When Jeffrey Lurie said the Eagles would be “aggressive” in the off-season, that perked up a lot of ears of fans and media members. The thing is, what the Eagles call aggressive the rest of us call average. This is not a team that regularly splashes a lot of cash on free agents, or makes big trades. The times they have brought in “name” free agents, it’s been to fill positions of dire need. Jon Runyan, Jevon Kearse and Asante Samuel are the only big free agents they have ever signed. Michael Vick is obviously a big name, but he was brought in to be a backup. The Eagles, Steelers, Patriots and Colts are the most stable franchises in the league. All of them have something in common: they build through the draft/trades and use free agency to compliment the roster. For a while the Eagles brought in numerous players who were once very good to great but were clearly past their prime in Jeff Garcia, Blaine Bishop, Antonio Freeman, Dorsey Levens and Levon Kirkland. These guys all had little left in the tank, in Garcia’s case it turns out he had a reserve tank, Reid was trying to squeeze one last useful season out of them and usually did.
When the Eagles get Pro-Bowl caliber players, they generally do so by trade. Terrell Owens, Takeo Spikes, Jason Peters, Hugh Douglas, all acquired in trades, all had years ahead of them as productive players. We’re still waiting for those years from Jason Peters though.
Today the Eagles were very active on both fronts, albeit with expected moves. For them, that’s being aggressive. They won’t be sorry that you don’t find their moves to be aggressive.
First, the Eagles signed DE Jason Babin, a signing that looked more and more likely as Wednesday went on. It’s rare when a team fills a need with a guy coming off a Pro Bowl season and the fan base isn’t too excited about it. And with good reason. Babin had a monster year, but it was the only year of his career that wasn’t less than mediocre. I’ll say the same thing I thought when the Eagles first signed him in 2009… I’ll give him a bit of a pass for his time in Houston and Kansas City–in between spending about 3 minutes in Seattle, because with the Texans he was a converted LB and in Houston, Seattle and KC he was playing for lousy teams who didn’t know what they were doing defensively. But then he came to the Eagles and…. did nothing. Like his previous stops, it’s fair to say they misused him, and it’s also fair to say that if he was really that good it wouldn’t have mattered, talent shines through.
Then in Tennessee he found Jim Washburn. Washburn was the Titans defensive line coach and was such a big reason for Babin’s success that Babin brought Washburn and his wife to Hawaii with him for the Pro Bowl. That is one classy move. And now Washburn is the Eagles defensive line coach, which is a big reason why Babin an Eagle again. Babin has done nothing to prove he’s more than a system player, but the Eagles are banking on that not being an issue since he didn’t really change systems. As we said earlier, it’s likely defensive co-ordinator Juan Castillo, previously an offensive line coach since 1990, will give Washburn, one of the best in the business, a lot of leeway to run his d-line. Here’s hoping that they’re right.
Then they dealt Kevin Kolb for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd round pick. We all knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of when. This trade has been rumored for so long that it’s almost a bore to write about it. There’s nothing surprising about any of this, there’s nothing we didn’t see coming for months.
In exchange for a soon to be 27 year old QB with 7 career starts and an 11 to 14 TD to INT ratio who is on the last year of his contract, the Eagles got an outstanding haul: talented but troubled CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd round pick. Let’s face it, the Eagles were never going to get a 1st rounder, only established players get 1st rounders. So to get a 2nd rounder and a proven player is as good as you can get when you consider what is being given up. And ask yourself, which would you rather have: a 1st round pick or a 26 year old proven starter with a tremendous skill set and a 2nd round pick? In both scenarios you get the question mark that is a draft pick, in the latter you also get an established player who still has room to grow. I’ll take the latter.
Rodgers-Cromartie of course immediately fills a big void on the Eagles: a starting corner opposite Asante Samuel. And at 6’2″, he provides size that the Eagles DBs are lacking. So it appears the CB depth chart is Samuel, DRC, Joselio Hanson, Trevard Lindley and a big question mark after that.
In the wake of 2 key interceptions in the 2008 playoffs that put him on everyone’s radar and a 2009 season where he recorded a career high 6 INTs, DRC was named to the 2009 Pro Bowl. It’s easy to say he made the Pro Bowl on the strength of some highlight plays and the lingering aftertaste of a very good post-season, but in 2009 he was second to only Asante Samuel in INTs by a CB. That’s a heck of a way to follow up a breakout off-season, similar to the Eagles own Brent Celek’s emergence in the 2008 playoffs and large role in the 2009 season.
It will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo uses Samuel and Rodgers-Cromartie. Will he employ a static RCB/LCB strategy? Reid has said that DRC will be the starting RCB. Considering the size difference and the blazing speed of DRC, Castillo might be wise to utilize the two in an individual match-up role, giving each a particular WR to cover regardless of down, distance or side of the field. Last year the Jets, despite having Revis Island, did not always match up Darrelle Revis on the top WR, occasionally Antonio Cromartie got the assignment based on his superior size and his physical play on the LOS. So we could see DRC matched up against Miles Austin and Samuel against Dez Bryant. And both of them picking off Tony Romo.
DRC is not without some baggage though. His work ethic was questioned in Arizona, and while you have to give to get, the Cardinals seem to have had no problem letting Rodgers-Cromartie go. That’s a bit telling, however the Eagles have shown a willingness and ability to rehab a player’s image, and the locker room seems to be pretty tight. On the flipside, the personal issues coming out of Arizona could be overblown and fed by Cardinals management to paint themselves a sunnier picture for letting him go.