We’re wrapping up our look at the Eagles off-season today with quarterbacks and special teams, probably the highest and lowest profile spots on the team. How’s that for balance?
What then: There was a wide range of predictions about how the Kevin Kolb era would work out, but if you had last year’s results nailed in the preseason, well, you can fill out my NCAA bracket next year. You know the history: the “era” lasted a half and Michael Vick became the biggest story in the NFL. Vick is coming back – signing for a franchise tender worth upwards of $16 million and putting to rest the notion that the franchise tag would somehow make him so angry he would turn down a nice guaranteed salary, even if he surely would prefer a long-term deal.
Kolb handled his benching with class and only after the season ended did he publicly admit something he was surely thinking all year: he wants to start, even if that means going elsewhere to do it.
On special teams Sav Rocca fought off a modest training camp challenge and had a strong year. David Akers made it back to the Pro Bowl, but the lasting memory of his season will be two crucial misses in the playoffs as questions about his daughter’s health weighed on him. The kick return game sagged, as Ellis Hobbs got hurt and Jorrick Calvin made his biggest impression by taking an astoundingly dumb penalty in Dallas. DeSean Jackson ranked seventh in punt return average but his touchdown return to beat the Giants showed his value as a return man more than any number could measure. That play essentially gave the Eagles the division.
What now: At quarterback, number 1 and number 3 are set. Vick will be the starter and may get a short extension, He’s already locked up for 2011, so it will be interesting to see if the team gives him more security, or asks to see another year of play before committing more guaranteed money. I’d be surprised if the Eagles give him more than a three year contract given his injury risk, the thin ice he remains on with the league and his play at the end of last season, which didn’t match his MVP-level middle of the year. Under normal rules teams have until July 15 to work out an extension with franchised players, but we know this offseason is anything but normal.
Regardless, Vick has offseason work to do. He was great for much of the year, without much protection, but he has to improve at blitz recognition and cut down again on the turnovers that hurt him late in the season. It wouldn’t hurt to try to add a wrinkle or two to his game now that teams have seen plenty of Vick 2.0. (Late in the year, he seemed to take the idea of adjustments as an affront, and defenses kept hammering him; to be fair, some improved offensive line play would also help).
Mike Kafka will be the third quarterback. The Eagles spent a lot of time praising his work ethic and development, and he’ll get a chance to keep growing.
The big question is at number 2. Kolb wants out and has just one year left on his contract. The Eagles could get at least a second round pick, and possibly a first, for Kolb in a year when the incoming quarterback class has many many question marks. Andy Reid says he’ll listen to offers, which really isn’t that surprising. Much more stunning would have been if he said “I’m not trading Kevin Kolb no matter what. Even if someone offers two number one picks, I’m not listening.”
But does it make sense to deal him? This argument has been hashed over on this blog and others dozens of times, so I’ll try to be quick with it: the pro of dealing Kolb is getting a return on the Eagles four-year investment in him before he walks away for nothing. A high draft pick could yield a starter who could be plugged in right away, in exchange for a guy who might play just a handful of times all year.
The con? If Vick is hurt short-term, a strong backup like Kolb could keep the season alive. Last year, Kolb went 2-1 as a fill-in who played four quarters (not counting the meaningless Dallas game) and the Eagles won the NFC East on a tie-breaker. If a weaker backup had gone 1-2, the Eagles might have missed the playoffs entirely.
There are reasonable arguments on both sides, but if the Eagles asked my opinion (and wisely they don’t), the benefit of getting another potential starter far outweighs the risk of having a lesser backup at QB.
But what if Vick gets hurt and is lost for the season? In that case the Eagles might still be better off trading Kolb: no matter how good he might one day be, Kolb’s not going to win a Super Bowl now. If Vick is lost for the year, it’s essentially a lost season anyway, whether it’s Kolb keeping the team respectable or another back up just playing out the string. In that scenario, dealing Kolb at least gives the Eagles a consolation prize of another young player.
Of course this all hinges on NFL business resuming by April’s draft, either through a new CBA (good luck) or a judge’s order lifting the lockout (could happen). If player movement is still frozen on draft day, expect the Eagles to keep Kolb rather than dealing him for 2012 picks.
If the Eagles do deal Kolb, they’ll need a veteran backup for Vick. Free agents Marc Bulger or Kerry Collins might do the trick. Neither will make your heart palpitate, but there’s a reason they’re considered backups. Matt Hasselbeck is also a free agent, but he’ll likely get a chance to start somewhere.
On special teams, Akers sounded like he thought his career in Philly was over after the season, but the team hit him with the transition tag, signaling that they likely want him back, or at least want the chance to have him back. Akers wasn’t happy about the tag, but odds are he returns to the only place he has ever played (save one game in Washington). The playoff misses raise questions, but have to be balanced with the personal factors going on at the time. During the season he hit 84.2 percent of his kicks, his second best rate since 2005, and three of his six misses came in one awful game against Atlanta.
If the Eagles choose to look at free agency, Adam Vinatieri might be available, though the Colts will probably make a strong effort to keep him. The Packers tendered an offer to Mason Crosby, though that might not stick, depending on the new CBA. The Falcons Matt Bryant will also be on the market.
Sav Rocca’s contract is up, but his respectable 43.8 yard average punt and 39-yard average net (8th in the NFL) probably earns him another year in green.
The Eagles should bring in another option to return kicks after ranking 25th in that category last year, with Calvin doing most of the work. Chad Hall had the shot to win that job in the preseason last year and didn’t stand out. A mid or late round pick here might help.
On punt returns, expect another round of questions about whether it’s worth risking DeSean Jackson on such dangerous plays. It’s a risky proposition, for sure. But Jackson is a home run hitter, and the Eagles need to get him as many at-bats as they can.