The 2007 Eagles team was better than their 8-8 record showed. They had a coach that was seriously distracted much of the year. They lost one game because they couldn’t catch a punt. They lost another, because they let the Bears inexplicably drive 97 yards in 1:52. They lost two games on A.J. Feeley interceptions and lost a 5th game when David Akers clanked a 57-yard field goal that had the distance for 67 yards. And yes, they lost a 6th when the absence of William Thomas and Brian Westbrook resulted in a 4-quarter long Osi Umenyiora dance party.
Don’t worry, I will not be arguing that the Eagles should have gone 14-2 in 2008. We all know that is just ridiculous. But, this is a fact: At full strength, the Birds only got outplayed twice all year. Week 2 against the Redskins, and Week 9 against the Cowboys. Both teams fell to the Birds when they played again.
This team has talent. In an “off” offensive year, the Eagles finished 6th in the NFL in total offense and their young defense finished 10th in total defense. Below is a position-by-position breakdown of where the Eagles stand heading into the offseason
Quarterback – McNabb finished with the 9th best QB rating in the NFL, higher than Carson Palmer or Drew Brees. For all his accuracy issues, he had the 4th best interception rate in the NFL. He looked great in the last two games when he seemed to be fully healthy, has been to 5 pro-bowls, led us to 4 NFC Championship games and is the winningest QB in team history. He’s not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but that is no reason to run him, or anyone, out of town. Let’s stop with the trade McNabb talk, it’s really just makes us seem stupid.
Running-back – There is not a single running-back I would take on my team over Brian Westbrook. Not much more to say except it would be nice if Tony Hunt learned his blocking assignments so we could get him on the field next year.
Wide Receiver – This is the key to whether or not the Eagles are a title contender next year – or just a wild card team. When Donovan had a true #1 receiver on the team, he had a 104.7 QB rating and we went to the Super Bowl. Umm…. WHEN DONOVAN HAD A TRUE #1 RECEIVER, HE HAD A 104.7 QB RATING AND WE WENT TO THE SUPER BOWL! I’m not entirely sure how to make that more clear for the front office. Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis are good receivers and upgrades from the Pinkston/Thrash era. But they are not #1’s. Chad Johnson may be available, Larry Fitzgerald may be available, Randy Moss is a free agent. There are options out there and the Eagles MUST be bold to take the next step.
Tight End – I like what I saw from Brent Celek this year. Good hands, and when he catches it, he looks to make a play with his feet, not just fall down. There are rumors L.J. Smith might be franchised and brought back. Personally, I would prefer Celek as the starter in ’08.
Offensive Line – Runyan and Thomas are getting up there in age, and Winston Justice was mostly horrendous when he played, so it might suit the Eagles to pick up some depth at OT in the draft. At Guard, Shawn Andrews is the 2nd best player on the team behind Westbrook and I really hope Max Jean-Giles steps up and takes the starting spot from Todd Herremans. A guard tandem of Andrews (335 pounds) and Jean-Giles (358 pounds) could be comically dominant.
Defensive End – I was confident about our depth here to start the season, but it looks like it is still an issue. Trent Cole is a pro-bowl caliber end and Juqua Thomas impressed me all year with his ability to run down quick running backs. After that, I still think Victor Abiamiri can make solid contributions, but what would really help this defense would be to sign an elite end (Jared Allen of the Chiefs is available) to go with Cole and have a super sub in Thomas and solid back-up in Abiamiri. There will also be a handful of quality DE’s there at pick #19 in the draft (Derrick Harvey from UF and Calais Campbell from Miami). I’m assuming that Kearse, Howard and McDougle will all be gone. An interesting scenerio being tossed around is using Stewart Bradley at LB and letting Chris Gocong be a full time DE or a DE/OLB hybrid. Personally, I love that idea.
Defensive Tackle – Like DE, thought we had more depth here with the additions of Montae Reagor and Ian Scott, but it didn’t turn out that way. Broderick Bunkley played well all year, and should continue to improve after an awful rookie year. With Mike Patterson next to Broderick, our starters are very solid (though not spectacular), but we could use a couple back-ups to spell them and keep them fresh.
Linebacker – The threesome of Spikes, Gaither and Gocong started the year off slow, but really seemed to come on down the stretch. Gaither and Gocong aren’t great players yet, but they showed they have the potential to be once they fully grasp Jim Johnson’s system. Spikes also played well down the stretch, but is getting up there in years. Nonetheless, it seems as though he will be back with the team next year. Stewart Bradley really looked like a player in the last couple games and could play outside next year.
Safeties – Andy Reid said Quintin Mikell played like a “pro-bowler” the last couple games, and it is hard to argue with him. Brian Dawkins is still a very good player and leader. However, I would now consider him an injury risk and would like to see someone who is not Sean “cleat marks on my chest” Considine in a back-up role.
Corners– Sheldon Brown is phenomenal. He rarely gets beat, and just ask Reggie Bush how he hits. If Lito Sheppard can stay healthy (and I would just assume he won’t), the Eagles have an elite CB tandem. Will James didn’t cut it as Rod Hood’s replacement at Nickel, hopefully we can pick one up so Joselio Hanson doesn’t spend too much time on the field.
If the Eagles stand pat, and only make minor adjustments, my guess is they will be a 10-6 team next year. Brian Westbrook makes this team special, and we have to capitalize on his prime years before they are gone. In my opinion, this is what they need to do to be a 12-4 or 13-3 Super Bowl contender.
Priority #1: Obtain, through trade or free agency, a new #1 receiver. Trade your first rounder for Chad Johnson if you have to, you certainly had no problem giving it away to Dallas last year.
Priority #2: See Priority #1
Priority #3: Obtain, through trade, free agency, or the draft, a solid DE. Aside from the options mentioned above, perhaps make a play for Jason Taylor, who may be traded from the Dolphins.
Priority #4: Draft a DT, OT, CB and S – sign FAs at any of those positions you don’t get in the draft.
Doing this, along with some development from our 2007 rookies (Celek, S. Bradley, Abiamiri) and sophomores (Bunkley, Gaither, Gocong, Jean-Gilles) will put the Eagles in position to be one of the elite teams in the NFL once again.