Are You Ready For Some… Insanity?
Because that’s what we’re about to experience as the NFL business year officially gets underway. There’s going to be a dizzying flurry of action as teams scramble to sign their own players, ink free agents, and make trades. We are about to witness an entire offseason’s worth of activity condensed into two weeks, so buckle up, hold onto your dicks, and brace yourselves for an orgy of transactions that’s sure to make your head spin.
But before I go any further… HALLELUJAH! THE LOCKOUT IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE NEWEST COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT! We’re getting ten guaranteed years of labor peace. FUCK the lockout. Fuck it in its stupid, greedy, dead, rotting, no-football-having ass.
This article has been a long time coming for me, and I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I hope the Eagles do to improve their team through free agency and the trade market. We’ve heard throughout the lockout that the team has big plans in place and is ready to be aggressive in bolstering the roster. Now it’s time for the head honchos running the show to put their money where their mouth is. As of right now, according to ESPN, the Eagles are $13 million under the cap. I expect there will be cuts and whatnot to free up more money. If I were running the team, I’d have a singular goal for this truncated offseason: Let’s get fucking nasty on defense again. No more of this pussy shit. I want guys who are intent on ripping people’s heads off… who on our defense displays that kind of intensity? It’s pathetic. Andre Waters must be rolling over in his grave.
First thing’s first, and that’s the Kevin Kolb trade, which has been the worst kept secret in football since the draft — or so basically everybody would have you think. Regardless of if the rampant speculation is true, let’s just get this out of the way now:
Kevin Kolb to Arizona for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second round pick
Aren’t you chomping at the bit to see which free agent the Eagles are going to lavish with a lucrative deal, only to watch him become a bust? I know I am! Alright, fine, I’ll cool it with the negativity. Of course it’s not a forgone conclusion that whoever the team signs won’t live up to his contract, but, well, the Eagles haven’t exactly been the best at playing the free agent market over the years. Which is to say they’ve been pretty awful (save for the one year of Terrell Owens and the Asante Samuel signing, I suppose). The rumor mill would have you believe that this offseason’s lucky target is Ray Edwards (Vikings). He is a solid player who is known for his run-stopping as much as his pass-rushing. Edwards has undoubtedly benefited from playing on a line with Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Pat Williams the past two years (yet still wasn’t able to notch double-digit sacks in either season despite literally never facing a double team) and is about to get paid like he’s one the top defensive ends in the league. He’s not. Then again, the Eagles are probably banking on the notion that the 26-year old is on the cusp of breaking out and becoming a star. I’m not sure I share the same optimism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t think Edwards is good, I just don’t think he’s going to be worth the money he’s about to get. What can I say, the pessimist in me reigns supreme. All things considered, I’d much rather throw a shit ton of cash at Charles Johnson (Panthers). Also, the supposed pursuit of Edwards should tell you exactly how the team feels about Brandon Graham’s ACL tear and microfracture surgery (hint: not good). It appears he’s going to lose his chance at a starting job for the foreseeable future and is destined to just be thrown into the defensive end rotation when/if he returns to full strength. I just hope Graham isn’t about to turn into Jerome McDougle, version 2.0.
I’ll throw out a few alternative names to the two free agent defensive ends — Ray Edwards and Charles Johnson — you’ve heard about the most:
Jacob Ford (Titans): Would you believe me if I said Ford was one of my late-round sleepers for the 2007 draft? I guess you’ll just have to trust me on this one. One of the draft sites — the exact name of which I can’t remember at the moment — I frequented was singing Ford’s praises, so I decided to dig a little deeper. I liked what I was able to find: He measured in at 6-4, 250 pounds, ran in the low 4.6 range, and had dominated the (D-II) competition in his two seasons at Central Arkansas after transferring from junior college. While I hadn’t seen any actual game footage of Ford (because, again, he played at Central fucking Arkansas), aside from a few flattering YouTube clips, I was intrigued by his blend of physical attributes and performance on the field. He would be a project, for sure, but I felt Ford had the raw ability to develop into either a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker. Luckily for him, he landed in Tennessee with Jim Washburn and has been flirting with breaking out for a few seasons now. I don’t know what kind of relationship the two had, but if it was good, maybe they’d be open to reuniting in Philadelphia.
Andre Carter (Redskins): I’ve already said my piece about Andre Carter, but I think it bears repeating. On a one-year, incentive-laden contract, he’s the perfect low risk/high reward signing. I think Carter, even at the age of 32, would flourish in the Eagles’ defensive end rotation, especially under a coach like Jim Washburn.
Raheem Brock (Seahawks): A Philadelphia native, Temple product, and Eagles seventh round draft pick back in 2001, Brock was cut before getting a chance to play a snap for his hometown team. All he’s done since is carve out a nice niche for himself as a situational pass-rusher in this league. Brock has racked up 37.5 career sacks, won a Super Bowl with the Colts, and had perhaps his best season in 2010 as a member of the Seahawks (9 sacks, despite not being a starter). Even at the age of 33, it would seem as though he has a little something left in the tank and could be a very valuable contributor at defensive end.
Jason Babin (Titans): You know his story by now. Cut by the Eagles after the 2009 season, only to move on to Tennessee and break out in a big way in 2010 with Jim Washburn as his coach (12.5 sacks, Pro Bowl selection). At age 31, he’s looking for a career deal. Too much flash-in-the-pan potential here. I’ll pass. Although, if there’s one place where Babin could continue to develop and thrive as a pass rusher, you have to think it’s in Philadelphia with Washburn.
Moving on to defensive tackle. I want another HUGE stopper at that position… no more of these guys who are undersized, I don’t care how great their motor is. I want a legit player to pair with Antonio Dixon, who I think will be a Pro Bowler this season. Yes, he has that kind of potential. Barry Cofield (Giants) would be a perfect fit, both because of his talents and the fact that it weakens a division rival. Brandon Mebane (Seahawks), while not the enormous body — relatively speaking, of course — I pined for a few sentences ago, would also work. Another three players to consider: Alan Branch (played nose tackle in the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense; holy shit, what a monster at 6’6”, 338 pounds), Remi Ayodele (Saints), and Anthony Bryant (Bears; and, yes, he’s undersized). However, unless Albert Haynesworth is released by the Redskins and the speculation about him coming to Philadelphia comes to fruition, I’m not sure I see the Eagles signing a defensive tackle in free agency. They’ll probably just go with the Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trevor Laws rotation and hope for the best.
Now for the linebackers. Ernie Sims is a free agent and won’t be back, thankfully. Seriously, how many big plays did he make this past season? It’s gotta be less than five. I think his biggest hits came in training camp. When he wasn’t busy being invisible, Sims struggled to get off blocks and constantly over-pursued, vacating his gap responsibility in the process. I can see why the Lions jumped at the opportunity to trade him for a fifth round pick. Anyway, I think we have two of the three linebacker positions filled. I like Jamar Chaney in the middle, as he really played well after replacing Stewart Bradley, and think he’d be a good fit on the weak side, too. Speaking of Stew Brad, I’d like to see him re-signed. This will be his second season back from the ACL tear, so he should be at full strength. Before the injury, he appeared poised to take the next step and develop into a Pro Bowler. Then again, if Bradley isn’t retained, going after Barrett Ruud (the two were actually teammates at Nebraska) to patrol the middle could be an option. He has quietly made himself into a solid player down in Tampa. Ruud’s one of the best linebackers in the league when it comes to pass coverage — and that’s a good thing for his sake because he’s regarded as a subpar run defender. Ultimately, I imagine he’ll likely end up pricing himself out of the Eagles’ range. How about going after Paul Posluszny? Other appealing linebackers on the market: James Anderson (Panthers), Stephen Tulloch (Titans), Stephen Nicholas (Falcons), Quincy Black (Buccaneers). I’ve also seen Kirk Morrison’s name mentioned; if this were three years ago, I’d be much more receptive to the idea of signing him. That said, I wouldn’t mind him on a short-term deal.
The starting cornerback spot opposite Asante Samuel has been the most scrutinized vacancy on the roster since the end of the season. With so many pundits and journalists predicting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the return from Arizona for Kevin Kolb, it seems as though that position is about to be filled. Rodgers-Cromartie is a very talented player but regressed markedly last season after a stellar 2009. According to Football Outsiders, he was the most inept tackling defensive back in the entire league last season, whiffing on 18.9% of his tackling opportunities. Great, because what we really need most is for our other starting cornerback to also be an infuriatingly shitty tackler. If the Eagles get the Rodgers-Cromartie from 2009, this is a phenomenal trade. If it’s the 2010 version… fuck.
As for all the Nnamdi Asomugha talk, I’ve never bought into the idea that the Eagles were seriously interested in his services. If you have followed this current regime at all, you’re well aware of one of the organization’s philosophical bedrocks: Once a player hits the age of 30, the twilight of his career is right around the corner and his days in Philadelphia are numbered. Aside from Terrell Owens, which was obviously a special circumstance, when has the front office signed a free agent aged 30 or over to come in and be an impact player? Exactly, and it’s not going to start now, either (also why I’d count out Ike Taylor). Asomugha, affectionately known as Scrabble, is undoubtedly still an elite player, and it’s titillating to think about him and Asante Samuel as the defense’s starting cornerbacks. However, he just turned 30 and is going to command a long term deal at a ridiculous cap figure ($18 million per season is the number I’ve seen thrown around). Aside from Charles Woodson and maybe Ronde Barber (no, I didn’t forget about Champ Bailey), how many cornerbacks remain elite players into their 30’s? Some desperate team will pony up the dough for Nnamdi, but it won’t be the Eagles. Jonathan Joseph (Bengals) would be a much better fit for this team anyway, if Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t acquired in the Kolb trade. Josh Wilson (Ravens) is another player I’d be interested in signing. I’m also a fan of Corey Graham (Bears) and would love to see him here in Philly, but you’ve probably never heard of him. If he gets the chance to start somewhere, though, you’ll know his name soon enough. The Eagles would be smart to give Graham a serious look.
Next up is the safety position. It looks like Quintin Mikell — who, in addition to being underrated, is a quality person and one of the nicest guys in the league — isn’t in the team’s plans for the future. Honestly, I would have been okay bringing him back, but only at the right price. That said, here are the main players of interest to me: Roman Harper (Saints), Eric Weddle (Chargers), Bernard Pollard (Texans), and James Ihedigbo (Jets). I know the Eagles drafted Jaiquawn Jarrett to pair with Nate Allen — who, remember, is coming off a ruptured patellar tendon — in the defensive backfield, but I can’t be the only one concerned with the prospect of starting a second-year player coming off a serious knee injury and a rookie who hasn’t been able to absorb the scheme or get any practice reps. If the Eagles truly have Super Bowl aspirations this season, I feel they need to sign an impact safety to stabilize the secondary and help quarterback the defense. Roman Harper and Eric Weddle would headline my wish list. I view them both as being among the best safeties in football.
Roman Harper is smart, tough, physical, instinctive, and a force on defense. In addition to being a very strong tackler, he can deliver devastating hits, has a penchant for separating the pigskin from the ballcarrier (forced six fumbles last year and 12 in his career), and is a very capable blitzer (9.5 career sacks). Harper is one of the best safeties in the league against the run and continues to improve as a pass defender. I love everything about his game and always found myself wishing the Eagles had him whenever I saw him play. Well, except for this past season’s playoff loss to the Seahawks, which may have been the worst game he’s ever had, at any level. Meh, shit happens, and one putrid performance in a playoff game doesn’t overshadow an entire body of work. A four-year starter for the Saints and two-time Pro Bowler, Harper would instantly make the Eagles defense better by leaps and bounds. He’d also represent an intimidating force in the secondary, the likes of which the team hasn’t had since Brian Dawkins left town.
Eric Weddle is a versatile, all-around safety who’s elite in pass coverage and excels at reading and reacting, jumping routes, and breaking down as a tackler (although he’s not a heavy hitter and has actually never forced a fumble in his career). He might not be the most flashy, but he thinks the game as well as any player around and is highly dependable. There’s no question in my mind that Weddle is often overlooked because he fits the typical profile of a Jack of all trades, master of none. It’s unfortunate, too, because he’s a damn good player. I watched Weddle a bunch at Utah, where he played both cornerback and safety, and constantly came away enamored with his game. He always seemed to know where to be on the football field and made the right play. But it was Weddle’s masterful performance in shutting down Calvin Johnson in the Emerald Bowl his junior season that really opened my eyes and led me to believe he could be a legitimate starter in the NFL. When the Eagles were on the clock with the 36th pick in the 2007 draft, I wanted them to draft him as the heir apparent to Brian Dawkins. The team chose Kevin Kolb instead, and Weddle was selected by the Chargers with the very next pick.
Bernard Pollard, best known for delivering the “hit” that tore Tom Brady’s ACL exactly half a quarter into the 2008 season, has made himself into one of the league’s most punishing safeties. He’s a run-stopping, in-the-box safety first and has never exactly been known for his coverage skills. Pollard is aggressive and demonstrative, a maximum effort kind of guy who relishes being a tone-setter and delivering the big hit that fires up his teammates and rattles the opposition.
As for James Ihedigbo, I’d sign him as a backup but mostly would want him on the roster for his special teams play.
You’ll notice I haven’t written a single world about the offense yet, and that’s because it really doesn’t need much work. I’d like to see another offensive lineman brought in, especially given Jamaal Jackson’s injury history. Samson Satele (Raiders) is a guy who piques my interest in this regard. Otherwise, just sign a few depth players here and there. I expect Jerome Harrison to leave, so aside from backup running back — maybe Brandon Jackson (Packers) or Jason Snelling (Falcons); no, wait, for the love of all things holy, sign John Kuhn (Packers) — all the positions appear to be filled. Naturally, I’d love to bring Brian Westbrook (49ers) back, but I don’t think that’s happening. And, no, I don’t see us going after Plaxico Burress, either. Now, if Reggie Bush gets cut by the Saints, obviously I’d salivate at the idea of plugging him into this offense. There’s no doubt that getting a player with Bush’s skill set is (one of) Andy Reid’s wet dream — he’d probably never call a single running play ever again.
It’s 10:30 in the morning on the first official day of the 2011 NFL season, do you know where your free agents are?
Edit: Admit it, you sort of forgot about DeSean Jackson’s contract situation. Michael Vick hinted today that Jackson could be a training camp holdout if he doesn’t get a new deal. Ah, now it feels like football is really back.