So Andy, You Wanna (Re)Load A Winner?
For the second time in three years the Philadelphia Eagles season has ended sooner than I would have liked. As is custom – I’ll offer my solution to bring Andy Reid’s ball club back to the NFL elite.
Keep Donovan McNabb
Reid and Joe Banner have both stated that McNabb will be back next season. Just be advised that I’ve seen stranger things happen – but I believe unless someone blows them away with a deal (which I seriously doubt) Number 5 will be under center next fall. What I don’t understand is the impatience of the Philadelphia fans. Can they really say with a straight face that there are 5 quarterbacks in the NFL that they would rather have than McNabb and one just happens to be a rookie (Kevin Kolb)? Alright the consensus are Manning, Brady, and Palmer (who I’m still not sold on). Considering the season he had I’ll give you Tony Romo after that who is there? Not Rivers, not Cutler, Not even Big Ben and I’ll take him over Romo. Derek Anderson and David Garrard had nice breakthrough seasons but…no, not yet. McNabb at 31, still has some game left.
Get a playmaker at wide receiver
For each of those top three QBs that I named there is a wideout that complements him. McNabb had that luxury for one season and we saw what kind of player it made McNabb. If the front office wants to get back to that level in the immediate future it’s time for them to exhibit the same boldness that got them Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens in 2004. With a thin market for receivers this year I would say offering the Cincinnati Bengals a second or third round pick for Chad Johnson. Johnson’s disruptions occur on the field against opposing defenses and he wants a change of scenery. Why not here?
Scour the earth for a return specialist
When you place a receiver at punt returner with no prior experience, along with bringing back a return man who was a strand away from a career- ending injury your special teams is going to suffer. The opening day debacle in Green Bay was a microcosm of the Eagles special team woes. Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed are not the answer, and given the value of Brian Westbrook, I’m not too eager to march him back there on fourth downs. The solution here is to dip into the college pool. If the Eagles’ scout team is worth their salt they’ll find a return man with breakaway speed and cutback ability – not a North-South return guy that can only get me to the 25. I ‘m not looking for Devin Hester just give me someone that will move me to the edge of my seat once a game.
Re-Sign L.J. Smith
Brent Celek filled in nicely while Smith struggled with injuries during the season – but he’s not L.J. Smith, not to say that he is the be all that ends all, but he is great for this offense and the Birds cannot afford to lose him. Smith gives McNabb another weapon, adds another the dimension to the offense and is a match-up problem for defenses.
Increase the depth in the secondary
I’m not sure what to make of the Eagles’ cornerbacks this season. On one hand they shut down two of the NFL’s great receivers in Terrell Owens and Randy Moss on the road, then in the next they lose the inability to make tackles in a late season loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown are quite a tandem when healthy – but when one goes down the other suffers and it shows. And both seem to struggle with taller receivers (see: Plaxico Burress vs. Eagles). Neither is a shutdown corner, but both make the most of their opportunities. The need here – an aggressive corner with size that can push either man for his starting job. Randall Gay and Marcus Trufant are free agents that will draw plenty of attention on the market. It wouldn’t hurt for the Birds to take a look. Brian Dawkins will be 35 this season and has shown signs of it, but by the same token has shown the ability to still make plays. I wouldn’t cut Dawkins but I would keep his heir apparent close by Ken Hamlin and Mike Doss are my free agent candidates.
Find a good, young defensive end
The weak spot on a surprisingly good young defensive line was the end spot opposite Trent Cole. Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse were major disappointments over the course of their contracts. Kearse will not be back – however the jury is still out on Howard’s return. One interesting player out there is Ravens’ defensive end Terrell Suggs, he reminds me of Cole and he would allow defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson to go to a 3-4 on occasion. If you want a more traditional end, the Bengals Justin Smith is out there.
Tighten up the O-Line
49 sacks on a rebuilt knee isn’t something Donovan McNabb was looking forward to this season. Twelve of which came on an embarrassing Monday Night loss to the N.Y. Giants. I credit McNabb for finishing the season on his feet, but he can’t endure the number of sacks that he did in consecutive seasons. The guards struggled mightily with the rush up the middle, I don’t think you need to go out and get a starter. The solution here is to insert third year guard Max Jean-Gilles is a 350+ lb. wall that will keep the middle rush at bay. Todd Herremans would back up Jean-Gilles. I would look to draft or sign someone to spell Jon Runyan and ultimately replace him. Winston Justice will bounce back and assert himself as a nice backup to William Thomas. Sean Andrews is the class of his position but he gets nicked up more than I would like to see.
Find a fullback and a better backup for Brian Westbrook
The achilles heel of the Eagles offense this season was the inability to convert on third and short. Some were obvious run situations that pass plays were called on, which tells me that there was no confidence in the short run game. Yes B. West was back there but that’s a dead giveaway – what’s needed here is a big back that can move the pile a’la Ledell Betts or T.J. Duckett. Correll Bukchalter has been a good soldier and his comeback from two knee surgeries is remarkable but the Birds need a larger back to complement Westbrook and can take 10-12 carries a game. Candidates here include Derrick Ward, Chris Brown, Musa Smith and Duckett. The time has come for the Eagles’ to get a fullback that can actually block someone, a luxury they have not had since Kevin Turner. Current fullback Thomas Tapeh is gone and it may be time to take a look at drafting a fullback. I would like to see them take a shot at West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt.
Change the philosophy of the offense
Given the weapons that Reid has he has been way too complacent with the philosophy of this team. They have to get back to being an attacking offense. The Eagles lost 6 games by 8 points of less, this is a team that isn’t too far off track, it shouldn’t take much for them to get back into swing of things.
Optimism for 2008?
Of course there is the salary cap and other restrictions that may prohibit some of theses moves, but if they can resign Smith, get a defensive end, and upgrade the return game they should easily improve on this season’s 8-8 record.