Off-season Preview: Passive Aggressiveness

The NFL is days away from ending its lockout. *breathes a sigh of relief* No, wait, what’s that you say? It’s not? FML.

Jeffrey Lurie says that once the league is open for business, they’ll be aggressive. I’d like to believe him, and writers all over the country do, but need I remind you that an aggressive off-season isn’t the way the Eagles normally do business? Perhaps this season is different though. The rise from the ashes return that Mike Vick has made gives the Eagles a deadly offense. The defense is only a couple of upgrades away from being solid. This team isn’t far from being a legit Super Bowl contender. So that has people thinking they’ll be active players.

Nnamdi Asomugha wants you to stop a moment and think about this.

What will the Eagles roster look like once free agency hits and trades are to be made? Where can the Eagles be aggressive? Where can they even be aggressive? Let’s take a look. A realistic look. In other words, don’t get too excited.

QB: Mike Vick, Free Agent, Mike Kafka

Kevin Kolb is as good as gone. Hopefully he already has an offer on his house, or he rented. The likely destination is Arizona, although Seattle could be in play. If it’s Arizona, it’s either for picks or Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and lesser picks. Who’s a viable #2?

As I’ve said before, the fragility of Vick makes the Eagles a very attractive place for a backup QB. You’ll most likely get to play, for a good team, and have a bevy of weapons at your disposal. Believe it or not, Vince Young makes sense. Reid’s rehabbed the careers of Michael Vick and Jeff Garcia, and made AJ Feeley look like a starting QB. His running ability and strong arm means that he would not be a massive change of pace to the offense if he were to come in as a substitute. Tyler Thigpen, as I’ve already written, would be a nice choice too. Seneca Wallace wouldn’t make me cringe. One guy that would is Tarvaris Jackson, even though from the Eagles standpoint he makes a degree of sense. He knows their offense as well as anyone off the street, having played under Brad Childress for 5 years, and with the incredibly short off-season, the Eagles may opt to bring him in over a guy that has to learn the entire playbook from scratch. I wouldn’t like it, but I would understand.

RB: Shady McCoy, Leonard Weaver, Dion Lewis
FB: Owen Schmidtt

The Eagles have been banded about as a potential landing spot for Reggie Bush once he’s inevitably cut by the Saints, but I’ll believe when I see it, then throw up a few times. They have a better version of him in McCoy and drafted Lewis for depth behind the versatile Weaver. They’re not lacking at RB, and RB is never an area of great need for Andy Reid to begin with. 7th rounder Stanley Havili will get a shot, and a college free agent and/or no-name UFA ala Eldra Buckley will be brought into camp to be a warm body, but don’t expect anything major–Reid’s never done anything major at RB and never will.

WR: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Chad Hall

I’ll take Plaxico Burress. We know he’ll take the Eagles. It doesn’t seem like the Eagles will take him, but they could be playing cool. Jackson, Maclin, Avant and Cooper are locks. Hall is the kind of jack of all trades, master of none depth guy that Andy Reid loves (see: Mahe, Reno). There’s not a lot of room and there’s no need for the Eagles to make WR a spot they get aggressive. It’s Burress or fungible free agents.

OL: Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, Danny Watkins, Winston Justice… Mike McGlynn, Julian Valverde, Jason Kelce?

This is where the Eagles need to get aggressive, as the line was terrible last year. The left side of the line is locked in with Peters at LT and Herremans at LG, Jackson will resume his duties at C after missing all of last year with an injury, and Watkins is the likely starter at RG. RT Winston Justice is serviceable, but he’s Vick’s blindside tackle, so if an upgrade is going to happen, it needs to be there. But there’s little indication that the Eagles will pursue a starting offensive lineman. McGlynn was a disater at center in place of the injured Jackson, hopefully he’ll be replaced by a better backup, but we’ll see. Fenuki Tupou and Austin Howard are on the roster but the drafting of Valverde and Kelce puts them on the bubble. There’s not a lot of room for a veteran free agent to be brought in if it isn’t a starting RT, aside from uninteresting upgrades to the backup spots, which the Eagles need.

TE: Brent Celek, Warm Body, Clay Harbor

Celek’s entrenched as the starter obviously. Clay Harbor pissed off Eagles fans with his stone hands, but he’s not going anywhere this season. Someone will need to be brought in to at worst compete with him for the #2 spot, if not be given it outright. A veteran like Daniel Graham, Reggie Kelly or Dante Rosario would be nice additions. But this is yet another position that won’t be aggressively filled, as it’s not their M.O..

DE: Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Juqua Parker, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Darryl Tapp?, Journeymen.

Ray Edwards, Charles Johnson, or even Jason Babin or Mathias Kiwanuka will not be coming here. I want nothing to do with Ray Edwards anyway, he’s the 4th Musketeer on the Vikings defensive line. Babin’s a one year wonder.

Defensive end is apparently a concern to fans and writers from what I read on Twitter. I don’t agree. Trent Cole is obviously a beast, one of the best in the league. Opposite him is the question mark to some, but not in my opinion to the Eagles. They addressed that position when they drafted Brandon Graham, they’re not going to pay for 3 starting DEs. No, Graham did not light the world on fire, but plenty of rookies did nothing special their first year and then turned it on. What we think of Graham (or any player) ultimately does not matter. What does matter is what the Eagles think. And they drafted him, believe in him and will look at their roster and not see “starting LDE” as an area of need. The Eagles were 11th in the league in sacks (with just 2 more sacks they would have been 8th), and that was with a poor secondary. It’s not a cliche that when you improve the secondary, the pass rush gets a boost. Not a massive lift, but a boost. Another boost will come in the addition of defensive line coach Jim Washburn. Incremental additions add up. Graham, Juqua Parker and free agent to be Darryl Tapp combined for 12 sacks, which is a number that can be improved on. If the team feels that Graham’s injury is a concern, then a depth DE would be in play to take his place for this season. If they don’t bring Tapp back, then it’s a must. But it’s not going to be a bona fide starter that they sign. A proven starter is not coming in to hold down the fort for one year. A guy like Travis LaBoy (who Washburn coached) or Raheem Brock (we know he likes Philly, he got arrested there last month) would be the type of player they’ll land. No, they’re not exciting names. But that’s the point, the Eagles are not going to be landing an exciting DE. Stylez G. White is another player that fits that mold, but with the Buccaneers total lack of pass rush, they’re not going to let him go. I mention him because I really wanted to write “Stylez G. White.”

DT: Mike Patterson, Broderick Bunkley, Antonio Dixon, Jeff Owens, Trevor Laws?, 325 lb Role Player?

I would absolutely take Albert Haynesworth if he’s available. Because if he comes to the Eagles, then it’s going to be on the Eagles terms, and the Eagles don’t mess around when it comes to personalities. He’ll either be an asset or he won’t be on the team. Patterson, Dixon and Bunkley are a solid but unspectacular DT trio. Trevor Laws has been a disappointment and could be out, Owens is only a 2nd year player, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he isn’t back either. Shaun Rogers would have been a nice pickup, but New Orleans signed him before the lockout. Like DE, any additions, aside from Haynesworth would appear to likely be purely depth moves. I’m bored to tears just going through the list of non-notable guys they would look at. How does Junior Siavii or Kedric Golston sound to you? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

LB: Stewart Bradley, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews and god knows what else.

I’d be completely stunned if linebacker is an area the Eagles were highly active in this off-season. Linebacker has always been a revolving door of mediocrity under Andy Reid. Nate Wayne, Carlos Emmons, Mark Simoneau, Mike Caldwell, Shawn Barber, Keith Adams… these are just the veterans they have brought in since Reid took over. Takeo Spikes and Jeremiah Trotter in his 2nd stint with the team, as reclamation project, are the best of the veteran LBs they’ve brought in. Then there’s the even less inspiring list of guys they drafted: Chris Gocong, Akeem Jordan, Matt McCoy, Omar Gaither… not pretty. It’s almost like he has LBs on the team because he has to, not because he wants to. The Eagles have never had the same opening day starting trio of LBs under his tenure, although in a few seasons that was due to injury. Still, the constant turnover of LBs is a nuisance.

There’s no reason to think this season will be different. When Stewart Bradley got hurt again, Jamar Chaney, a 7th round pick last year, filled in admirably at middle linebacker. But how much of that was that he was new and thus there wasn’t any tape on him? Yes, he made plays. But whenever there’s a new player on the field due to injury, any coach worth his salt will go right after that guy and try to expose him. It’s a credit to Chaney that he played well, but he only started 3 games. Anything can happen in 3 games. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that Chaney is the real deal, and he stays at MLB and Bradley, who played SLB in college, as the outside linebacker. Yes, that’s right, I just said there are only two linebackers on the field. Because there are. A majority of snaps in the NFL are now from 3+ WR sets, it’s becoming a misnomer to label a team as a “4-3″ or 3-4” defense. Everyone is in dime or nickel for more than half the game, the front 7 is turning into the front 6, so the proper label should be “3 man” or “4 man front.”

Of course for the times when they do have a front 7, they’ll need a third LB. Ernie Sims (UFA) didn’t get the job done, Omar Gaither (UFA) is a backup/situational player at best, Akeem Jordan rightfully wasn’t tendered. Perhaps one or more of them will be back though. I hope not. Casey Matthews will get a shot to win the job, but he’s ticketed to be a special teams ace. 6th rounder Brian Rolle and 7th rounder Greg Lloyd Jr. are long shots. Ideally, the Eagles would go out and sign a proven starting WLB. But that’s not their style, never has been, never will be. Which is a shame.

Thomas Davis would be a potentially fantastic addition if he can regain his form from injury, Ben Leber, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Leroy Hill and even Dhani Jones would be fine additions. These are the biggest names they’d go after, but we all know that’s not their style.

CB: Asante Samuel, Some Dude, Joselio Hanson, Dimitri Patterson, Trevard Lindley.

Some Dude might be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, in exchange for Kevin Kolb. That would be great. DRC isn’t elite, but he’s good and he’s proven and he’s young.

Let’s assume for a moment though that Kevin Kolb is not traded for Rodgers-Cromartie. If I’m Arizona I’d rather give up just picks, which are question marks, then give up DRC, who is a known quantity. What options would the Eagles realistically have?

Let’s face it, Nnamdi Asomugha is probably not going to be an Eagle. He would command at least 75% of the roughly $20 million in cap space the Eagles will have when the lockout ends. As much as I would love to have Asomugha, if given the choice, and the Eagles are going to essentially be given a choice, I’d rather have a lesser corner and other players, as they have more than one hole to fill. They don’t *need* a top flight CB, they just need a good one.

Ike Taylor, by all accounts, is going to be the guy they would go after. I’m okay with that. Taylor is a solid corner who would be a very nice upgrade to the Eagles secondary. It’s a nice bonus that he’s a big corner at 6’2″. Antonio Cromartie and Jonathan Joseph would be great additions, but they’ll likely price themselves out of the Eagles plans if there’s a cap, and if there’s no cap then Cromartie will likely be retained by the Jets. But what if Taylor doesn’t sign with the Eagles and money is an object? Who can they realistically go after if not Taylor? Carlos Rogers and Eric Wright are two names I can live with, especially if a trade for DRC happens.

S: Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Curtis Marsh, Random Guy or Kurt Coleman.

It seems Quintin Mikell may not be back. If he’s not, then Nate Allen would be the most veteran safety on the team. He’ll be entering his second year (as will Kurt Coleman if he makes the team). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, what’s the point in having a veteran if you think you’ve got a bunch of good young players? But at this point in the off-season the fourth safety will have to be a veteran by default if they decide to not go with Mikell or Coleman. With Allen as the starter at FS, the market thins to veteran SSs. Other than Mikell, the only free agent SS worthwhile is Dajuan Landry, who will likely find himself a nice contract with a team like the Cowboys, Chargers or even Texans. The man is going to get paid well, and I’m not sold on him. Playing alongside Ed Reed can hide many flaws. Buyer beware.

The Bottom Line

I just don’t see where the Eagles can and will be aggressive this off-season outside of trading Kolb and adding at least one CB. And for the Eagles, that is being aggressive. They generally don’t add anyone flashy. The skill positions are pretty much set, they have every reason to think the offensive line will be much improved with the return of Jackson and the addition of Watkins, the defensive line does not have much room for improvement, they never do anything with linebacker and safety seems set too. I’d love to see them improve at right tackle, safety, cornerback, linebacker and add Plaxico Burress and a motivated Albert Haynesworth. But realistically speaking, that’s not going to happen.

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