The offseason is at that point where most of the moves have been made so we have a pretty good feel for the roster heading into Training Camp. As I look at the team and each position group, I feel pretty good. There are some questions at RCB and on the offensive line, but there are possible solutions in place at both spots. If one guy emerges at CB we're okay. If Stacy plays well at RG and either Cole or McGlynn looks good at Center, we should have a solid, if not good, O-line.
The man who guided us through the offseason is General Manager Howie Roseman. He has spent the last few years preparing for his turn at running things. You know the old saying, "be careful what you ask for because you just might get it?" Howie wanted to be GM. He got it. And he had a really complex offseason to deal with.
First, the rules of free agency changed because of the CBA situation. That limited our ability to add players. It did keep some players on our roster, which allowed us to keep them as depth or use them in trades. Still, this was a tough offseason for finding talent. There just weren't good options on the open market. The only free agent the team missed on that they really wanted was Julius Peppers. I don't fault any one person in the Eagles front office. Chicago basically went all out for Peppers and did everything humanly possible. I'm not sure anything beyond a crazy offer was going to pry Julius away from the Bears. We did land free agents Mike Bell, Hank Baskett, and Marlin Jackson. Those guys are role players, but that is basically what was available this year because of the CBA restrictions.
Howie was given the task of adding youth, speed, and talent to the defense, but doing so with one hand tied behind his back because of the limited market. He didn't let that ruin our plans. He got creative. I thought Howie did a terrific job. He made several trades and brought in multiple players to help us. Some of the players will start. Some will be role players. Some will fail and get cut. I liked the creative, aggressive approach that Howie and Andy Reid took. We were as active as any team in the league. Here is a list of teams that we either did make a deal with or I know for a fact we talked to seriously at some point:
That is more than 1/3 of the NFL (11 of 31 for those scoring at home). Not too bad when you consider the fact that Howie is new to his job and had to live with a hatchet job article by Michael Silver that labeled him as a "shakedown artist". I'd say that Howie weathered that storm well and it proved to be written based on the grumblings of someone with several axes to grind. Howie did well with trades. He got us good players and at reasonable value. Darryl Tapp could start for us if needed. He only cost a 4th rounder and Chris Clemons (who wasn't a lock to make the team). Ernie Sims cost just a 5th rounder. He has the potential to be a real good WLB. Alex Hall is a guy they like, but we're not quite sure where he'll end up (DE or SAM).
Howie also happened to take over at GM the year we decided to trade Donovan McNabb. I think Andy Reid was the front man in those talks, but Howie was key as well. You don't do a deal like that without a lot of phone calls to cover a lot of bases.
I loved what Howie did in the draft. He played the board to move up and back as it fit what we wanted to do in each round. We were aggressive and smart. We focused on certain areas and landed the players that we really wanted, with very few exceptions. Time will tell whether we made good picks. For now all we can judge is how we moved around and handled the situation. If Howie had landed us a slightly better CB I'd be ecstatic. I thought he did a very good job overall. He might have landed us a couple of starters for the 2010 season in Brandon Graham and Nate Allen.
What kind of grade do we give Howie for his first offseason? I'm going with an A-.
I'm sure some people will focus on Peppers and the inability to land a top shelf RCB. I personally wasn't completely sold on Peppers and had my doubts about going after him. I wonder if we'll regret not getting him or if this will be a blessing in disguise.
As for RCB...we've discussed that spot quite a bit in the last couple of weeks. I'm not happy with the uncertainty at the position, but I'm not sure what could have been done. There weren't good choices in free agency. There weren't any trade targets that I know of for a fact that I feel strongly that we should have gone after. The CB draft class fell apart over time. Character issues came up for some guys. Slow 40 times hurt others. Some guys showed poor COD ability. We thought there would be 10-15 really good CBs, but that group shrank down to 5. There was talent available after that, but the players each had some concern which knocked them down a notch. The Eagles decided Trevard Lindley was a player they were comfortable and went after him in the early 4th.
I'm not trying to give Howie a pass for RCB. My point is that normally I would say why I disagreed with a move and would have given an example of what I'd have done. Well, I wanted a pass rusher early in the draft. We moved up and got one. I wanted a quality FS prospect early. We took one. I also wanted a CB. This is where things got weird.
The top 5 CBs all went in the 1st round. That surprised me. I didn't see that kind of a run coming. I guess I should have realized that meant there was a real drop-off from them to the next tier. Onto the 2nd round. Minnesota took CB Chris Cook with pick 34. He was the only pure CB taken in the whole round. Javier Arenas was nabbed by the Chiefs, but his ability as a RS was a major part of his value. Think for a second about the fact that the 2nd round only had one pure CB taken. That is wild. After pick 37 our next selection was 55. We dealt out of that down to #59. We dealt out of that and into the 3rd round.
There were 3 CBs taken to open the 3rd. The Rams took Jerome Murphy, the Lions took Amari Spievey, and Tampa got Myron Lewis. I've asked around to see if we "lost" any of these guys through our trading down. I cannot confirm that any of them were on our board. CB Kevin Thomas was taken by Indy and Brandon Ghee went to Cincy in the late 3rd. The Titans surprised me by going for Alterraun Verner of UCLA just before our 4th round pick. We got Lindley with the seventh pick of the 4th round.
Here is what we missed on between pick 37 and Lindley:
Jerome Murphy - character issues
Amari Spievey - ran a 4.56 at his Pro Day
Myron Lewis -considered a CB/FS tweener
Kevin Thomas - serious injury concerns
Brandon Ghee - character issues and lack of production (only 1 INT in 3 years as starter)
Alterraun Verner - surprising pick...I thought athletic limitations would put him in the late rounds
I liked Murphy and Spievey, but had concerns with each guy. Lewis had a down Senior year, but does have good potential. Ghee is the guy I kept thinking we'd take. I learned after the draft that there were some character issues that knocked him off a few draft boards. It looks like we were one of those teams.
On draft weekend I was frustrated by passing on Ghee. Now that I know that there were outside issues I understand passing on him. I would have preferred Walter McFadden of Auburn, but he slid all the way to the 5th round so it isn't like the Eagles passed on a slam-dunk prospect. I just happened to like Walt better than Lindley. I hope that Trevard, Dick Jauron, and Howie prove me wrong.
The point of all this CB talk is that I don't think you can point to Howie making a clear mistake in how he handled the draft and the RCB position. We all have ideas of what we might have done differently, but I didn't see anything that screamed "what the hell was he thinking???".
Someone could raise the point about the fact we traded Sheldon Brown in the first place. Trust me, that had to happen. He wasn't happy here. Sheldon has not been a happy camper since Asante landed here with his mega-deal in March 2008. Sheldon didn't rock the boat publicly (to his credit), but he made it clear to team officials that he wanted out.
Essentially I'm giving Howie an incomplete grade for RCB. That spot is now at the top of the To Do list. He can address it this summer, wait for someone to emerge, or make it the unquestioned priority next offseason. If we have this same talk next May then Howie will have failed at RCB and I won't be a happy camper. Let's just hope that doesn't mean that I get traded to Cleveland.