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Eagles Offseason Analysis

By: Billy "Wild Bill" Gallagher

As Michael Scott once said on The Office, “Oh how the turntables…” Scott meant “oh how the tables have turned,” a phrase very applicable to the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles.  Think back to November 24, 2008.  Black Monday in Philadelphia.  A week before, the Eagles had tied the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.  The day before, the Eagles lost an ugly game to the Baltimore Ravens, during which Head Coach Andy Reid benched franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb at halftime—with the score 10-3.  Enough time had passed that the Phillies championship drifted to the back of fans’ minds as they cried bloodthirstily for Reid and McNabb’s heads.

            Oh how the turntables.  Since then, the Eagles have made a plethora of offseason signings, trades, and turned in an excellent draft that has them ready for the 2009 season.  Before they could begin improving the team though, the Eagles of course had to anger their fans at least one more time.  The Birds let fan-favorite and potential Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins depart via free agency to the Denver Broncos.  While Dawkins production on the field may have declined in the past few years, his leadership on and off the field is something the Eagles will be hard pressed to replace.  Many players on the defense are young or have come in as free agents in the past few years.  Dawkins is a seasoned veteran who played with the Eagles since 1996. 

One Eagle who may have picked up some of the leadership duties was Sheldon Brown, a cornerback who has spent his career with the Eagles since being drafted in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft.  However, Brown was drafted with Lito Sheppard, a first rounder in the ’02 draft, and the pair played together for 6 years on the Eagles, becoming close friends.  When the Eagles signed cornerback Asante Samuel last offseason, Sheppard saw his playing time drastically reduced, and on February 27, 2009, he was traded to the New York Jets for a 2009 fifth rounder and a conditional 2010 pick.  Shortly thereafter, on April 21st, Sheldon Brown announced he was unhappy with his contract and requested a trade.

            After losing key veterans such as Dawkins, backup running back Correll Buckhalter signed with the Denver Broncos as well.  Buckhalter, a nice change of pace back to complement Westbrook, was severely under-utilized by Reid in Philadelphia.  Aging free-agent tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas also departed.

             While fans screamed and burnt effigies of Reid and Joe Banner over the loss of Dawkins, the Eagles brain trust was hard at work bringing in key free agents and one of the best drafts in the league.  First, the Eagles signed budding young safety Sean Jones from the Cleveland Browns.  Next, they grabbed tackle Stacey Andrews of the Cincinnati Bengals.  Andrews is the brother of Eagles guard Shawn Andrews, and should be a steadying force on the line with Shawn, who battled depression last season.  The Eagles also signed fullback Leonard Weaver of the Seattle Seahawks.  This move was probably only appreciated by die-hard Eagles fans, but it will have a great impact on their season next year, as Weaver gives the team a true fullback that will greatly improve their running game.

            Right before the draft, the Eagles traded the 28th overall pick in the 2009 draft, a 2009 fourth rounder, and a 2010 sixth rounder for Buffalo Bills tackle Jason Peters.  Peters was called “the best left tackle in the league” by Andy Reid.  While some questions linger about his performance last season, the Birds got Peters at a good price.  NFL experts have lauded this pick; drafting Peters allowed the Eagles to focus on other positions in the first few rounds of the draft:


First Round- WR Jeremy Maclin No. 19

The Eagles traded the 21st overall pick and a sixth rounder to Cleveland in order to move up and select Maclin, a wide receiver from Missouri who was initially projected as a top 10 pick.

First Round- No. 28- Traded to the Buffalo Bills for Jason Peters

The Eagles traded their second first round pick (acquired in a 2008 trade with the Carolina Panthers) along with their 2009 fourth rounder and 2010 sixth rounder to the Buffalo Bills for Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters.

Second Round- RB LeSean McCoy No. 53 Overall

Many draft experts predicted that the Eagles would draft Pitt running back LeSean McCoy because he fits well in their system as a Brian Westbrook-type who is an excellent receiver as well as runner.  However, these experts predicted the Eagles would pick McCoy with their first rounder- No. 21 overall, not No. 53 overall.

Fifth Round- TE Cornelius Ingram No. 153 Overall

The Eagles took a chance in the fifth round on tight end Cornelius Ingram.  Ingram is supremely talented and could become a great tight end for the Eagles; however, many teams were scared off by a knee injury that cost him his entire senior season at Florida.

Fifth Round- CB Victor Harris No. 157 Overall

The Eagles grabbed “Macho” Harris, a talented corner from Virginia Tech to add depth at the cornerback position.

 

In addition to these picks, the Eagles wheeled and dealed and got, as Sports Illustrated's Peter King describes, "third-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round draft choices, plus half a starting cornerback for nothing."  The Eagles traded the 85th overall pick (third round) to the Giants for the 91st (third-round) and the 164th (fifth-round) picks.  Then, they traded the 91st pick to Seattle for the 137th (fifth-round), 213th (seventh-round) and the Seahawks' third-round pick in 2010.  Next, they traded the fifth-round pick acquired from Seattle plus the 141st pick (fifth-round, acquired from Cleveland) to New England for cornerback Ellis Hobbs.  The Birds traded the fifth-round pick acquired from the Giants to New Orleans for the 222nd pick (seventh-round), plus the Saints' fifth-round pick in 2010.  Finally, the Eagles traded the seventh-round pick acquired from New Orleans to Indianapolis for the Colts' sixth-round pick in 2010.

When all these trades are considered with the Peters trade earlier, this was one of the Eagles' best drafts ever.  With all of the additions this offseason, the Eagles are poised for a great season.  On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line and linebacking corps remain intact.  These two groups played outstanding football last season, lead by defensive end Trent Cole and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley.  The secondary lost Dawkins, but has a great lineup of cornerbacks and safeties.  Sean Jones, Quintin Mikell, and Quintin Demps should compete for the starting two safety jobs.  At cornerback, Asante Samuel is the undisputed #1.  From there, the situation gets murky.  Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson loves Joselio Hanson in the nickel (3rd) cornerback role, and has said he will not demote him.  That leaves Sheldon Brown and Ellis Hobbs competing for the second starter job, with the loser dropping to fourth on the depth chart.  Whoever loses will be very unhappy and might demand a trade, as both are accustomed to being starters, and a drop to the fourth slot would be a major slap in the face.  For depth, the Eagles have Victor Harris and Jack "Iguana" Ikegwuonu.  Ikegwuonu was once a projected first round draft pick who dropped to the fourth round of last years draft after he teared his ACL at the scouting combine.  Ikegwuonu missed the entire '08 season, but has a huge upside.  Ikegquonu and Eagles 2009 fifth rounder Cornelius Ingram are in the same boat: late round picks who could have been first rounders if not for major knee injuries.  The Eagles are banking on at least one of these two recovering and playing top-notch football over the coming years.

One of the Eagles biggest problems last year was their offensive line.  They have revamped that this year, with the signing and trading for Stacey Andrews and Jason Peters, respectively.  When you factor in the return of Shawn Andrews, the Eagles All-Pro guard who will return from back injuries and depression that sidelined him last season, the line looks considerably better.  The signing of Leonard Weaver and the drafting of LeSean McCoy to complement star running back Brian Westbrook should make the Bird's run game unstoppable--provided that Reid actually calls a running play or two.  Fans should keep an eye on Westbrook though, as he will turn 30 this season and recently had knee surgery.  The wide receivers received a boost when Maclin was drafted; Maclin should see playing time as the third or fourth receiver, but don't expect him to come right in and produce the way DeSean Jackson did last season.  Jackson had abnormal success for a rookie and was able to pick up the Eagles offense very quickly because it was similar to the system he played in at California.  With Jackson, Maclin, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant, Hank Baskett, and Reggie Brown playing against the Eagles deep secondary every day in practice, the receivers and corners should get better and better all season.  Brent Celek will look to continue his success from last year as he tries to replace L.J. Smith as the team's tight end.  

The biggest question mark for the Eagles next season will be quarterback Donovan McNabb.  Of the Birds 22 projected starters for the '09 season, only McNabb, Westbrook, Curtis, and defensive end Juqua Parker are 30 years of age or older.  The Eagles have the fortune of being capable of winning now, and being built for the future.  The question is, will McNabb take them to the next level?  Or is it time to move on with backup quarterback Kevin Kolb? McNabb will answer that question with his play this season.  Last year, Andy Reid showed he is not afraid to bench his star QB.  McNabb must perform this year, or he may be benched permanently.

In his latest edition of “Monday Morning Quarterback,” Sports Illustrated’s Peter King ranked the Eagles as the 6th best team in the NFL.  The Eagles will go as far as McNabb takes them--wether that is 6th, 1st, or 32nd.  McNabb has solid special teams, led by return men Jackson and Demps to give him good field position, a great, young defense to give him the ball and keep the opposition out of the endzone, and his best overall supporting cast in his tenure as an Eagle.  True, he does not have one dominant reciever like Terrell Owens, but the overall talent surrounding McNabb is better than during the 2004 season when T.O. and McNabb led the team to the Superbowl.  McNabb and his crew can do it again--provided he stays healthy and plays his best.

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