Despite the fact that the season ended prematurely, the 2013-14 in my opinion was one of the more memorable seasons of my time watching the Eagles. Starting from the bottom of the NFC and with team that looked like it barely knew how to play the game of football, to the rise of Nick Foles out of almost no where and the near turnaround of the defense, the 7 TD game of Foles, the still inexplicable Dallas game where we still don't have the answer for what was wrong with Foles, the crazy Snow Game in Philly, the upset game by the Vikings, and the demolition of the Chicago Bears all on route to the Eagles first playoff birth since 2010. Unfortunately, fantasy was short lived as the Eagles were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the New Orleans Saints.
As well as the Eagles got by during the year, there were obvious glaring holes on the team, primarily in the defense. But that's what the offseason is for. Chip has a year of NFL coaching under his belt, the staff had a year to gel, DeSean and LeSean are coming off career years, the offensive line performed as a top 10 unit, Nick Foles is one of the many illegitimate sons of Zeus, Kendricks and Allen finally started to look at least somewhat what we were hoping for when we drafted them, upon many other things there are to like about this team. However, there are still many areas for improvement.
As a note about Billy Davis, I will admit that he performed admirably as the season went on with the defense, he gets a pass for this year with me...but that's about it. Given the circumstances, I can give him a break for the way the defense performed, but I still think he can do much better. Maybe we don't have the most talented defense in the NFL, but I refuse to believe that they are 29th best. That's a horrid number. I realize that the offense low time of possession will mean more time for the defense on the field, but that doesn't mean the defense will have to give out and inflated number of yards. It can be improved on:
2013 Eagles Avg. Time of Possession: 26:19 29th Ranked Defense
2012 Ravens Avg. Time of Possession: 27:49 17th Ranked Defense
2011 Titans Avg. Time of Possession: 27:54 18th Ranked Defense
2011 Cards Avg. Time of Possession: 27:54 18th Ranked Defense
2010 Panthers Avg. Time of Possession: 27:24 18th Ranked Defense
While I realize that the Eagles held the ball almost an average of 1:30 longer than those teams, still the premise is, they can be better than 29th ranked. I don't believe 90 seconds over the couse of 16 games should equate to the giving up of an average of 774 yards per year more than those teams. Like I said though, I give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't exactly working with a group set up particularly designed for the 3-4 and of course he was a first year coach with this group and he had to account for Kelly's fast paced offense so there's that so he gets by this year for me. I would just like to see some improvements now.
Looking at our soon to be free agent group, its debatable about who should come back and who shouldn't. Here's my take:
Cedric Thornton: Re-signed - Cedric caught on this year and turned out to be a steller DL for our group. I'm not as big on him as Mike Kaye, I think he is best served in a rotational role as I feel he can be easily upgraded, but no doubt depth and fresh bodies are always a necessity on a football team, especially on the lines, and especially if its quality.
Phillip Hunt: Let go - Not everyone can be Cameron Wake. Pretty much the loss of Reid and the loss of the 4-3 made Hunt pretty expendable and that's not even including the injuries he suffered. He should find a home though, if not in the NFL then possibly back in the CFL.
Michael Vick: Let go - I'm saying let go for the sake of him finding another shot as a starting QB. Vick was about as positive about the Foles run as you can get. If the market doesn't allow much movement, I would love to see Vick back-up Foles since he is capable of winning games, but here's to hoping he can find another starting job one last time.
Kurt Coleman: Let go - I'm not as down on Coleman as some. I realize he isn't that great, but he never was supposed to be in the first place. It was the ineptitude of the previous regime that led to his position on this team. However, he can be replaced even depth wise. I honestly feel bad for the guy though. SO many people hate him when quite frankly, I hate Jarrett more not being able to win the job over a guy who was clearly out-classed (Harris-Demps anyone?)
Jeremy Maclin: Re-signed - To me this one is obvious. Reason being, with all the needs on defense, IMO, Maclin at least knows how to play with Foles. The Eagles had the number 2 ranked offense without Maclin, so I don't see how he would take away from that if retained even just on a one year "prove it" deal. To me having him back should be more luxury than detriment. If it doesn't work out after one year, onto next year.
Riley Cooper: Re-signed - He lacks real athleticism, he lacks deep speed, he lacks greatness, yet he still made numerous plays. Thanks to the budding bromance between the two (and as mentioned the necessities on defense) I would rather let Foles continue to develop by bringing back the same core players he was great with and then learn to adjust to other players. I think consistency around Foles is very important for his development at least this offseason.
Colt Anderson: Re-signed - Personally, I'm not a fan of the special teams unit. While he can be upgraded defensively, I have yet to see anyone do more than him on special teams. In my opinion, you don't get rid of the best thing you have going for you on an already unimpressive, vapid, special teams unit.
Nate Allen: Re-signed - I'm not particularly a fan of his, but he does work. Safety is not the polarizing position it used to be with the induction and search of big, physicla, shut down corners nowadays. That and Allen isn't as horrible as he used to be. I believe he can be upgraded, but with the slim picking this offseason either in the draft or in FA, I think it would be a good idea to bring him back rather than take the chance of coming away with nothing.
Then of course we have our current roster casualties. Its debatable who people say should go. Here's my take:
Jason Avant - Jason has been nothing but professional and reliable to the Eagles and prior to this past season, had improved every season under the Eagles. He was always Mr. 3rd down when we needed a conversion and was a great safety blanket as well as his once or twice a year, spectacular, one handed catches. However, this is still a business and Avant can be improved upon.
Patrick Chung - Seems like so long ago when we were convinced Chung would provide at least some stability to a safety position that has been erratic since the losses of Mikell and Dawkins....boy were we wrong. Chung was about as bad as you could be in the NFL and still make a contract. Its pretty clear now that his spectacular 2010 was nothing but a blip. Addition by subtraction.
Cary Williams - I'm not a fan of his at all. Yeah, he can tackle, but you better be able to when you allow as many catches as he did. I understand trying to hype up the team with your talk and saying they are soft, but the problem is, you can't call a team out when you're one of the problems. Cary can be replaced in my opinion especially in this offseason with the vast CB market come this FA (he will cost a bit in dead money if cut though).
Free Agency: Because of such a strong draft, I don't think too much needs to be done in the ways of free agency. The offense in my opinion is just about set, which leaves the defense which I would rather attack with the draft. But here are my FA targets:
Alterraun Verner - CB : First off, the guy just has a bad-ass name. That's one mother who deserves an award for that. Second, he is actually a great corner. I have been a fan of Verner since his days at UCLA where he in back to back years sealed games with INT-TDs. I thought he was underrated then and was hoping for him now. He's an top corner with his best years ahead of him. I have him on my radar and I'm willing to bet the Eagles have him on theirs as well.
Jairus Byrd - S : Maybe the most ubiquitous safety name on BGN (in a positive way at least) numerous members have been clamoring for years now. He was tagged last season, but that tag will be up this season. If the Bills aren't willing to take that tag, he will be looking at a lucritive market for his services. Hopefully, he can be found in midnight green in the next few months. (NOTE: As much as I would like him here, this is a pretty good safety class. And a guy like Mike Mitchell or Michael Griffin would honestly suffice for me).
Marc Mariani - KR/PR : Talk about a fall from grace. Marc was one of the top return men in the NFL prior to 2012. He was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie returner and proceeded to put up numbers at a similar pace his next season. His 2012 year was over before it started when he broke his leg in Joe Theismann/Kevin Ware type fashion on a first quarter punt return in the preseason. He returned in 2013 and rose back up to the top of the special teams depth chart, but suffered another injury, this time in his shoulder, that ended up claiming his 2013 season. With so many injuries, the Titans are likely to let him walk and begin to search anew elsewhere. If he is on the market, I would love for the Eagles to give him a chance. Its about time we have a special teams threat who is capable of putting points on the board or putting the offense in great position on a return. We saw the kinds of effects having a DeSean Jackson or Brian Westbrook could have on a punt return either to have a score or set up in good position. Why not have that same thing on kick returns?
THE DRAFT: Looking at this draft (even with many players deciding to return) most draftniks can even at admit this is still a pretty loaded draft. I won't mock picks because we don't know the true value of players (i.e. Ryans for a 5th, Samuel was traded for a 7th when many predicted we could garner at least a 3rd), but I think it wise for the Eagles to do their best to acquire picks in this draft. However, working with the known picks we have at this point, I will tell who I would like to see on the Eagles next season:
1st Round: Stephon Tuitt DL/DE Norte Dame
I may be Tuitt's only defender, and that's saying something since I hate ND almost as much as I hate Dallas, but I am a full believer in Tuitt. People seem to be clamoring for Nix the most here and I don't understand why personally. I don't think much of Nix other than a space eater. Maybe its because he is the only skilled NT worth a damn in the first half of the draft, but I think he is overvalued. In comparison to guys like BJ Raji, Michael Brockers, Phil Taylor, and even Dontari Poe, Nix is very underwhelming, but I digress.
Nix in my opinion has been the best player on the ND defense for the last 2 years. He had a superb sophomore year when he finished the season with 47 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, 9 QB pressures, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble return for a TD, and a blocked kick. Te'o got all the accolades and attention, but Tuitt stood out way more to me. For his 2013 season, Tuitt put up the numbers, but wasn't quite as dominant as he was in his sophomore year. He still put up very gaudy stats with 49 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 13 QB pressures, 1 INT, and 1 forced fumble. Scouts and draftniks tend to point to the fact that Tuitt looked sluggish and overweight. However, upon further research (which it seems there is a lack of with Tuitt) there is good reason for that.
Last season, Stephon Tuitt put himself on the map with a breakout sophomore season. While his numbers tailed off down the stretch, Tuitt was near the top of the NCAA leaders in sacks halfway through the season, en route to a still mighty impressive team leading 12 quarterback take-downs. For a 3-4 defensive end that was one of the best run stuffers in the country, there’s not much to complain about considering it was Tuitt’s first season as an every-down contributor.
While most of us just assumed the slow down in production was a combination of defenses adjusting and Tuitt wearing down, Brian Kelly revealed earlier this spring that it was a sports hernia that hampered Tuitt, an injury the rising junior had surgery on to help correct this offseason.
Tuitt was suffering from a sports hernia injury in his hip-groin area that began to bother him mid-season of 2012. He played the rest of the year there including in the championship game against Alabama with that injury. Since he waited till the offseason to get surgery for that injury, the dreaded and well documented weight gain (as is apparent with the return from all lower body injuries happened).
Tuitt is back contributing in practice, getting developmental reps while gingerly working back from the procedure. But the break in training also gave Tuitt a chance to add some bulk, a number that might actually be under-reported at 322 pounds. "With the surgery, he wasn't working out and he put on a little weight," Kelly explained, pegging the defensive end at a number closer to Louis Nixian 330 pounds.
Nix ended up playing at what was said to be around 312 lbs that season, but honestly it looked like more. But the fact he was still able to play that dominante at and over-encumbered weight is what makes me intrigued about Tuitt. Were it not for the hernia occuring, he may have shattered Justin Tuck's sack record at ND. If he is around at our pick at 22, he would be my favorite.
Round 2: Kareem Martin DE/OLB North Carolina
I was tempted to go Calvin Pryor here, but I'm not sure if he would make it to the 2nd round and even if he did, I doubt he would drop far enough for us to pick him. Even if he did, with us bringing in Byrd and resigning Allen (both hypothetical), that would make him kind of a luxury. So I attempted to address a need here.
Kareem Martin is a relative unknown in terms of pass rushers, but his statistics and specs speak for themself. 6'5" 7/8, 272. Last season he had a break out year with 82 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 14 QB hurries, 3 passes broken up, and 3 forced fumbles. In 3 years, he's amassed 162 tackles, 44 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, 27 QB hurries, 13 passes broken up, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. He was the lone bright spot on a horrendous NC defense. Martin is a player in the mold of his previous freakish athletic teammates in Robert Quinn and Quinton Coples. However, he has had no where near the hype those two had coming out. I think he is capable of being just as much of a force. He possesses great size and strength and a very good array of moves. I like Cole and Graham, but I think its time we find someone who fits the mold of what you would be looking for in your 3-4 OLB. Not saying he is a sure thing to be successful at it since he was a 4-3 end in his time at UNC, however, I would be willing to try with a guy who is this skilled.
3rd Round: Ed Reynolds S Stanford
Maybe a move like this would light a fire under Allen's behind. Allen is coming off a good year and while he wasn't a problem, I think he can be upgraded on. Reynolds, may or may not be that guy, but he is talented enough. Reynolds is coming off a year where he hit a bit of a drop off from his jumior year. But he still displays great cover skills. In addition, his return skills are the best I have seen since Eric Berry after the INT. His junior season interception statistics, 6 INTs, 301 return yards, 3 TDs. Its wishful thinking he could drop this far (especially with a weak safety class), but its not out of the question and he would be a great value pick in this round especially if Allen appears to have hit his ceiling (which it appears that he has IMO).
4th round: Cody Hoffman WR Brigham Young
I'm one of a few who believes that this is a great WR draft. That's why while a Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, or Sammy Watkins would be nice, I hardly believe its a necessity (Jordan Matthews happens to be my favorite and I don't know why he isn't considered a sure lock first rounder), that's why I waited till the 4th round to address it. With Maclin and Cooper (and Avant gone) coming back, I think depth rather than star potential is needed for now. Cody is one of my favorite prospects for what he does. What he lacks in speed and athleticism, he makes up for in great route running and body control. He possesses great size (6'3" 7/8, 218) and was a great RZ target for his QBs (33 career TDs at BYU). I honestly think he could be a good, maybe great receiver. I don't put much stock into whats needed in the receiving core now because I expect Ertz role to become more prominent next year and with Jackson and Shady already getting theirs, there is going to be an odd man out one way or another. Cody could come in and just provide more than what Avant did, plus a little more redzone danger, I would be happy.
5th Round: Max Bullough LB Michigan State
This one is really a depth pick. Bullough is not necessarily I think particularly much of, but I don't see Andrew Jackson or Yawin Smallwood dropping this far. Personally, I love Meco. Everybody knows how I am about linebackers. And he is coming off one of his better career years along with producing the we've seen out of an Eagles linebacker since the glory days of Trotter, and only going on age 29 next season, he still has plenty of football left in him. But next year, he stands to take up almost $7 million against the cap (none of which is guaranteed) this season coming up season and the next. So the Eagles may look to draft his heir apparent in this draft and let him be groomed underneath their stalwart LB. In my opinion, while Kendricks has come on, I think he owes a lot to Meco in that Meco's stability and command of the defense allows him to free roam throughout the field and make plays. Not to take anything away from him though because he showed up much better in the latter portion of season than early on (as did most of the defense).
In Max, you're getting a guy who will give his all on every play, a good leader, and a great in the box kind of guy, however, he leaves much to be desired in the ways of pass coverage and consistency. I don't believe it is a lack of abilities because in my opinion he possess enough athletic ability to succeed in the NFL. He didn't help himself with a questionable set of events over the final portion of his senior year. He was suspended for the Rose Bowl against Stanford (for violation of team rules), reportedly showed up overweight and out of shape (according to reports he picked up the weight in order to appeal to teams running the 3-4 scheme), and denied all interviews. I'm not inclined to think that Max is a bad guy though. Sounds like a kid who just made some mistakes. During the week of the Shrine game, his teammates and even coach didn't hesistate to show support to him and their other Spartan teammates and on the that Sunday, he was one of many players to visit the local hospital and join in the festive face painting to show support of children in need. He doesn't sound like a headcase or distraction, but he did make a few oopsies that he will have to answer for. And that's why I think he'll drop this far.
Football wise, he has to become more consistent and much more prepared and understanding of coverage and work hard at that. I think if he were to spend some time with Meco he could become that, but like I said, he's not my favorite player and I would have much preferred an Andrew Jackson or Yawin Smallwood, or even an AJ Johnson (had he not gone back for his senior year), but for a 5th rounder, I wouldn't mind experimenting with Bullough.
5th Rounder: Dri Archer RB/WR/KR/PR Kent State
As I mentioned earlier, I'm less than impressed with the Eagles special teams unit. I realize that kick returns aren't as abundant as they used to be since the kick off line has been moved up to the 35 yard line, but that doesn't mean it has to be obselete. Enter Dri Archer who is/was one of the best returners in the country over the past few seasons. Archer in his career returned 52 kicks for a 1436 yards (on average 27.6 yards per return) and has 4 career KR TDs. Having a legit return threat can only do wonders for this team. We haven't had a real KR threat since Demps (since he was inexplicably removed from KRs) and we've seen what kind of impact that can have on a game (his KR was the only reason we were still in the game against the Ravens that year). His size is definitely gonna be a turn off for some (5'8" 174) and his effectiveness in other facets of the game are worth questioning, but if he provide the value of a consistent threat as a return man, that's more than enough for me for a 5th rounder.
7th Rounder: Nate Freese K Boston College
It's about time someone either takes Henery from his K spot, or at least lights a fire under his butt. Yes, you can get kickers in UDFA, however, I consider a 7th rounder pretty much the same thing. Freese is a capable kicker and punter and was stellar this year for the Boston College Eagles connecting on all 20 of his attempted field goals and 51/73 kickoffs went for touchbacks (and in 2 cases went out of the back of the endzone). The numbers say one thing for Henery, but truly anyone who watches him can see he is lacking in some areas, most vivid in my opinion, in leg strength. Henery isn't bad, but I think he could be better, either he wins out or Freese can beat him and Henery find himself on the outside looking in. This isn't just about Henery though. I do actually like Freese, he was one of BC's best weapons and most consistent players. Would love for him to compete with Henery or even just sit back in awe and learn of Donnie "Football" Jones!
So that's it for my list of offseason moves. As you can see, I omitted contract details, trades, and the final 53 man roster. Its really hard to predict what those are gonna be like given how teams wheel and deal. I kept it generic simply for the sake of argument. Of course, I don't expect everyone to agree with me with every move and I encourage that. This is just my offseason and what I would like to see. Any further ideas, disagreements, agreements, changes, etc., feel free to discuss them below!