So far, the Philadelphia Eagles have made the smart moves in free agency. They have reworked the contracts of two pivotal players in Trent Cole and Todd Herremans, re-signed their star wide receiver DeSean Jackson to a long term deal, and brought back guard Evan Mathis to cement their starting offensive line for years to come.
Oh, and they brought back 2008 sixth-round draft pick Mike Gibson for depth on the offensive line.
So therefore, yes, the Eagles have actually improved themselves without making any significant additions. The extensions and re-signings have eliminated any potential drama with contract squabbles and have maintained continuity.
The only potential source of “drama” left is with LeSean McCoy. It has been reported that he and the Eagles have been in negotiations since the end of the season and could have a deal done soon.
Assuming that gets done, it would complete the in-house business for this offseason. Everybody would be happy, no contract drama, no hold-outs, no distractions and team harmony could surge to its fullest potential.
However, in all reality, that is still the same team that went 8-8 last season. Will happier players, team continuity, and a full offseason in which to work together be enough to make this team a serious championship contender?
Those factors alone would likely be good enough to turn this team into a serious playoff contender, but they still need to add a few pieces to become a true championship contender.
Fortunately, the Eagles still have the best options available to them in free agency for their biggest area of needed improvement: linebacker.
Unfortunately, the Eagles will not spend the money it takes to land the best options in Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton, or David Hawthorne. However, they still have other options.
Of those other options, London Fletcher is the guy most Eagles fans want. However, there hasn’t been even a hint that the Eagles could be interested in him and Fletcher has stated his desire to remain in Washington.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean Fletcher won’t ultimately end up in midnight green, but there is nothing out there to give us an indication that he’s even on their radar.
After Fletcher, there are two Minnesota Vikings brothers still available – E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson. E.J. is the older, injury prone, yet still productive middle linebacker and Erin is the young, less experienced, and more unheralded linebacker who played the weak side last season.
Why do I mention Erin Henderson since he’s apparently a weak side linebacker? Because when it comes to linebackers, the Eagles don’t look at “weak, middle, or strong”, they look at the player and decide if he “fits.”
Brian Rolle likely played well enough last season to earn a good shot at being the starting WLB this upcoming season. At 6′ 3″ and 244 lbs, Erin Henderson has the size to play any of the three linebacker positions and the Eagles would certainly view him as a potential middle or strong-side player.
For a good write-up on Erin, take a look at this article from Pro Football Focus. If you believe in their rating system, he is their top available outside linebacker on the free agent market.
Even though he was labeled as their weak side linebacker, Henderson often played in the middle on passing downs where he displayed decent coverage skills. Though his statistics don’t exactly jump out at you and there is the question of whether or not he’s a “one year wonder”, he does fit the Eagles’ M.O. when it comes to linebackers.
He’s young, versatile, has promise and should come much cheaper than than most of the other linebackers available. The latest word on his stance with Minnesota is that he’s unhappy with the lack of a contract offer he deems respectable.
In the end, Erin Henderson will probably return to Minnesota. However, that situation is worth keeping an eye on because I strongly believe that he is a player the Eagles would be interested in because they could look at him as a player who could fill any role in the linebacker corps.
Besides middle linebacker, the Eagles could use a new strong-side linebacker as well. As stated earlier about Brian Rolle, I think he’s the only player who showed enough last season to warrant a legitimate shot at starting in 2012.
Therefore, the Eagles could actually use two new starting linebackers, with the middle being of more importance. But let’s not discount the need to upgrade at strong side over the likes of Moises Fokou or Akeem Jordan.
Like Tulloch, Lofton and Hawthorne, I don’t see the Eagles being in the chase for Kamerion Wimbley. He’s going to have multiple suitors and will cost too much.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many good strong side linebackers available in free agency. Manny Lawson is a name that comes to mind and is an interesting player, but I’m not sure the Eagles would have any interest in him since he doesn’t appear as versatile of a player that they usually prefer.
Again, Erin Henderson could certainly be viewed as a strong side player in the Eagles’ eyes. If they went after him, they could ultimately put him at SLB and draft Luke Kuechly to play in the middle.
That would be a plan I could certainly live with.
The linebacker position is really the only area where the Eagles need to upgrade their starters. However, we can make an argument about the strong safety position as well.
The Eagles have spent second-round picks at the safety position the past two years with Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. With such an investment, one would think the position should be solidified.
When healthy, Nate Allen has shown enough potential to warrant being the starter at free safety in 2012. But what about strong safety? Are you comfortable with Kurt Coleman and/or Jarrett after what you saw in 2011?
Yes, Jarrett was a rookie and with most rookies there is a learning curve. If the Eagles were to sign a player that would be looked at as the likely starter, it would only hamper Jarrett’s growth as a player.
However, if they don’t and decide to roll with Coleman and/or Jarrett, that’s also taking a risk. While I like Coleman’s tenacity, I think he’s better suited to a backup role. The unfortunate thing about Jarrett is that he didn’t show anything during his playing time in 2011 to provide hope that he could be relied upon as a promising starter in 2012.
Jarrett’s 2011 playing time was brief, I’ll give him that. However, usually a rookie will show signs of promise when given a chance. It doesn’t mean that Jarrett will be a bust, it just means that there is still a question mark at the strong safety position.
There have been vague “reports” that LaRon Landry may be visiting with the Eagles, though nothing has been confirmed. Eagles insider Dave Spadaro has not denied that Landry could be visiting, but hasn’t confirmed it either.
And if you read between the lines with someone like Spadaro, that means it’s at least possible that the Eagles have some interest in Landry. Otherwise, he would have flat-out denied it.
So, it bears interest to watch what the Eagles do at safety. If Landry is signed, it means they want a new starter. If they pass on him, they’ll likely only add a player who would be deemed as “competition” but likely won’t unseat Jarrett or Coleman.
Any other free agent the Eagles could bring in will not be viewed as a starter. After linebacker and possibly safety, all they need is depth and role players.
And speaking of role players, the biggest name out there that the Eagles are apparently interested in is Plaxico Burress. Per Jason La Canfora of NFL Network, Burress “remains in contact with several teams, including the Eagles, according to a league source.”
Burress would be an excellent compliment to the receiving corps and provide a sorely needed legitimate red zone threat. Since the Eagles are apparently interested, it will come down to money. In other words, they’re interested, but at the right price.
So, to come full circle here, the Eagles have improved themselves without adding any improvements, but they still need to improve. Sound about right?
Linebacker is a must, safety is a possibility, and a few carefully selected role players would be wise. With that, the improvement they need would be satisfied.