Draft day has arrived, so here are five thoughts on the Eagles and what they might do between now and Saturday night.
1. Think back to February 27, 2009. Eagles great Brian Dawkins was set to be a free agent, and while most thought that he'd be back in Philadelphia, reports surfaced that the Broncos were pursuing him hard. I remember that day for two reasons. One, it still holds the record for most MTC traffic in a single day. And two, I made my now-fiancee wait at a Center City restaurant for about an hour as I stayed in the office and updated the blog (and somehow lived to tell about it).
So what does this have to do with the draft, and specifically the 2011 draft? The Eagles' plan in free agency that year was to re-sign Dawkins, but the Broncos swooped in with an offer the Birds were not willing to match, and he ended up in Denver. In other words, the Eagles' strategy did not go according to plan.
This year, for the first time (unless something changes after last night's ruling), the draft is taking place before free agency. The Eagles almost definitely already have a list of potential free-agent targets, even though we still don't know when that process is going to begin. But there's more risk this year. This team has defined needs: right cornerback, linebacker, maybe right guard, maybe right tackle, maybe safety.
It's possible that they pass on taking a corner early, instead planning on picking one up in free agency. But what happens if things don't go according to plan when the signing period begins? And those potential free agents get snatched up by other teams? Is a team that allowed 31 passing touchdowns in 2010 really willing to go into another season with a weakness opposite Asante Samuel?
That, in my mind, will be one of the more interesting things to watch for over the next three days - how the Eagles, and really all NFL teams, account for need, considering they have more holes on their rosters than usual.
2. This is a draft post, and I know you want names. So here's one man's guess. I think the Eagles will end up with one of the following five players: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan; Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget; Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith; Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi; Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea.
Of this group, there is one that the Eagles would almost certainly have to trade up for: Kerrigan. I think of all the players in this draft, if there's one that the Eagles have higher on their board than any other team, it might be Kerrigan. They've made it clear that the defensive philosophy will start up front with new line coach Jim Washburn, and Kerrigan would provide another pass-rushing presence. In college, he forced 14 fumbles, something that has to intrigue this coaching staff.
Carimi is really just a guess. I could have just as easily named USC's Tyron Smith or Boston College's Anthony Castonzo. The thought process is simple. The Eagles have some degree of uncertainty at center, right guard and right tackle. If one of the offensive lineman becomes available, and they feel they can make a reasonable move to trade up, they might do so. It helps that draftniks seem to think Carimi can play two of those positions - either right tackle or right guard.
Liuget and Smith are both options you've probably heard mentioned before. Liuget would provide a defensive tackle that is capable of staying on the field for all three downs, something they don't currently have. And I've written about Smith at length in previous weeks. It will be really interesting to see what happens if he's on the board for them at No. 23.
And finally, Paea. Most mock drafts don't have him going in the first round, so Paea could be a target for the Eagles in the second round if they trade down. He was a strong, productive college player at Oregon State, who would give them another option in the defensive line rotation.
3. It's important to take any sentence that starts with "Howie Roseman said..." with a grain of salt this time of year. Roseman, Andy Reid and company are not in the business of telling us exactly what they're thinking (in case you hadn't noticed). So when Roseman says he expects teams to want to trade into the 23rd spot to draft a quarterback, maybe that's more about creating a market than anything else. When he says the Eagles will have other avenues to pursue a cornerback, even if they don't get one in the first or second round, maybe he's hiding the fact that they really like Smith. Just some things to keep in mind as you make your draft guesses today.
4. The Eagles selected 13 players in last year's draft. Of that group, four saw significant playing time as starters: Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, Jamar Chaney and Kurt Coleman. Six more were on the field at some point (in a non special-teams capacity): Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Trevard Lindley, Keenan Clayton, Clay Harbor, Riley Cooper, Jeff Owens. Of that group, are there any players that the Eagles would be comfortable giving up on before their second seasons? Maybe. It depends on what kind of competition exists. But keep in mind that 2010 was Roseman's first draft, and the coaches thought enough of 10 of these players to give them a chance to play as rookies.
In other words, how many roster spots are going to be up for grabs in 2011? And would it really make sense for the Eagles to once again take 13 players? I'm not so sure. They currently have 10 overall picks, although three of those are seventh-rounders. It will be interesting to see if they once again try to stockpile or if they're more aggressive in the earlier rounds. Remember, the Eagles have a pretty clearly defined two-year window with the current group of players.
5. For the third straight year, I'll be hosting a live chat during all seven rounds of the draft. And maybe moreso than any other year, it's going to be fun to see what happens in the 22 picks before the Eagles are scheduled to make their selection. And the reason is simple: Kevin Kolb. By my count, nine of the teams with top-10 picks, and 11 of the teams with top-15 picks could use a new starting quarterback. Those that spend first-rounders on QBs instantly become unlikely to deal for Kolb (whenever they are allowed to do so). So in addition to focusing in on the Eagles' pick, it's worth looking at what Carolina, Denver, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, Cleveland, San Francisco, Tennessee, Washington, Minnesota and Miami do ahead of them.