The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles season began with great expectations but ended in bitter disappointment. After an 8-8 season, there are plenty of areas that must be improved if the Eagles hope to compete for a title in 2012.
However, things may not be as bad as you think.
Yes, this season was — as Jeff Lurie put it — unacceptable, but the areas where this team needs to improve should be fixable this offseason.
The Eagles underwent a tremendous amount of changes last season. There was a huge overhaul in players, coaches and schemes. The team is built to win now and the core of the team will be returning in 2012.
Having said that, the team as it stands right now, just isn’t quite good enough. With a tweak here and a change there, this team could be primed for a big run next year.
Since we now know that Andy Reid is returning, here are the seven most pressing issues to address in the coming days, weeks, and months.
1. What to do at defensive coordinator?
This is the very first issue that will be addressed. We are all waiting with baited-breath to see what Reid decides to do here. The more time that elapses before Reid holds his next press conference, the more likely it is that a change is coming.
For the time being, it seems as though the Eagles are at least questioning whether or not Juan Castillo needs to be replaced. The determining factor will likely end up being about who the candidates are to choose from.
Should the Eagles make a change here? Yes, if it’s for the right person.
Next season, the Eagles will be facing seven teams that made the playoffs this year (not including the Giants). They will be playing teams that have good quarterbacks and play good offensive football.
In other words, there won’t be any stretches of the season against the likes of Matt Moore, J. P. Losman, Mark Sanchez, Stephen McGee and Rex Grossman. Instead, they’ll be the likes of Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton.
They will absolutely need their defense to be functioning at a high level. That is why they need to bring in someone who is proven, someone who can take charge right away, and someone who will immediately have the respect of the players.
The Eagles don’t have time to waste by taking a chance on a young, inexperienced assistant from another team. Last year was the time to do that, not this year.
If they can’t find proven coach with a good track-record as a coordinator, they should just stick with Castillo for next season. Continuity with Castillo outweighs uncertainty with an unproven assistant from another team.
2. Upgrade the linebacker corps.
This one is obvious. Stevie Wonder can see that the Eagles need to add some talent to this group. They need to add at least one good player, preferably at the middle linebacker position.
I think Brian Rolle has a good chance to develop into a very good outside linebacker, but Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney are not good enough to be an every down player in the middle.
As far as addressing the talent on the roster this offseason, linebacker has to be at the top of the list. However, the real question will be whether or not Reid can finally get this through his thick skull.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many good players scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher would be the best of the bunch and though he’d be a good addition, I don’t see him leaving Washington.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Connor could be of interest, but the best way to address this issue will likely be with their first round draft pick.
3. Get a legitimate kick and punt-return man.
The Eagles’ special teams in 2011 were a mixed bag. Kicker Alex Henery and punter Chas Henry had pretty good seasons for rookies. Heck, Henery set a rookie record for accuracy (88.9%).
The coverage teams were also solid. However, the return game was dismal.
Dion Lewis proved he is not the man for the job. He returned 31 kicks for 669 yards, an average of 21.5 yards per return with a long return of just 33 yards.
More times than not, though, he failed to reach the 20 yard line. He showed bad judgement on when and when not to return a kick from deep in the end zone, and showed even less talent in being able to provide the offense with good starting field position.
As for punt returns, the Eagles used a combination of DeSean Jackson, Chad Hall and Jeremy Maclin for the most part. None of them provided any spark in this area.
Jackson returned 17 punts for 114 yards, Hall had seven for 76 yards, and Maclin returned four for 29 yards.
Jackson, of course, was more worried about his health this year so that hurt his production in this area. However, going forward, if he is back with the Eagles in 2012, he may be taken off of punt return duty.
In any case, the Eagles need to find one or two players who have some decent return skills. Field position is very important and having return men who can flip the field, or be a threat to score, have a great impact on the game.
4. Either bring DeSean Jackson back, or adequately replace him.
This is one of the biggest question on the minds of Eagles fans right now. Will the Eagles re-sign Jackson or not?
Both sides have left the door open for a possible return and it sounds as if it will happen, as long as they can come to a financial agreement.
However, that will likely be a huge problem between the two sides. I hope they can get a deal done but ultimately that may not happen.
If Jackson is not back, the Eagles will need to find a replacement. I like Jeremy Maclin, but I think a lot of his success is due to the attention Jackson attracts. I would not be confident in going into next season with Maclin, Riley Cooper, and Jason Avant as the top three guys.
There could be some intriguing wide receivers on the free agent market this year, including San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, New Orleans’ Robert Meachem and the Colts’ Reggie Wayne.
There are also some interesting draft prospects at this position, but I would rather see the Eagles keep Jackson or replace him with a veteran player. A rookie wouldn’t provide much help for a Super Bowl run in 2012.
5. Need to address the quarterback position.
Michael Vick is the unquestioned starter for next season. However, beyond 2012 this position is wide open.
The Eagles need to decide if they want to bring in another veteran to back-up Vick or draft his potential replacement. One thing we do know is that Vince Young is not the answer.
Young went 1-2 as a starter while Vick missed three games due to a rib injury. Incredibly, he threw a whopping eight interceptions over that three game span. Four of them were against Seattle in that awful Thursday night game that proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The backup QB is a position of significance with the Eagles because of Vick’s injury history. Prior to this season, I said that the over/under for games missed by Vick this year was four.
He ended up missing three full games and couldn’t finish two others. He’s also not getting any younger so we can pretty much expect him to miss a few games next year.
This could end up being a key decision for the franchise because not only do they need a viable backup for next season, they also need to think about the future. Would a first or second-round draft pick be good enough to fill both needs?
Or is Mike Kafka good enough to serve as the No. 2? And is he the future?
Since Andy Reid and the Eagles always plan for the future, how they handle this situation may also give us a little insight into Reid’s frame of mind as he enters next season.
If he signs a veteran and doesn’t select a QB high in the draft, he likely thinks he needs to spend more valuable resources on winning in 2012 rather than beyond.
However, if he drafts a QB in the first or second round, he likely feels secure in his job for the foreseeable future. Either way, this is a key area to address this offseason.
6. Eagles need to draft better.
Whether it’s Howie Roseman, Andy Reid, Anthony Patch (Assistant Director of College Scouting) or Ryan Grigson (Director of Player Personnel), they need to take a page from Reid’s advice and “do a better job there.”
The draft is always a gamble and players are ultimately hit or miss. However, good college scouting and logical decision-making should help alleviate some of the risk involved.
Part of what has hurt the Eagles over recent years has been the product of poor drafting. Of the 39 players they have drafted between 2007 and 2010, only 16 are still on the roster with only five seen as starting-caliber players.
For the past two drafts, it seems like the Eagles have the philosophy of loading up on a ton of picks, select numerous players, and hope they hit on a couple. So far, I don’t think this technique has worked too well.
It has left the team with mediocre or questionable players. It looks like they hit pretty good on Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins, but every other pick that is still on the roster has question marks next to their names (and Alex Henery doesn’t count, he’s a kicker).
For the 2012 season, the Eagles will most likely have to rely on a couple of rookies to upgrade a few positions. They can’t afford to miss on any of their top three picks.
In 2010, the Eagles “reached” for DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim in round three and he proved to be a bust. Last season, most people saw the Eagles as reaching for Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh in rounds two and three.
Jarrett’s and Marsh’s play this season did not dispel that notion and it’s something the team cannot afford to have happen two years in a row. They need players who can help now, not three years from now (if ever at all).
So, in essence, they need to stop thinking they can find some small-school, diamond-in-the-rough kind of player in the second and third rounds.
Instead, select a player who has played good football against quality college competition and has the best chance at transitioning that talent to the pros.
7. Re-sign some of their impending free agents.
The Eagles have 12 players headed for free agency. They are DeSean Jackson, Trevor Laws, Steve Smith, Derek Landri, Ronnie Brown, Victor Abiamiri, Antonio Dixon, King Dunlap, Juqua Parker, Evan Mathis, Owen Schmitt and Vince Young.
The ones they absolutely must re-sign are Jackson, Landri and Mathis. Those they should re-sign are Dunlap, Dixon and Schmitt. Parker and Laws are questionable, but will probably be re-signed as well.
Jackson is the only one of the bunch that would be expensive. The others would likely sign for minimal deals or at least nothing that would be too significant.
If they’re smart, the Eagles should redo LeSean McCoy’s contract as well.
There are a few other things the Eagles will need to address as well, such as depth along the offensive and defensive lines and possibly adding a veteran safety to the mix. However, they aren’t as concerning to me as the other things.
This team will be expected to be a serious contender next season. If Andy Reid can make a few sound decisions, he might be able to finally put his team in a better position to win.
In this article, I didn’t delve too much into some possible solutions to the problems. In the coming weeks, I’ll be going over that in more detail and provide some potential scenarios about what the Eagles should do versus what they will do in free agency and the draft.