With the Eagles' disappointing 2011 season coming to an end, we as fans are forced to watch as the playoff teams battle it out for Super Bowl glory. To ease some of that pain, many have turned to talk about ways to improve the team for next year - notably through coaching changes and the 2012 draft.
However, I'd like to take an early look at what players could be available for the taking when free agency finally starts. The Eagles obviously made a huge splash last year by landing the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin, but will this year have the same level of excitement? Let's check out the potential:
Andy Reid's one-year experiment with Vince Young has not worked out, so it's virtually certain that the team will be looking for a new backup quarterback this offseason. While there are several big names who are coming to the end of their contracts - like Green Bay's Matt Flynn, this year's Kevin Kolb - the best option out there for the Eagles will likely be Jason Campbell.
While adding another 30-year-old player might not immediately sound like like the Eagles' MO, Campbell has the experience, the calm demeanor and the familiarity with the NFC East to be a valuable addition to the team. He likely won't be receiving too many offers to start at this point in his career, so if the Raiders don't bring him back, Campbell should definitely warrant a look.
Much like Young, the Ronnie Brown experiment will also likely be a one-and-done, leaving the Eagles without a backup to LeSean McCoy. However, there will be several options to replace him. For example, LaDainian Tomlinson may be on the wrong side of 30, but he still has plenty left in the tank to be an effective 3rd down/receiving back for the Eagles' offense.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis may be the odd man out in the Patriots' backfield, as rookies Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley continue to develop. The Law Firm could use his bruising running style to help the Eagles out in short yardage and goal line situations.
Ever since the departure of Leonard Weaver, the Eagles have made the fullback position almost a non-factor. While Owen Schmitt has been serviceable for that minimal role, there should be a few big name fullbacks on the market if the Eagles wish to upgrade and let Schmitt walk.
The Chiefs might not be bringing back former Pro Bowler Le'Ron McClain for a second season after a so-so year. However, he still has the pass-catching ability that Andy Reid craves in his running backs. His above-average blocking skills could also be a boon to Michael Vick.
Another available player to pay attention to is Jacob Hester of the Chargers, who was their special teams captain this year. The 26-year-old Hester could be a valuable swing player on the Eagles offense, able to play both halfback and fullback.
Wide receiver isn't exactly the biggest area of need for the Eagles, but with the Steve Smith experiment turning out to be a colossal failure, they'll have an open spot on their depth chart. With their kick return game sputtering under Dion Lewis, they would do well to add a speedy and experienced kick returner.
Fortunately, San Francisco's Ted Ginn Jr. is coming to the end of his contract and may be available. Ginn averaged a career-high 27.6 yards per kick return this year, good for third-best in the league. It's high time that the Eagles added a true kick returner to their roster, and Ginn's skills there are enough to outweigh any deficiencies in his receiving game.
While Brent Celek started the year off with a sputter, he had an amazing finish, developing into one of Vick's favorite targets. With Clay Harbor as the backup and the Eagles dislike of carrying more than two tight ends on the roster, it's highly unlikely that they'll add any big names through free agency.
Under the tutelage of Howard Mudd, the Eagles offensive line has evolved from a disaster into a very effective unit. Rookies Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins should continue to improve as their skills evolve and Jason Peters, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis have solidified their positions on the line. However, as for backups, there are slim pickings. King Dunlap will be a free agent, Jamaal Jackson will almost certainly be released and rookie Julian Vandervelde hasn't had the opportunity to showcase anything yet.
You may remember Dan Connolly's name from his record-setting 71-yard kick return last year against the Packers. However, this New England Patriot is also an accomplished backup lineman, able to play both guard and center. At 29, he could be a suitable replacement for Jackson.
Anthony Collins has had a fantastic run as a backup tackle for the Bengals, but may test the free agent waters this offseason. The agile 26-year-old is undoubtedly one of the best backup OT options available, so if he doesn't get calls for a starting role, the Eagles should definitely give him a look.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for a look at the defensive free agents.