Here’s a position by position look at how the Eagles may shape their squad heading into free agency -- whenever it starts (This story ran in Friday's paper as a graphic and as a slideshow on philly.com as seen above):
In the excitement of our reports from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, you may have missed this, but Kevin Kolb is on the trading block. The Eagles first order of business needs to be gauging the offers for Kolb and quickly deciding if what they can get back is worth the risk of losing a trusted backup. Draft picks would be nice, but a defensive starter who can play this year would be even better. If Kolb is dealt, the Eagles need to find a backup for Michael Vick. Speaking of whom, the Eagles need to decide if they want to give him a long-term deal after franchising him in March, but that probably waits until after they deal with free agency and their draft picks.
Another quick decision is needed on backup Jerome Harrison, a talented back who fit in well last season, but who might be looking for a chance to play more elsewhere. If the Eagles can keep him, they should. If not, they’ll have to add backup running back to the shopping list. The starting halfback job is LeSean McCoy’s. Fullback will come down to Owen Schmitt and seventh-round pick Stanley Havili.
Sorry, but there really aren’t a lot of good arguments for chasing after Plaxico Burress, who was slowing down before he spent two season away from football. In fact, with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper already on board, there aren’t many arguments for doing much of anything at wide receiver. At some point soon the Eagles will have to deal with Jackson and his contract, which runs out after this season, but that, too, will probably wait until after free agency.
Brent Celek is a lock as the starter and Clay Harbor heads into camp as an athletic backup. Don’t expect much activity here.
The entire group will have to quickly start learning the ways of new offensive line coach Howard Mudd. The Eagles will also have to move fast on signing first round pick Danny Watkins and teaching him up if they want him to start right away – and they surely do want that. Jamaal Jackson should be ready to play at center. The Eagles should also take a look at Winston Justice, who struggled down the stretch and had offseason knee surgery. Do they still feel comfortable with him protecting Vick’s blind side? Or is this another area for a free agent foray?
Having not drafted a defensive end in April the Eagles were likely buyers once free agency opened. But with the recent revelation that 2010 No. 1 pick Brandon Graham underwent microfracture knee surgery in December it is all but certain that the Eagles will add an end before camp. They could be aiming high – Ray Edwards? Charles Johnson? – in search for a starter opposite Trent Cole. The 33-year-old Juqua Parker wore down last season and there isn’t an upgrade among the rest of the cast (Darryl Tapp, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Ricky Sapp and Phillip Hunt).
The market at this position is thin but could get significantly thicker (pun intended) if the Redskins release Albert Haynesworth. The former Titans all-pro reached his apex in Tennessee under the instruction/care of new Eagles line coach Jim Washburn. Haynesworth has said he wants to follow Washburn to Philly, but the 30-year-old’s skills are on the decline and Washington will do whatever it takes to keep him from landing with a divisional rival. The Eagles may also have a budding Haynesworth in Antonio Dixon. The 6-foot-3, 320 pound third-year player was dominant at moments last season. But time is running out on veterans Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley, and Trevor Laws is still a mystery man.
The Eagles have already had considerable turnover here – or at least will once the league year starts. Free agents Ernie Sims, Omar Gaither and Akeem Jordan will be jettisoned to make room for at least one of the Eagles’ three draft picks (Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle and Greg Lloyd). The most significant move, however, could be retaining free agent Stewart Bradley at middle linebacker. If he stays, Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou and Keenan Clayton should compete for the two outside linebacker spots.
How’s another season with Dimitri Patterson as the Eagles’ right cornerback sound? Or how about the Eagles tossing second-year pro Trevard Lindley or 2011 third-round pick Curtis Marsh in the starting lineup opposite Asante Samuel? Scary, right? The Eagles likely feel the same way which is why they’ll finally find a suitable replacement to Sheldon Brown a year after the fact. Nnamdi Asomugha is the headliner in free agency, but will command top dollar. Johnathan Joseph, Ike Taylor and Carlos Rogers are proven commodities, but may not be available. Perhaps a corner comes in a deal for Kolb (Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, anyone?)
For the second straight draft the Eagles expended their second round pick on a safety. Last year they grabbed Nate Allen. This year they took Jaiquawn Jarett. In a perfect world Allen and Jarrett are the starting safeties on opening day. But Allen is coming back from a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee and Jarrett is a rookie without the benefit of spring practices. Maybe that gives unrestricted free agent Quintin Mikell another term in Philly, but that’s unlikely. Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, Marlin Jackson and Jamar Adams will fight it out for the third safety spot.
David Akers is gone. See, ya, Dave. Thanks for the wonderful 12 years. Akers’ age (he’s 36) and his salary have closed the book on his tenure with the Eagles. Welcome aboard, fourth-round pick Alex Henery. The Nebraska kicker can also punt, but he will solely handle placekicking and kickoff duties. Punter Sav Rocca is (again) a free agent, but the Australian increased his production in each of four seasons with the Eagles and probably has another year left from down under his knee.
Juan Castillo has perhaps the biggest challenge: sparking improvement in a mediocre defense after spending more than 20 years coaching offense. He plans to simplify his scheme, and will have to teach fast. Washburn should help, but he, too, has to quickly implement his methods to help the pass rush improve on its 2010 performance. Same goes for Mudd and the offensive line. Marty Mornhinweg doesn’t face as many changes, but he’ll have to keep the offense clicking while the defense finds its legs. Ultimately, it’s up to Andy Reid to manage the challenge that comes from having a shortened offseason and a new defensive coordinator. Everything comes back to the top guy.