If the Eagles’ brass should’ve learned anything from the 2011 season, it’s that the team unperformed on such a scale that simply typing the words is painfully redundant. But they should also know that the team doesn’t need to do a lot to vastly improve on last year’s results.
Despite its paltry 8-8 record from last season, the Eagles don’t have many holes. Yes, they could stand to get a whole new linebacking crew. And sure, they could use another safety. But the offense has broken a slew of team and individual records over the past three years, and the defensive line looked dominant at times last season.
With head coach Andy Reid looking a pink slip in the face, it’s likely that the Eagles will be approaching this offseason with both eyes focused squarely on next season. This means quality over quantity and immediacy over "next year". The team already took care of its first order of business today, restructuring the contract of defensive tackle and emerging team leader Cullen Jenkins. And the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane indicated today that the front office team will likely meet with Drew Rosenhaus, the agent of DeSean Jackson, at the Combine this week. While both sides are reportedly far apart on a deal, the fact that the sides are meeting is good (more on DeSean and his value to the team here).
Not a bad start, considering free agency hasn'teven started.
The Eagles’ biggest conundrum remains what to do with the linebackers. The draft offers a few options, most notably
Signing Fletcher away from the ‘Skins would certainly be a coup, and may actually be a possibility. Fletcher hasn’t been to the playoffs in years, and the invitation to end his career with a winning franchise may be enticing.
Yes, he’s nearing the end of his career, but he’s incredibly durable (he’s never missed a game in his career) and a great role model. If I’m an Eagles linebacker, I’m listening to the guy who has more tackles than anyone over the past decade and has two rings as opposed to, say, the team’s current veteran linebacker.
While there are other free agents that look enticing, like KC’s Dwayne Bowe, the smartest thing the Eagles can do is lock up their own guys and fill the one or two holes elsewhere. Bringing in a player like Bowe or the Chargers’ Vincent Jackson is inviting the same continuity issues that plagued the team last year.
Even bringing in a player like Plaxico Burress would be a solid red zone addition, so long as he isn’t expected to start. But ultimately, retaining potential free agents like Jackson, Twitter legend (and left guard) Evan Mathis and rotational defensive tackle Derek Landri will pay bigger dividends come playoff time.
Reid and company are never shy about working the phones on Draft day, but instead of ending up with picks like Bryan Smith and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, the Eagles need to rethink their strategy. GM Howie Roseman indicated as much when he spoke with the Inquirer and Daily News at the Senior Bowl in January:
"I’d say that you always want to take the best player and ... there are times that you are pushing things up because there are things you want and whether that’s a specific position or a specific quality in a player, whether that's toughness, intelligence, leadership."
That quote has Jaiquawn Jarrett’s name written all over it. Last year the Eagles needed a safety and liked his alleged Dawkins-esque hitting skills. But he couldn’t get on the field, even with competition like a hobbled Nate Allen and Jarrad friggin’ Page.
But there’s hope. Thanks to yet another quarterback trade that now looks like highway robbery, the Eagles have two second round picks and six selections in the first four rounds.
The team can’t afford to reach on potential need picks this year, so the mantra should be "quality over quantity". If Reid doesn’t turn his team around next season, he’s going to have bigger things to worry about than finding his defensive tackle of the future. Drafting Kuechly with the 15th pick would give them a solid tackler as well as additional flexibility on the weak side should the need arise.
Andy Reid and the Eagles made their free agency splash last season. This offseason needs to be about reaping the rewards of that with a smart, responsible offseason plan that focuses on continuity over headlines and smart picks instead of Bryan Smiths.
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