Back in 1995 the Eagles signed free agents Ricky Watters, Kevin Turner, and Rodney Peete. In 1996 the Eagles signed Troy Vincent, Irving Fryar, Ty Detmer, and James Willis. These players ranged from effective starters to great players. They were impact additions.
During the Andy Reid era the team has been built primarily through the draft. The team made some pro personnel moves, but hasn't had nearly the level of success as back in the mid-90s. Jon Runyan was a great signing. Jevon Kearse helped the Eagles to get to the Super Bowl, but disappointed after that. Darren Howard got big money to be a role player. The best signings tended to be second tier players like Carlos Emmons, Brian Mitchell, Paul Grasmanis, and Juqua Parker. Claiming Darwin Walker off waivers was a very good move, but hardly noteworthy at the time.
All of this has changed in 2010. Pro personnel acquisitions (trades, waiver claims, free agents) are coming through in a big way. Give credit to Louis Riddick and the Pro Personnel Department for doing good evaluations. Give credit to Howie Roseman for getting the players. And give credit to the coaching staff for using the players well.
You can't help but start the discussion with Michael Vick. He's somewhat of an anomaly since he was signed coming out of federal prison. The Eagles didn't have to pay him much. The primary risk was bad publicity. I still give the Eagles credit for having a good plan in place. They signed Vick and then developed him slowly. He was seen as a project. Remember that at the time Vick was hoping someone would make him the starting quarterback. The Eagles knew Vick needed a lot of work and that approach has paid off in a big way, for the team and Vick.
Next up we have to talk about a pair of Pro Bowl players, Asante Samuel and Jason Peters. Samuel was an elite free agent when he hit the market. The Eagles went after him extremely aggressively. They wanted a playmaking cornerback and Samuel was easily the best guy available. Samuel has lived up to the hype as an Eagle. He has 20 interceptions in his two and a half years. That is more picks than Lito Sheppard or Sheldon Brown had in their Eagles careers. Samuel is far from perfect. His tackling is a major issue. His red zone defense can be erratic. Samuel takes a lot of chances.
This season Samuel is making plays (seven picks), but his overall level of play is better. He was outstanding against the Colts. Peyton Manning tried to throw deep to Samuel's side a couple of times and had no success. There were times when Samuel looked to be running the route better than the receiver. Eagles fans are finally seeing Samuel look like a true Pro Bowl player.
The Eagles traded for Peters in the spring of 2009. Tra Thomas was gone and there was a hole at left tackle. Andy Reid announced that he thought the Eagles had acquired the best left tackle in the NFL. Peters didn't play up to that level in 2009. He showed flashes of his greatness, but was inconsistent. Peters then had a penalty filled preseason this past summer and there were questions about what kind of a season he would have.
Peters missed a couple of starts this year with an injury. Since his return he has played like a Pro Bowl offensive tackle. He went through a gauntlet of Dwight Freeney, Brian Orakpo, and Osi Umenyiora and kept them all in check. Peters still seems to have one bonehead penalty a game, but you can live with that if he's able to shut down the best pass rusher on the other team.
Both Peters and Samuel look like home runs at this point. The Eagles paid handsomely to get them (compensation and/or money), but for once the team is getting what it paid for. Think about it this way...Samuel looks like the best cornerback in the NFC East and Peters is playing like the best left tackle.
The Eagles are hitting on lesser moves as well. Dimitri Patterson was added to the roster late in the 2008 season. There wasn't a need for a cornerback, but the team liked what they had seen of him in the past. Patterson became a backup and special teams star in 2009. He was one of the best gunners in the league. This season he was in the same situation. Ellis Hobbs got injured in the loss at Tennessee and that opened the door for Patterson to start. He has taken advantage of the situation and is playing terrific football.
In Patterson's three starts he has 17 solo tackles, a pass break-up, two interceptions, and one touchdown. Hobbs started twice as many games, but the numbers don't show that. Hobbs had 12 solo tackles, one pick, and four pass break-ups. Patterson is outplaying him and it isn't even close. Set aside the numbers. Watch Patterson play and you see that he's covering receivers tightly. Even when he gives up a completion, Patterson is right there to make a quick tackle and limit the play. I am blown away by how well he's played. I'm not ready to say that Patterson is the future at right cornerback, but he's headed in that direction.
Another starter replacement that has paid major dividends is defensive tackle Antonio Dixon. The Eagles claimed him when Washington cut him in the summer of 2009. Dixon proved to be a good backup last year. When Brodrick Bunkley hurt his elbow a few weeks back Dixon got his starting spot. Not only was there no drop off, Dixon has looked like a stud. He has good numbers, but more importantly Dixon has been consistently disruptive. He has gotten the better of multiple left guards. Dixon uses his power to drive them straight back and that ruins the flow of plays. He's making plays based on strength and raw ability right now. It will be interesting to see how good he can get when he learns the subtleties of the position.
The Eagles traded for Darryl Tapp with the idea of having him as the left defensive end. When they drafted Brandon Graham, Tapp got shifted to being a backup and role player. Tapp has seen time at both end spots, defensive tackle, and he's even filled the role of Joker, a hybrid linebacker/pass rusher. Tapp doesn't have great numbers, but he is excellent insurance in case anyone gets hurt and his versatility gives the defense a lot of flexibility.
Ernie Sims was another player acquired via trade. The Eagles only gave up a fifth round pick to get him. Sims has started at weakside linebacker all year. The jury is still out on whether Sims is the long term answer at WIL, but he has played better in recent weeks. At the least, Sims has been an adequate starter for the 2010 season. If he continues to improve and emerges as more of a playmaker, Sims could keep the job into the future.
The Eagles have made good pro personnel moves even within the season. Leonard Weaver tore up his knee in the season opener. Owen Schmitt was signed to take his place. Schmitt isn't as good a blocker, but has been a surprisingly good outlet receiver. He has 17 catches on the year. I was interested last week to see Schmitt get two catches on the game winning drive in the fourth quarter against the Giants. One of the catches came on a screen pass that was designed to get the ball to him.
Just before the trade deadline the Eagles dealt backup runner Mike Bell to Cleveland for their backup runner, Jerome Harrison. Bell was a major disappointment. Harrison didn't get many touches the first couple of weeks, but exploded for 103 yards and a touchdown in the big win over Washington. I hope Harrison gets more involved in the last six weeks of the season.
Safety Colt Anderson was signed a couple of weeks back when starter Nate Allen was banged up. Anderson hasn't seen much time on defense, but he has been an impact player on special teams. He already has more tackles than players that have been here all year. Anderson looks like he was born to cover kicks. He has good instincts. He plays hard. He is a very good tackler.
The draft remains the lifeblood of the Eagles. That is what Joe Banner, Andy Reid, and Howie Roseman believe in. It is good to see the pro personnel side of things showing major improvement. You can't rely just on college players to fill the roster. You must find some veterans and young players from other teams. The Eagles are making big strides in pro personnel and it shows in the fact that the team is 7-3 and sitting atop the NFC East.