Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Catching Up: Eagles

Wow, a month without blogging.

Well, that's what happens when you combine the depressing dreariness of February with a new game (EA NFL Head Coach 09). I've barely had time to fit in work around my playtime, let alone blog.

But I suppose it's time to start catching up, so we'll start with a subject near and dear to me.

Looks like the Eagles are getting young in a hurry. With 12 picks in the upcoming draft, and several core veterans climbing well north of 30, I agree with the general direction. But each move brings significant risk along with the potential upside of youth.

  • Dawkins. A great story referenced in this article about Dawkins as a pervasive force in Philly's soul and conscience. A quick recap of the story goes like this: a guy running race in downtown Philly, wearing a #20 jersey, passes another participant who's seemingly dropped out of the competition - also wearing #20. He turns and says Dawk don't walk. Shamed, the slacker immediately picks up the pace and starts running again. It's difficult to describe the sense of respectful pride the city has in Dawkins, but hopefully that story comes close to conveying it. The fact that a team $40 million under the cap wouldn't pony up for a couple more years to re-sign this integral emotional leader, who played at a Pro Bowl level last season, left me bewildered and depressed for days (not exaggerating, ask my wife.) But listening to Giants broadcaster Bob Papa made me feel a lot better about the move. He said that the Giants had recently begun to scheme against Dawkins, trying to isolate him in coverage, where his declining speed and athleticism made him a liability. That the Eagles did a fantastic job of hiding him, but it was only going to get harder as he got another year older. As a Giants homer, he was neither surprised nor critical that the Eagles let Dawk go.
  • Which leads us to the signing of Sean Jones, who I've liked ever since he was drafted by the Browns out of Georgia. I was playing fantasy football at the time in an IDP league (if you don't know what that means, just skip to the next sentence) and I drafted him as a rookie. Sadly for my team, he was hurt in the preseason, but he has since developed into the sort of playmaking safety I expected - third in the NFL in interceptions over the last three years. Young and athletic, able to play close the line of scrimmage or in open spaces, he's the kind of versatile piece that will not have to be hidden in the defensive scheme. This is a really good under-the-radar signing with almost no risk.
  • Sean Considine also departed in free agency, so even with the Jones addition, this is definitely a position that will be addressed in the draft.
  • More concerning even than Dawkins' departure is the offensive line churn. At 35 and 32, the Eagles had one of the oldest yet most productive tackle tandems in the NFL last season. I was fairly certain the Eagles would let one of these guys walk, but retain the other one in order to smooth the transition. Losing both bookends at the same time could be disastrous for the QB.
  • Which is why they brought in Stacy Andrews from the Bengals. Supposedly he's another under-the-radar guy who drew a lot of interest from other NFL teams, but I haven't had the stomach to sit through many Cincy games over the past few years, so I don't really know. He is massive, and very athletic, so he's at least got the tools to work with and a chance to be dominating. He's pencilled in at RT for now, and I expect him to do well, but I'd have felt a lot better with a steady vet anchoring the other side of the line.
  • Expect OL to be another position hit hard in the draft, as usual. The Birds either draft someone to play LT or they draft a guard and move either Shawn Andrews/Todd Herremans outside.
  • Goodbye, Lito and Greg Lewis. Frankly, we got more in compensation than I though either was worth. Your contributions will be easily replaced.
  • WR. Houshmandzadeh isn't a dominating receiver, he's just a very solid football player. Would he have upgraded the team? You bet. Would I have paid $8 million/year for a guy with his talents? No. He's not the difference-maker that the Eagles need. If the Eagles trade one of their first-round picks for Boldin, or if they pick up Holt on the cheap after the Rams release him, they will be in better shape than they would have been with TJ. Knowing the Eagles, it's more likely they do neither and instead fortify the position through the draft.
  • They absolutely must add a FB. I hear they are talking to Leonard Weaver, who's only 26 and has experience in a West Coast offense. He would be a perfect fit, but he needs to get signed. With Heath Evans and Mike Karney gone, there aren't a lot of great FB options left after Weaver.
  • Another RB has to be added through the draft. Depending on how the board falls, I'd like to see one added in the first round. An aging, injury-prone Westbrook needs a productive backup, and right now there isn't one on the roster.

So although I was pretty emotional about the Dawkins deal, and although I am hesitant to switch both tackles at the same time, it's hard to argue with a team that is getting younger and more athletic. There are still lots of questions, but the direction the Eagles are moving actually makes some sense.