric Page, went for 9 catches, 168 yards, and 5 -- yes, 5 -- touchdowns) and a 13-catch, 265-yard, 1-touchdown performance against Purdue in the Little Caesars Bowl. He also went for 12 catches and 119 yards in an opening week loss to Michigan.
Granted, injuries have plagued White throughout his college career (missed 2006 season after tearing ACL in left knee and 2008 season after tearing ACL in right knee), but there's no denying his cartoonish, video game-esque production. The only negative to his game is that he's not a burner, but, honestly, it doesn't matter because his speed looks good enough to me and his acceleration more than makes up for it anyway. White is just a phenomenal wide receiver -- athletic, strong, powerful, tough (catches the ball through contact better than anyone I can remember), reliable, not afraid to go over the middle, and has perhaps the best hands of any wide receiver in his draft class (rarely will ever see him drop a pass or let the ball get into his body). So pure, a natural at the position, makes some simply insane catches (just go to YouTube), and is dangerous when he turns upfield. Trust me, Jordan White is the real deal.
Note: His father, James White, played DE in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns.
6 (via DEN): Evan Rodriguez - FB/TE/H-Back - Temple - 6015 / 242
A new toy for Marty/Andy to deploy as they see fit. I was first introduced to Rodriguez when the Owls stomped all over the Terps back in September. Bernard Pierce was the star of the game with five rushing touchdowns, but Rodriguez was the player who really stood out to me, as he went for five catches for 96 yards (long of 54). I continued to monitor him as the season progressed and became even more enamored. A versatile player who can line up at different spots and create mismatches, I think Rodriguez will find a niche in the NFL.
6 (via NE): Demario Davis - OLB - Arkansas State - 6016 / 232
A player who I think will be a riser in the coming months. Knew his name from draft websites, but first got a chance to watch him in the GoDaddy.com Bowl and was blown away. Obtained some torrents of Arkansas State games from the season and came away even more impressed, especially because Davis played behind a defensive line that moved around a lot and didn't occupy blockers like a normal front four. As a result, he had to be very adept at taking on blockers and flashed the ability to stack and shed. Davis is a tremendous athlete -- Arkansas State offensive coaches actually wanted him on that side of the ball last season -- for the position who can run (wouldn't surprise me if he ends up being the fastest linebacker prospect not named Zach Brown); he's a true sideline-to-sideline guy who quickly diagnoses what's going on and also makes plays in the backfield. Very fluid in his movements and drops; comfortable in coverage and can hang with running backs and tight ends. As I watched Davis play, the one thought that came to mind over and over again was that he looked like a pro. Honestly, I can't believe he hasn't gotten more hype, regardless of playing at Arkansas State. Oh, and the cherry on top is that Davis is a fundamentally sound tackler. He exhibits great form, maintains leverage, is strong at the point of attack and impact; wraps up and exerts real "pop" upon contact, more often than not driving the ball carrier backwards. Unquestioned emotional leader of one of the nation's best overall defenses. Intriguing prospect with obvious NFL skills and the potential to be a starter -- worth keeping an eye on.
UDFA targets: Cordarro Law - DE - Southern Mississippi, Miles Burris - OLB - San Diego State (a personal favorite), J.K. Schaffer - ILB - Cincinnati, Dexter Heyman - ILB - Louisville, Ronnie Thornton - OLB - Southern Mississippi, Omar Brown - FS - Marshall, Bradley Sowell - OT - Ole Miss, Brandon Bolden - RB - Ole Miss (tough runner, has some BenJarvus Green-Ellis in him), Darrell Scott - RB - South Florida, Lavasier Tuinei - WR - Oregon (always seems to be making some incredibly athletic catch), Elvis Akpla - WR - Montana State (solely for this catch), Doug Wiggins - FS - Western Michigan