Heading into free agency, the Eaglesdon’t have many holes to fill, especially for an 8-8 team. They have a significant level of talent on both sides of the ball along with great punt and kick coverage units.Offensively, they were one of the most productive units in the league. Outside of reducing turnovers, there’s really not much of an improvement to be made on that side of the ball.
On defense, the Eagles have a very good defensive line, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. They get back run-stuffer Antonio Dixon, which should give the unit a boost. In the defensive backfield, the Eagles have three Pro Bowl cornerbacks under contract.
Really they have holes at linebacker and safety, and that’s just about it. They signed Trent Edwards, so the backup quarterback situation will take care of itself. They could use a quality backup for LeSean McCoy and someone who can handle kick returns.
That isn’t much of a laundry list, but there’s still plenty of room for error.
Here are five things the Eagles must avoid in this free-agency period.
5. Signing Players and Changing Their Position
The Philadelphia Eagles clearly love a challenge. One of their favorite challenges is finding players who play one position and then trying to make them play another position altogether.The Eagles do this frequently in the draft, but they have attempted these experiments in free agency as well.
They signed weakside linebacker Dhani Jones in 2004 to replace Carlos Emmons, who happened to be a strongside linebacker. They signed outside linebacker Mark Simoneau in 2003 and promptly made him a middle linebacker.
In 2009 they signed strong safety Sean Jones and had him try to help fill Brian Dawkins’ shoes at free safety.
The Eagles need to avoid changing players’ positions this season. They could get away with it when Jim Johnson was in town, but with an offensive line coach coaching out of position, it’s too much to ask.
4. Letting Key Players Leave out of Spite
Another favorite offseason hobby for Joe Banner is squabbling with established players and letting them leave over money.Some fans find this more irritating than others, but this season it’s actually important to try to keep guys in place. These spats have cost the Eagles some important players in important seasons though.
They lost middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, defensive tackle Corey Simon, offensive lineman John Welbourn, defensive end Derrick Burgess, Terrell Owens and Sheldon Brown. Every single one of those losses punched a hole in the roster that couldn’t be filled.
If this season is truly a “Super Bowl-or-bust” season, they can’t afford to subtract from what they have.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has become pretty polarizing, but he still forces defenses to game plan for him, and his presence opens up a lot of space for LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek.
Guard Evan Mathis had a surprise year and helped to really solidify the offensive line. There’s is no talk of him demanding absurd amounts of money, but you never know. If he wants just a little more than the Eagles plan on paying him, he will likely be gone.
The offense is the strength of the team, and those are two players they really can’t afford to lose. If they do, at least one of them will prove too difficult to replace.
3. Signing Unwanted Players off the Scrap Heap
This is not something the Eagles have done a ton of, but they’ve done it more often than they should. That would be signing players no other team seems interested in—and for good reason.Most offseasons, the Eagles have at least one glaringly gaping hole. Quite a few times, they’ve tried to fill it with insufficient material.
When Jeremiah Trotter left, they attempted to replace him with a washed up, 300-plus pound, 33-year-old Levon Kirkland. That same year, they signed a washed up, slow, 32-year-old Blaine Bishop at strong safety.
In the NFC Championship game loss to Tampa Bay, Kirkland and Bishop (who hid a groin injury) were both beaten by Joe Jurevicius on a 71-yard catch and run that set up a touchdown. Neither played another down of football after that game.
They have also been guilty of this with Sean Jones and Will James but most notably with Vince Young.
Young is a player who no one was interested in and he immediately walked in the door with his mouth running. They need to avoid players like this at all costs, although they did sign Trent Edwards already, so they have a head start.
2. Signing Players Who Are Clearly Damaged Goods
More than any other weird fetish, the Eagles’ front office has, this is their bread and butter.There’s no Eagles draft class that doesn’t include at least one serious injury red flag.
Recent inductees of that class are Stewart Bradley, Jack Ikegwuonu, Cornelius Ingram and Ricky Sapp. Only Bradley ever contributed anything at all.
In free agency, the Eagles have tried their hand with medical miracles as well. They have signed such injured players as Marlin Jackson, Jevon Kearse and Stacy Andrews, to name a few.
Kearse contributed some but was not the difference-maker he was hoped to be.
The Eagles need to avoid wasting their time on recovering players. They spent too much of last year waiting for their own players to heal.
1. Don’t Sign Mario Manningham!
Some may see this as a joke, and some may be truly alarmed at the idea of this after the season Steve Smith just turned in.It’s actually a mix of both but more serious than not. It would be seriously disappointing because Manningham coming to Philadelphia would certainly mean DeSean Jackson was shown the door. It would also be tough to see the Eagles pluck another player from the Giants who will never win a ring here.
More than likely, the Eagles wouldn’t be interested in Manningham, but if history serves as a predictor of the future, it wouldn’t be good.
Smith played in just nine games and caught 11 passes for 124 yards and a single touchdown. He also dropped a pass that led to an interception, had a fumble and in what was likely his most memorable play, he dropped to avoid a tackle one yard short of a first down.
That’s a mistake they should try to avoid repeating this year.