Fitting The Pieces Of The Puzzle Together & Prioritizing Off-Season Needs


As a follow up to my version of "Who stays? Who goes?", I thought it may be a worthwhile exercise to take the players who are going to be here next year and fit them in to my vision of what the Defense will be.

Once I have done that, we should then have a firmer grasp on what we'll need to field a competent Defense. Once we know what we'll need, we can then prioritize those necessities and address how we are going to obtain them; via trade, Free Agency or the draft.

Here are the players that I determined will be around next year (to the consternation of others of course but that is part of the fun) and will be part of this Defense, or at least given a chance to be part of the Defense. If you want the full details on each player, please go here.

Have To's (these are the players that I think we will "have to" keep, for one reason or another):

DL: Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Cullen Jenkins.

LB: Mychal Kendricks.

DB: DRC, Brandon Boykin, Nate Allen.

Why Not's (these are players that have extremely affordable contracts and present little to no risk, so "why not" give them a chance to see if they can produce in the new defense)

DL: Cedric Thornton, Antonio Dixon.

LB: Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Ryan Rau.

DB: Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes, Kurt Coleman, David Sims Colt Anderson

Now that we have our list of players for next year, let's start filling in the blanks. Before we do that though, in the interest of full disclosure, I want to let everyone know that I am sort of stumbling through the dark here. The fact is that I don't have absolute certainty on what kind of defense BD is going to run. It may be like the 43 Under that Pete Carroll runs, that is explained in a wonderful amount of detail here. It could be like the Defense that Wade Phillips runs in HOU that has resulted in top 10 defenses year after year that uses 34 personnel lined up in what looks like a 43 front. It also should be noted that the 43 Under just explains how the front 7 line up and has no bearing on what the secondary is doing on each play. So, at best, this is going to an educated guess based on incomplete information and personal preference.

The reality is, until BD comes out and explains it, or we see it in action, none of us are actually going to know what the Defense is going to be.

But if you think a certain level of ignorance is going to stop me from speculating and opining, well you haven't read enough of my work. (Shame on you!)

I am basing this off of 34 personnel grouping (3 DL & 4 LB) but with Brandon Graham playing the pass rushing OLB, so it is more like a "3 and a half 3 and a half" because while Graham may be listed as an OLB, he will be playing more like a 43 DE that may sporadically drop back into coverage and will be lining up primarily on the strong-side, i,e, over the TE.

Also, my WILL is going to play on the strong-side (in between the Rush OLB and the strong-side DT but off of the LOS) and my SAM is going to play on the weak-side (directly behind the Weak-side DE), which is counter intuitive and goes against the popular nomenclature, but it should make sense when you see who I assign to each position. Example: Kendricks is going to be my WILL because he should be able to excel as a play maker when he is unblocked and since he is our best coverage LB, he should be playing over the TE.

Here is where I would insert a rudimentary diagram of what this looks like on paper, but that is beyond my current computer-related abilities and after several feeble attempts at doing so, I have admitted defeat and so you will have to do without a supporting visual piece. Picture; OLB on TE, DT in between OT and G, NT just off the C towards the DE who is over top the other OT.

I'm going to list who I think should start and then potential backups/situational guys in parentheses. Example: I am going to list Jenkins @ NT, but that is for the sake of him replacing the NT in obvious pass rushing situations.

Weak-side DE - Fletch (Thornton or Cole as b/u's)

Nose Tackle - Dixon (Thorton as b/u and Jenkins as pass rusher)

Strong-side DT - Cole or Thornton (Jenkins as pass rusher)

Rush OLB - Graham (Curry)

WILL - Kendricks

MIKE - Chaney/Matthews (Rau)

SAM - Curry/Chaney

As you can see, my list of returning players filling in my version of the Defense is bad. Really bad at LB as we have literally only 1 guy who should start. The only positions that I would say are absolute locks (not only does the player fit, but should be successful) are Fletch, Graham & Kendricks. I think between Cole, Thornton and Jenkins, we should be okay at strong-side DT and we have plenty of pass rushers for Nickel/Dime situations where we will probably have 4 DL on the field.

Now, based on that, I would tell you that we need (not in order if importance, that will be addressed later):

  1. Another NT. It would be foolish to assume that Dixon can handle being a starter @ NT. While he may have the potential to do so, we can't put all of our eggs in his basket. We need at least someone to compete with him as the starter and can also be insurance should he get hurt or can't perform adequately.
  2. A legit starter @ MIKE. I have already addressed why I want to trade DeMeco and I am not going to rehash that here, but his absence does create a gigantic need at LB.
  3. A legit starter @ SAM. This needs to be someone athletic enough to pass cover, strong enough to take on OL blocks to play the run while also being able to blitz and get to the QB and whoever it is needs to do all 3 really, really well. No big deal, right? This guy does not exist on this roster at this time.

So, that is 2 definite needs with a very close 3rd and that is just in the Front 7.

Which leads us to the secondary. I understand the argument from those who contend that the entire secondary needs to replaced. I really do. However, I disagree with that opinion for 2 main reasons;

  1. My personal feeling is that if we improve the play of the front 7, it will improve the play of the secondary. Maybe even improve it a lot.
  2. Trying to bring in 4 new players for the secondary would probably force us to either overpay in FA (which is partly responsible for the need to replace the whole secondary in the first place) and/or force us to reach "positionally" in the draft (which is also partly responsible for the need to replace all of them).

I don't want to do either of those things, so I am willing to franchise DRC and have him start at one CB spot and give Nate Allen 1 more chance at being a starting S. Both of these guys would essentially be playing for the opportunity to continue their respective careers in Philadelphia past next year. Boykin is my nickel CB, and probably the only lock in the secondary (fit and propensity to be successful). As for the rest of the guys I keep (Coleman, Marsh, Hughes, Colt), they can come in and compete in TC for situational roles and/or special teams but are by no means guaranteed a spot on the 53.

That means we need (at least) another starting S and another starting CB.

To recap, our needs in order of priority: S, SAM, MIKE, CB and NT.

Now, how would I go about addressing these this off-season. Great question, I am glad I asked it. Before I get to that thought, here is where I am going to say that by trading DeMeco and cutting Nnamdi and Patterson, we will have another draft pick^ and about $15M - $20M in additional cap space (rough estimate and just off the top of my head, so that may be somewhat inaccurate). So while we have a lot of needs, we will also have a lot of means to utilize in filling those needs.

^The DeMeco trade is not only widely unpopular in terms of losing his on the field performance and his off the field leadership, but the suggested return I keep posing is similarly scoffed at by the masses. However, we traded a 4th and gave up 11 spots on a 3rd round pick to get him and that was AFTER THE WORST YEAR OF HIS CAREER. (sorry for yelling) Since he performed significantly better this year, and his contract can now be terminated at any time with no dead money and is essentially a series of 1 year deals, there is absolutely no way he is not a more attractive and valuable trade candidate NOW than he was THEN when we got him. I figure we can get at least a 3rd rounder for him. I look forward to seeing who can mock me the most and the best in the comments.

Priority #1: I would make signing whichever FA S that best fits BD's definition of "the ideal player" for the back end of his defense the absolute, very first thing that we do in FA. And since we have the cap space, I wouldn't mind a slight overpay here. The fact is that you get what you pay for, and I am tired of seeing this organization skimp on the back end. We didn't overpay to keep Dawkins. Or Mikell. In hindsight, we probably should have. Both times. We have a history of bringing in guys that are damaged goods at a really low cost and hoping they can be a revelation and play like a Pro Bowler. Well, to be blunt, enough of that shit. Find the top S available and pay him whatever it takes to make him an Eagle.

Priority #2, #3 & #4: As for SAM, MIKE and starting CB #2, I would do everything I can to try to fill these spots via the draft and that is why I am lumping them together. I am on the record as preferring Fisher (or Joeckel in that order) @ 4 and the amount of need I highlight on Defense isn't going to change that (I'll explain in the comments if anyone is curious). So, barring a trade back or having both of those guys selected by the time we pick @ 4 (if this happened, I would take Dion Jordan), we will have to fill these holes starting with our 2nd pick. Now, this is where I would seriously try to trade back, adding at least a later 2nd and/or multiple 3rds. If we can get a later 2nd and a 3rd for our early 2nd rounder, add that to the pick we get for DeMeco, we would be looking at 4 selections in the 45-90 range. I'm not going to give specific names because I want Howie to take the defensive BPAs at whatever selections we have and trying to pinpoint who that would be is an exercise in futility and one that I am going to skip for right now. The fact is that there are going to be prospects in this range that are just slightly below the 1st round/early 2nd round prospects at our positions of need, but not by a lot, and they should still be quality players in the League. If we can take advantage of this strengthy * part of the Draft, then we can theoretically add guys who may just be able to fill those holes right away. I would also explore adding a vet SAM if one can be had on the really cheap, either via trade or FA, but I wouldn't only address this need in that manner. This would be in addition to whoever we draft for SAM.

* Yes, you read that right, it does indeed say "strengthy." I have a tendency to make up words, just in general but especially when I am feeling a little playful/punch drunk. I have been working on this FanPost for the majority of the last 5 hours now and the need to amuse myself is starting to pop up. And no, that is not innuendo for masturbating. I just truly enjoy self-amusement. It is in fact, my second favorite sin. But, I digress.

Priority #5: As bad as Dixon looked in The Hillbilly Ignoramus' Washburn's wide 9, he has shown flashes of potentially being a big, space eating DT before that. So, I would like to give him every chance to start at NT. The fact is, as we have all come to realize, that you can find NTs outside of the early rounds of the draft and I see no need to use one here. However, I am not going to rely solely on Dixon being what we need in the middle of our DL. I am going to go after a veteran NT in FA who has shown that they are competent and capable of doing the job and hopefully, won't cost too much. A perfect example would be the Samoan guy from BALT with the last name that has more vowels than consonants that is hard to spell and even harder to remember (I am too tired to look it up, sorry guys). Bring him in, let him and Dixon compete and the winner gets to start and the other guy gets to fight for a spot on the 53. I would also bring in a UDFA project and stash them on the practice squad and see if he can't be /insert your best Bane impersonation now . . . "molded" into a guy who can anchor your DL for the foreseeable future.

So, there you have it. 2400+ words on my made up version of the 43 Under defense, the Eagles who I think will be around to potentially fill those positions and then how I would prioritize using FA, the draft and maybe trades to fill in the blanks. Honestly, this got a little out of hand, but, I owe it to you to fully explain myself and hopefully you made it through there unscathed.

As always, thanks for reading. Time's yours. Have a great day and a better tomorrow!

PS - For some reason, I can't preview this right now. So, I am going to post it, walk away for more than a few minutes and anything that needs to be cleaned up, I will take care of later today. Feel free to make suggestions.

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