The Eagles needed a red hot finish to get all the way to 8-8. That tells you all you need to know about how bad 2011 was. The team had Super Bowl aspirations, but by late November was closer to landing a top five spot in the draft. A 4-0 finish got the team back to .500, but it was clear that there was work to be done. The Eagles entered the 2012 offseason needing to make changes and upgrades. So how did they do?
A lot of people across the football world will tell you the Eagles had a very good offseason. I'm in agreement with them. This year it wasn't so much a case of adding big names as it was taking care of internal issues and adding a good draft class.
DeSean Jackson got the new deal he so desperately wanted. Hopefully he will now go from sulking to scoring. Trent Cole and Todd Herremans each got a raise. Evan Mathis was re-signed. He turned out to be an excellent find last year and it was important to bring him back. Derek Landri was re-signed. He was a terrific role player. LeSean McCoy got a mega-deal, so he won't be going anywhere for a while. While these moves didn't bring in new talent, they kept some key guys happy. And that can be important when you talk about the mindset and attitude of a football team.
The Eagles added a lot of talent last summer so there wasn't a need to do a lot with free agency this year. The Eagles did make a couple of splashy pro personnel moves. They traded with the Houston Texans to acquire middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. He is expected to be an impact player right away. Ryans is here to shore up the middle of the defense, but also to be the leader for a young linebacker corps. The Eagles haven't had a middle linebacker of this caliber since Jeremiah Trotter in the 2005 season.
The other big move was the Eagles signing of tackle Demetress Bell. This is a good and bad move. It was necessary because Jason Peters suffered an achilles injury, making it a bad thing. The good news is that a player of Bell's ability was still on the market. While he's no Jason Peters, Bell can be a good starting left tackle in the NFL. Those guys aren't easy to come by. Just ask any Eagles fan from the 1990's.
Howie Roseman did turn to free agency for some depth moves. He added interior offensive linemen Mike Gibson and Steve Vallos to come in and compete for backup spots. Thomas Welch and D.J. Jones were brought in to compete for backup tackle spots. Mardy Gilyard was added to challenge for a receiver spot and also to improve the talent at kickoff returner.
The draft was a major success, based on how these things are judged instantaneously. Time will be the real judge, as we can't truly know about these players for a few years. The Eagles landed a potential impact player in defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. He might not start as a rookie, but Cox has the talent to make plays even in a rotational role. In time he should become a force.
Mychal Kendricks was taken in the second round. He is projected to start at SAM linebacker right away. The Eagles love his athleticism and skill set. He can play the run, cover, and blitz. The only real question with Kendricks is height. He's only 5-11, which could be an issue when he's trying to cover tight ends. The flip side is that he can run with them and has excellent leaping ability. He should play bigger than he is.
The Eagles grabbed Vinny Curry at the bottom of the second round. I don't know who was more excited about that, Curry or Roseman. Curry grew up an Eagles fan so he's living out a fantasy. The Eagles thought Curry could be a first round pick. To get him at the bottom of the second is a huge coup for them. He won't have pressure to deliver right away, but has the pass rush ability that Jim Washburn loves. Curry will have a chance to earn snaps and he'll play as much as he deserves. The better he does, the more Washburn will play him. If he struggles at all, the Eagles are deep enough to get by without him in 2011.
In the third round the Eagles went for a quarterback. This wasn't a huge surprise to anyone. The fact they took Nick Foles, a big pocket passer from Arizona, was a huge surprise. The Eagles haven't had a player quite like Foles in a long time. The Eagles think he can be a starter in the future and were excited to get him. I'm interested to see how Andy Reid does with a guy like Foles. Most of Reid's quarterbacks have been athletic guys. This will be definite change for Reid.
The Eagles got lucky that Brandon Boykin fell to the fourth round. He is a talented corner from Georgia. Boykin spent most of his senior year playing the slot. He'll come to Philly in hopes of being the Eagles slot corner. Boykin has the experience, ability, and skill set to thrive in that role. Joselio Hanson is the incumbent in the slot, but lacks the speed and athleticism of Boykin. There is additional value with Boykin. He is a dynamic kickoff returner at Georgia and that was a major weakness for the 2011 Eagles.
The Eagles may have gotten a late round steal in running back Bryce Brown. He has top 50 ability, but only spent one full year with a team (2009). He transferred and sat out 2010, then quit the Kansas State team just a couple of games into the 2011 season. If Brown proves to be one of those guys who just couldn't handle college, he could be a good pro. If the problem is that he doesn't deal well with authority and being part of a team, then he'll wash out pretty quickly.
Receiver Marvin McNutt fell all the way to the sixth round, but many thought he would go in the third. He was very good value. He's got the size the team needs in the receiver corps. We have to wait and see if McNutt has the overall ability to handle being an NFL player.
Roseman and his scouts did a good job with undrafted players as well. Getting running back Chris Polk was a huge move. He was excellent at Washington and could prove to be a key addition since the Eagles have a less than great situation behind LeSean McCoy. Many thought Polk would be a third round pick. To get him as a UDFA is an excellent bargain. Cornerback Cliff Harris and safety Phillip Thomas each had the kind of talent to be star college players, but went undrafted due to character issues. Both guys could challenge for roster spots.
The draft didn't finalize the Eagles offseason moves. The team signed veteran safety O.J. Atogwe in the late spring to come in and challenge for a job. He has been a good NFL starter in the past, but injuries and age have caught up with him a bit. Atogwe is guaranteed nothing, but has the talent and experience to start if things work out for him. He'll battle Kurt Coleman to start opposite of Nate Allen. Atogwe could even prove to be a good third safety if he's just okay, but doesn't beat out Coleman.
Aside from player acquisitions, the team made one significant coaching hire, adding Todd Bowles to coach the secondary. He replaces Johnnie Lynn. Bowles was the secondary coach in Miami last year. He later the interim head coach when Tony Sparano got fired. Bowles has a good amount of experience and has coached in a variety of schemes and with different players. He's got the track record to come in and do a solid job with the Eagles defensive backs.
It is easy to get caught up in all the good moves the Eagles did make. Did they miss anything?
Some will argue that going into a season with Mike Kafka as the top backup quarterback is a risk. That's a legitimate point to be argued. Kafka certainly doesn't have the track record to make you think he's anything special. The Eagles would argue that he's entering his third season here and is ready to finally show what he can do. By all accounts, Kafka did have a good showing in the mini-camps.
There isn't a clear-cut successor to McCoy if he gets hurt. My guess is that the Eagles would go out and sign a street free agent should a significant injury occur. For now, the team is willing to let Dion Lewis be the primary backup. Behind him are rookies Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. All of those players have NFL talent. None has much experience, Brown especially. The funny thing is that he's the most naturally gifted of them. This summer will be crucial for the trio as they compete for not just roster spots, but also playing time. The one who pass blocks the best could end up as the primary backup.
There was some concern about safety, but Allen is healthy, Coleman has a year of starting under his belt, and Atogwe is here to be the veteran challenger. Jaiquawn Jarrett remains a mystery, but the overall group looks better.
One move that not all people were on board with was trading Asante Samuel to the Falcons for just a seventh round pick. Samuel is still very talented, but no longer fit what the team wanted to do schematically and also wasn't a good fit in the locker room anymore. He took it personally when the team added Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last summer and things weren't good in 2011. If DRC plays up to his ability, the Eagles will have one of the best sets of corners in the NFL. The Samuel fans think the team was nuts to give up a player with such cover ability and playmaking skills. Time will tell if the Eagles made the right move here.
Finally there is fullback. The Eagles let go of Owen Schmitt and will now have Stanley Havili battle Emil Igwenagu for the job. Schmitt was nothing special, but I'm not so sure getting rid of him was wise. He did a good enough job last year that McCoy ran for 17 touchdowns. Havili is a very good pass catcher and athlete, but blocking has been an issue for him going back to USC. If no fullback impresses, the team might just go with an extra tight end and hope that Clay Harbor can serve in the fullback role for the few times a game when it is needed.
This wasn't a perfect offseason, but I do think the Eagles are a better team now than in January. The group in January may have had more raw talent, but in the NFL you have to build a team, not just collect talent. I think this group of players will be happier and will work together better than the 2011 group. There are still some holes that could bit the Eagles in the butt, but the team has some young/unknown players that could also emerge. All in all, the Eagles had a very good offseason and should be in for a terrific showing in 2012.