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Let's get personnel

Let’s Get Personnel
By Michael Christian

I love the NFL draft. And when I say that, people think it’s an exaggeration like when I say I love pizza, pecan pie, and mob movies. They’re wrong. I love the draft like it’s an appendage. It’s just a flat out necessity. I almost failed a course at Pitt because the university refuses to push finals back a week in order to accommodate the festivities. My roommate and I actually sent letters of intent to forgo our remaining eligibility and enter the draft. But sadly, we drew no interest. We weren’t even invited to the pro day.

I love the draft. I bleed green that weekend. And for as long as I can remember, by the time Sunday ends, that green blood is usually coming out of my eyes and ears.
Although the past decade under Jeffrey Lurie and Andy Reid has been the most successful era of Eagles football, there has been a glaring weakness within the organization. Being as blunt as possible, Andy Reid and the Eagles have really sucked it up when it comes to personnel decisions. Be it draft choices or free agents, more often than not the Eagles personnel moves end up falling short of expectations. Oddly enough they are more successful letting players go than acquiring them.

It seems to me that Reid and company value the draft as the most important device to improve the team. Year after year the birds go into the last weekend of April with double digit draft choices. With that amount of selections sheer statistics would suggest the team would uncover a late round gem once. A Tom Brady, Terrell Davis, or an Adalius Thomas for the Eagles fans to boast about. The closest we came under Reid was Raheem Brock and he now starts for the Colts.

Everyone knows that the draft is not an exact science, and in free agency you sometimes have to take a gamble. But it seems to me that the Eagles need some draft tutoring and their free agency gambles never pay off. I know, I know, hindsight is 20-20; nothing ventured, nothing gained. Insert whatever saying you like. The fact remains they need some help in March and April.

Since his first pick, Reid has had mixed results with his first round selections, and to be fair, so have most teams. But from the start Reid and Banner have made an art out of dumbfounding the fans with their personnel moves. You could fill volumes debating the moves the pair have made in the past decade. From the drafting of McNabb and Kolb and the signings of Peterson and Samuel, it’s been a decade long roller coaster ride for bird’s fans.

Reid and company got off to an auspicious beginning with the signing of Doug Peterson, along with the announcement that he would be the starter for the year. It got a bit bumpier when McNabb was drafted (and booed) with the 2nd overall selection. (Just to be clear I was not one of the 25 knuckle heads that booed McNabb and cursed the city to endless news stories about how the fans did not want McNabb) The rest of the 1999 draft crop was nothing to write home about with only John Welbourn contributing significantly in upcoming seasons.

The 2001 draft may mark the low point in the Reid era with the most successful players chosen being Derrick Burgess and Correll Buckhalter, 3rd and 4th round choices respectively. Buck broke the Eagles rookie rushing record then was beset by injuries in his career and is currently a Denver Bronco. Burgess had injury problems early on as well and turned one good year and one great playoff game into big dollars with the Oakland Raiders. We all had high hopes for Freddie Mitchell, I don’t even think Quinton Caver made it out of training camp and A.J. Feeley became a fan favorite and the envy of anyone who saw a Philadelphia Charge highlight.
In April 2002 the Eagles defensive backfield was set for a few years with Bobby Taylor (The Irvin Slayer), Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins and the newly signed Blaine Bishop. Then it happened. For a few seconds after the birds selected Lito Sheppard you could hear a pin drop then you only heard the sound of Giants fans mocking us all the way from Radio City Music hall. Then you heard your own heart beating in your ears and once the dizzy spell past you thought to yourself, “I’m finally as big an eagles fan as my dad.” (At least that’s what happened to me.)

When in fact, until recently, it seemed as though the 2002 draft class would be the best the Eagles ever had. It may still be, with the Eagles selecting Sheppard in round one, Michael Lewis and Sheldon Brown in round two, and the current lifeblood of the team Brian Westbrook in round three. (I was personally excited about this selection because as a freshman at Pitt I witnessed in person Westbrook nearly single handedly defeat Pitt with 230 yards of total offense and four TD’s). Now Westbrook and Brown are the only two members of the 2003 draft class still with the team.

The 2003 off season did nothing to improve Reid’s personnel slump with the highlights being the acquisition of Mark Simoneau and Jon Ritchie (oh how this team needs a Jon Ritchie now) and with his first round pick only being notable for getting shot right before the 2005 season (coming in a distant second was McDougle wrecking Eli Manning during his first action with the G-men). L.J Smith also had a decent run with the eagles but was the only productive member of the 2003 draft class to do so.

The 2004 draft was the only thing the Eagles did botched that year. Shawn Andrews has become the pro-bowl player they had hoped for on draft day. The other nine players selected that day never made a name for themselves with the Eagles. Though had he not injured his knee during the 2005 off season, J.R. Reed may have become as good a safety as he was a return man.

Almost any Eagles fan can tell you the players the Eagles acquired in 2004. Jevon Kearse was signed to a big contract. After some legal issues were sorted out, T.O. came to Philadelphia with bells on. We all know what happened after that… the greatest season of Eagles football followed by the utter frustration T.O. delivered onto the team and fans. The 2004 season was worth every minute of T.O. drama in 2005. In actuality I think the Kearse signing ended up being the bigger mistake. He was never the player the Eagles hoped for and his salary made it impossible to keep Burgess when his contract expired. Never-the-less, it was a fun season.

The personnel woes continued in 2005 with the signing on Mike McMahon and a thoroughly underachieving draft class that included Reggie Brown, Matt McCoy, Ryan Moats, and Sean Considine. There were some bright spots in April 2005. Mike Patterson, Trent Cole, and Todd Herremans have all become productive starters.
The jury is still out on the 2006 class with some talented players like Broderick Bunkley, Chris Gocong, and Jason Avant. But none of those players will be stars in the league. It’s way too soon to judge the players from the 2007 and 2008 drafts, but we can still argue the moves made by Reid and banner. Trading away first round picks in consecutive years is maddening to an Eagles fan. At least to this Eagles fan.

To stand in front of the fans and say that this team didn’t need first round talent is absolutely shocking. I couldn’t even talk about the 2007 draft for a day or two. Trading a first round pick to Dallas without getting an additional first round pick back was ridiculous. Selecting Kevin Kolb almost sent game me a seizure. Though, Stewart Bradley (taken with the 5th round pick acquired from Dallas) has already been more productive than Anthony Spencer has been. DeSean Jackson may end up being a great WR, but he is not a #1 wide out. Trevor Laws played more than I thought he would this season which shows they have confidence in his abilities, and Quintin Demps heads into this season vying for a starting position in the defensive backfield. They all have the talent to make Reid and company look like they had a plan all along. I hope that’s the case.

I love the NFL draft. Which is from now until April 25th, I’ll be reading every mock draft, watching every pre-draft workout, and speculating how the incoming talent might fit into the Eagles plans. And with this group running the show there’s a better than average chance I’ll be sitting in front of the TV on April 25th saying “what the $%^&?!?”

I can’t wait.

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