Things are pretty quiet on the free-agency front today, so I wanted to take a look at the Eagles' recent moves to lock up Leonard Weaver and Jason Avant to long-term deals.
Let's get one thing out of the way: the Eagles absolutely need to address the defense if they expect to be significantly better than last year.
Many of you have voiced your frustrations -- both in the comments and in e-mails -- about the team's inactivity in free agency. Whether they should have made a bigger splash in the last few days is up for debate, but we can all agree that the defense needs to be addressed.
On the offensive side of the ball, though, the Birds have now locked up two guys who are important pieces going forward. Avant and Weaver are players who make contributions that exceed what you see on the stat sheet.
Last year's training camp at Lehigh was my first chance to focus in on Avant's abilities up close. A couple examples, which I shared at the time, but are probably worth mentioning again:
* During one drill, Donovan McNabb looked for an open Avant, but was off-target with his throw. Avant showed no signs of frustration. He ran back to the huddle, got McNabb's attention and asked if he ran an incorrect route, or made his break too soon. Nope. McNabb just made a bad throw. Avant likely knew that was the case, but he wanted to make sure. That's the kind of focus he brought to pretty much every practice there. And if you remember McNabb's post-game comments throughout last season, he almost seemed to go out of his way to mention Avant, even when questions were posed about the play-making ability of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
* On another day, wide receiver Shaheer McBride made a tremendous one-handed grab during a drill. Now keep in mind that McBride did not even make the team. And that most of the Eagles' regulars were either taking a knee or grabbing a drink. But not Avant. He ran 20 yards down the field with a big smile on his face to congratulate McBride on his effort.
Again, those little things go a long way. Especially on a team whose two most dynamic playmakers (Jackson and Maclin) are 23 and 21, respectively. These qualities are meaningless if a guy can't play, but as we covered in our Year in Review, Avant is a guy McNabb can count on, and a guy that can make plays in the slot.
Many of the same things can be said for Weaver. We forget now, but Weaver had just four carries in the first six weeks of the season. In Weeks 8 and 9, he carried 16 times for 108 yards, averaging 6.75 yards per rush. The next two weeks, only five rushing attempts.
We didn't hear Weaver complain. We heard him talk about playing whatever role the Eagles needed him to play. Whatever it took to win games. And with Weaver, you got the feeling that he really meant those things. A punishing blocker, a capable runner and a good teammate. The kind of guy you can win a lot of games with.
Think about the transformation the Eagles' offense has seen since the end of the 2008 season. Out are Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas and Brian Westbrook. Three guys who had a combined 28 years of experience with the Eagles. Think about that. 28 years.
In are Jackson, Maclin, Jason Peters, Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy.
We wait to find out if it's going to be McNabb or Kevin Kolb lining up behind center in 2010. But it's good news for either guy that Avant and Weaver will be in the huddle with them.
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