Philadelphia Eagles – Loading Up for a Run

| August 1, 2011

The Eagles have won free agency.
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OK, strictly speaking, it’s not a competition, which is unfortunate because it’s one Daniel Snyder has been intent on winning for most of his time in Washington. But, wow! The Eagles have lapped the field when it comes to this year’s free agency moves and are currently celebrating before the finish line like they’re Usain Bolt 10 yards out from the tape in the 100m final. As the rest of teams huff and puff their way towards the end, the Eagles are high-stepping towards the cameras.
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The Eagles’ moves are interesting in a couple of different ways. Some of them are the sort that only a well run organization can pull off.

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Trading Kevin Kolb

It’s a passing league, and you need a quarterback to win in today’s NFL, so it was always likely the Eagles would cash in on Kevin Kolb, and somebody would overpay to get him, but the compensation the Eagles managed to get back is remarkable. The talk of DRC for Kolb straight up seemed like a good deal for Philadelphia given Kolb’s unproven nature (he has a career passer rating under 75, that’s lower than Tarvaris Jackson, roundly mocked when the Seahawks signed and anointed him starter). To get a 2nd round draft pick on top of Rodgers-Cromartie is robbery, pure and simple.
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Making things even better for the Eagles is that they managed to upgrade at QB in the process of trading away their backup … not usually an easy matter. With Kolb shipped off and paid like an All-Pro in Arizona, the Eagles turned their attention to Vince Young and signed him to a one-year, $5m deal to be Mike Vick’s backup. Young also has a better career passer rating than Kolb, and, in every season in which he’s seen meaningful action, his rating has seen a steady upward trend. Andy Reid gets a lot of credit for Mike Vick’s improvement as a passer, perhaps he can lend similar wisdom to Vince Young.
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Fixing the issue at cornerback

The Eagles spent way too long last season with Dimitri Patterson playing corner. Patterson was beaten for nearly twice as much yardage as any other Eagles cornerback (642 yards) and surrendered six touchdowns over the season. It wasn’t all Patterson, but the Eagles badly needed an upgrade and got one in the Kolb trade. DRC had a bad year in 2010, and was guilty at times of mailing it in, but in 2009 he looked like he was about to become an elite player, the talent is definitely there.
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Just to be sure though, the Eagles went out and got somebody who is very much already an elite corner; they won the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes. Asante Samuel was only thrown at 41 times last season. Why target Samuel when you can go at a stable of weaker corners? Well the Eagles just added a player that is thrown at significantly less than any other corner in football. Asomugha was targeted just 29 times last season. That’s less than twice per game. He and Samuel combined to allow just 326 receiving yards last season on 32 receptions. With DRC in the equation as well, the Eagles turned a weakness into a massive strength in the space of 30 hours.
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Reuniting Jason Babin with Jim Washburn

Jason Babin flashed explosiveness as a rookie, then became a non-descript journeyman for the rest of his career, including a previous stint in Philadephia. That was until he came under the tutelage of Jim Washburn in 2010. He then exploded for 14 sacks and more QB knock-downs than any other 4-3 DE. In our interview with Jason before free agency opened, he gave much of that credit to Jim Washburn. The Eagles reunited the pairing and it gives them another guaranteed edge threat opposite Trent Cole.
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But the pressure won’t just be coming around the edge, because the Eagles made moves to address it up the middle too, signing Cullen Jenkins from the Packers. Jenkins is arguably the second best interior pass-rusher in the NFL (with Justin Smith on a different level as the first), and he adds a player with relentless pressure and versatility to the rotation that Washburn likes to run. The Eagles are going to have a stable of fresh, talented linemen bringing heat all day, allowing those corners to prey on hurried passes.
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Under the radar

It wasn’t all high-profile and star-studded. The Eagles made a few nice under-the-radar moves that may end up having just as big an impact. Akeem Jordan has been a decent player for them in the past, if they would only stop sending him on the blitz where he just isn’t effective. Johnny Lee Higgins is another intriguing player brought over from the Raiders, but the move that stands out here is on the O-line.
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Philadelphia signed guard Evan Mathis to a one-year deal – one of the steals of free agency. He is a player who could start for two thirds of the teams in the league, and that was before he spent all summer training in his own workout facility in Arizona. He gives them legitimate options should Todd Herremans go down again or if they don’t end up playing Danny Watkins at right guard. I’ve also heard talk that they will try and move Herremans to right tackle, short term or long, giving Mathis an opportunity to win the left guard spot where he could be a really effective presence.
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Mathis played sparingly in Cincinnati, but allowed just a lone pressure last season and hasn’t allowed a single sack in two seasons worth of play, over 700 snaps. He has also been a powerful run blocker in that time.
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Loading up, but how big is the window?

The only caveat to all of this celebrating, and the other way these moves are interesting, is that Philly went after a lot of players that are the wrong side of 30. Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins are all over 30 years old. Babin is 31. Mike Vick is also 31 years old, and though his passing and quarterback play improved immeasurably last season, taking the pressure off his raw athleticism, it’ll be interesting to see when he begins to slow down.
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The Eagles haven’t mortgaged the future in the same way the Vikings did when they loaded up for their run at the Super Bowl in 2009. Instead, they’ve added extra draft picks in multiple rounds in the 2012 draft with their moves this offseason, so they should be able to continue building through the draft as well. Nonetheless, the Eagles are locked and loaded for a run at the Super Bowl, but with several key members of that run watching a ticking clock.

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  • jtellis

    I love when teams are anointed champion in the preseason just because of a few splashy free agent signings. How often does said team end up actually winning the Super Bowl?

    • Neil Hornsby

      I’m not sure that is what’s being said. We’ll have to wait for the prediction round to see if Sam thinks they’ve done enough to get his vote. For me they’ve only narrowed the gap between them and the Packers and Saints but I do believe they’ve done better than anyone else to date in Free Agency.

  • gorkis

    I think the genious here is that Eagles haven’t committed to any of these players (except Nnamdi) and can cut them after 1 year if they don’t pan out. Plus they haven’t mortgaged their future with dealing their draft picks…

    • gorkis

      Right, and of course you had a comment about them not mortgaging. I’ll learn to read later…