With the 2012 season looking lost, one eye at least is already on the future where there are some tough decisions to be made. Certain veterans like Demetress Bell and Nnamdi Asomugha seem to have sealed their fate having massively underperformed but others could go either way. A lot really depends on the coaching staff and the system they decide to introduce but it's worth investigating which players have played well enough to at least be in the discussion. Let's take a look at some particularly difficult calls.
WR Jason Avant
Avant has been a very dependable wide receiver for the Eagles for the past six years but his deficiencies have become more obvious in that time also. This season has easily been his worst since 2008 and, at age 29, he's not getting any younger. Avant's toughness and hands are very impressive but his lack of explosion, ability to generate separation and big play ability are just as underwhelming. The main issue is probably his lack of redzone production where his physical attributes should give him a big advantage. Clearly with just ten touchdowns in his career, size isn't the only thing that matters by the goal line. Although he catches a lot of passes (71.1% catch rate in 2012*) most of those are short and intermediate routes that don't generate much yardage. In fact Avant is averaging just 31.4 yards per game this season. Factor in the solid play of Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson and the $2 million he's owed in 2013 and I'm not sure Avant returns. There's definitely a place for the former Michigan Wolverine in the NFL, I'm just not sure it's with a rebuilding Eagles outfit.
*All statistics courtesy of PFF
Prognosis - Out
OT Todd Herremans
Many Eagles fans were pleased to hear the extension announced for Herremans this offseason, seeing it as a return to the Eagle tradition of paying players who deserved it. Herremans now sits on I.R. however and the Eagles at 3-7 with almost no hope of a playoff push. In terms of on-field play, the small school tackle is one of the few offensive players who can hold his head high. In 339 pass protection snaps he allowed four sacks, eight hits and 11 hurries. Those numbers are even better when you consider whoever was at left guard was seemingly practicing the turnstile technique of blocking. Herremans continues to be frustratingly inconsistent not only from game to game but also from series to series, but he's still a good pass blocker. It was his run blocking that really stood out, as he mashed on ends and linebackers regardless of who he was facing. He committed only three penalties also, another positive.
There are other factors to consider however. For a start the injury makes it difficult to say he'll come back as good a player in 2013, and the fact he'll be turning 31 soon after the start of the year makes that even less likely. Herremans also has a $3 million base salary next season. Jason Peters' questionable status probably makes it more likely Herremans returns because it's awfully difficult to replace two tackles in an offseason but he'll need to get back to his pre-injury form to ensure that's the case.
Prognosis - In
DE Jason Babin
Everyone was content with Babin when he was racking up ridiculous sack numbers, but there's been a lot of criticism since those have gone down. As I mentioned in the introduction a lot probably depends on the coaching staff and in Babin's case Jim Washburn. The former Titans' defensive line coach has done a wondrous job with the man once considered a first round bust. Although the sack numbers are down, Babin has still been generating regular pressure with five sacks, nine hits and 19 hurries. Those numbers are better on a per snap basis than all but 13 other 4-3 defensive ends, so it's not as if he's become a liability. The criticism of Babin's run defense has also gone too far as fans look for a scapegoat. In fact he's been above average in that department as his ten tackles around the line of scrimmage indicate. His main issue is penalties (5), as he continues to lack any semblance of discipline.
The other obvious issues are money and age. Babin will be 33 in 2013 and is owed $4.225 million by an organisation that will almost certainly not be a contender. That's a lot of money even for a good starter and when you consider the improvement Brandon Graham has shown, it makes it all the more likely that Babin is shown the door.
Prognosis - Out
DTs Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson
Jenkins is another guy whose fate probably depends on what happens with Washburn. The former Packer has always excelled in one gap schemes, but doesn't have the strength to anchor inside when asked to take on double teams. He could perhaps move outside to defensive end in a similar role to Red Bryant in Seattle, but that would force Graham back onto the bench.
In terms of on-field play, Jenkins has been solid but certainly not as good as in 2012. He has just two sacks and 14 pressures in 251 rushes, compared to six sacks, eight hits and 25 pressures in 400 last year. Jenkins' production is still good, but it's nowhere near the outstanding level it has been. Run defense is also an issue, as Jenkins has lost the majority of his battles in the trenches. Just eight tackles around the line of scrimmage says a lot as veteran offensive lineman have been able to move him in the run game. Jenkins will also be 32 and owed a $1 million bonus in March (to go with another $1.5 million in 2013).
Patterson is a difficult one because of the time he's spent sidelined with the skull fracture. One of the main positives is his flexibility, as he's shown an ability to play in both an aggressive penetrating defense as well as one where he's asked to occupy blockers. Patterson has always been a good run defender and he's recently shown an ability to get to the quarterback. He has four hurries in just 24 pass rush snaps so far in 2012. The youth of the guys around him is also both an advantage and a disadvantage. The emergence of Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton make him somewhat expendable but at the same time some veteran presence is needed. The fact he's slightly younger than Jenkins (29) probably gives him a small advantage although that may be offset by his higher salary ($2.9 million).
Prognosis - Jenkins stays if the defensive coordinator runs 1 gap, Patterson does if they play 2 gap
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
There was so much excitement surrounding DRC at the start of the year and that was heightened after good performances in the first few games. It didn't last however and now he's a significant part of the defensive struggles. DRC has done well in coverage overall, allowing just 25 of 49 passes to be complete for 380 yards, two TDs, three picks and seven pass deflections but a major part of that is his dominance of rookie Brandon Weeden making his first NFL start. After not allowing a QB rating of more than 80 in the first six games, he hasn't allowed one less than 90 in the previous four. His terrible tackling and run defense is another significant issue, as getting rid of Asante Samuel has not had the desired effect. Rodgers-Cromartie has already missed four tackles, but it's more his reluctance to even try and get involved against the run that's most disappointing. His nine penalties also leads all corners, another major issue. If DRC wanted to put out some excellent tape during his contract year then he's failed to do so. Still it's likely another organisation will fail to see he's more potential than substance and give him a decent contract this offseason. The departure of Asomugha means the new coaching staff may well want to keep him around, but that'll surely only happen if he accepts a reasonable contract, something I don't see as very likely.
Prognosis - Out
In most cases the players in question aren't bad at all. The problem is they're old and seemingly declining, which is exactly the stage when teams should move on. The difficulty of course is identifying whether the decline is temporary or if there's a chance they'll return to form later on. Rodgers-Cromartie is the only young player on the list, but he's unique in that he'll hit the open market at the end of the year, where he'll more than likely receive an above value offer.