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How Much Will It Take To Take Eagles Defense To The Next Level?

This feature is a weekly piece on titled From The Eagles, featuring Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. The intention is to provide a perspective directly from the Philadelphia Eagles in this forum for the great fans who visit BGN.

Some of the pieces, the Eagles believe, are in place to have a championship-level defense. The front is young and deep and talented, led by All-Pro Fletcher Cox and buffeted by the likes of Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry. Linebacker Connor Barwin played in his first Pro Bowl in January and Mychal Kendricks isn't far behind, so the middle of the defense has some cogs around which to build.

The rest of the defense? Questions, questions, everywhere.

So while the Marcus Mariota Debate rages - Will the Eagles make the move in the draft to go up and get Oregon's Heisman Trophy winner? (I say no) - a more complicated matter engulfs the other side of the line of scrimmage. How much can the Eagles accomplish in the offseason ahead to upgrade the defense?

You may expect a complete makeover in the secondary, but I have doubts. The popular consideration from the fans is to cut ‘em all - save maybe safety Malcolm Jenkins - and start anew in the secondary. Sounds easy enough. But it certainly isn't that way in the real world of the NFL.

The Eagles have given indication of their intention to change significantly on defense, particularly in the secondary, with some coaching changes. They made John Lovett, who coached the cornerbacks the last two seasons, a pro personnel scout. Safeties coach Todd Lyght moved on to Vanderbilt to coach there. The Eagles hired Cory Undlin as the secondary coach and promoted Matthew Harper from a special teams assistant to assistant defensive backs coach. Understand the importance of the moves, please.

The personnel? We're going to find out. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen, both starters in 2014, are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 10. Cary Williams had an uneven performance in 2014. Brandon Boykin is a fine nickel cornerback in the slot who many out there believe would help the Eagles more outside. The team added veteran Nolan Carroll II in free agency and Jaylen Watkins in the draft last spring.

Will free agency provide answers? Maybe. The Eagles, though, don't have a tremendous amount of financial freedom - they're reportedly in the middle of the pack in salary-cap room - and the market may not offer the kind of top-end talent to upgrade the secondary, anyway. Darrelle Revis, the Pro Bowl star from New England? Why would the Patriots let him walk and would the Eagles have the means to pay him $15 million (or more) in free agency? Byron Maxwell from Seattle? Maybe he'll hit the market, but every team wants a cornerback and there are plenty of teams with a lot more cap room than the Eagles have.

How about at safety? Devin McCourty from New England is a prime-time player, but didn't quarterback Tom Brady restructure his contract there to give the Patriots a chance to retain players like McCourty? Just sayin' ...

My point is this: I expect the Eagles to make changes in the secondary. And it could come in free agency and it could come in the draft. There will be competition in the secondary.

At the same time, I'm not ruling out a return from Allen, who played some of the best football of his career last year. I think the Eagles aren't sure they can upgrade the personnel they have now, because they know that teams aren't going to willingly let prime coverage talent get into free agency.

And they also know that there are other questions on defense, particularly at inside linebacker where DeMeco Ryans is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon.

How about this, then? The defense will have a modest makeover. Maybe a new cornerback and a new safety to add competition. A draft pick at inside linebacker. Better coaching and more fundamental success. A tweaking of the scheme. A lead with which to play from the offense.

I agree that there's a lot of work to be done at particular places on the defense, but I'm skeptical of just how much the Eagles can accomplish in free agency and how much immediate impact they're going to get from the draft.

Maybe I will be proven wrong. Certainly, the Eagles need to be better. Much better. If they want to contend for the Super Bowl, they've got to stop the run, get off the field on third down and improve in the red zone.

How do they get to that point? That's the question head coach Chip Kelly and his staff must answer. I don't think there is a magical solution coming in free agency and the draft. A lot of the improvement will have to happen with what the Eagles already have in place.

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