The Philadelphia Eagles began to tweak their identity during a stellar 2010 campaign in which Michael Vick emerged as the team's franchise quarterback post-Donovan McNabb. That transition continues in a more meaningful way this off-season, as the defense will begin evolving under new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Having lost three straight post-season games, including two straight in the first round, minor tweaks were necessary.
The Eagles are still one of the best teams in the NFC and a perennial playoff contender, but things are undoubtedly different heading into the 2011 season. Before we get there, however, the Eagles still have some needs to address in free agency - if and when that happens.
Needs addressed in the 2011 NFL Draft: Things may be changing slightly in Philly, but one area unaffected was their draft day wheeling and dealing, as the Eagles still exited the draft with 11 new players and some extra picks. The defensive backfield was a key area addressed, where the Eagles added safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and cornerback Curtis Marsh by the end of day two. Three offensive linemen were added as well, including first-round pick Danny Watkins, a Baylor product who is expected to start at right guard immediately. The team was also able to add linebacker depth (Casey Matthews), a new kicker (Alex Henery) and a backup running back (Dion Lewis).
Remaining needs: We'll start at quarterback, where today there isn't a depth problem, but there may be if and when Kevin Kolb is traded, as has long been speculated. Drafted to supplant McNabb, Kolb instead lost his job to Vick after being forced out of the lineup with a concussion. Now, he is arguably the hottest commodity on the quarterback market, and if he's moved, it's expected that the Eagles will target a veteran quarterback to sneak ahead of Mike Kafka on the depth chart - preferably one with experience in a West Coast Offense.
The other sore spot, even after the draft, is at cornerback, where freelance artist Asante Samuel is coming off an excellent (injury-shortened) season, but who just turned 30 and who is without a solid complement. Jason Brewer of Bleeding Green Nation expects the Eagles to address this position via free agency, lest they start Dimitri Patterson opposite Samuel again.
"I absolutely think they'll address corner in free agency," Brewer said. "Both GM Howie Roseman and (head coach) Andy Reid were asked that very question after the draft and they both gave cagey responses about the team not being a 'finished product' yet. They all but admitted they didn't expect Marsh to be major contributor right off the bat. So I think it's a fair bet they add a free agent.
Though many expect the Eagles to continue to alter their offensive line, Brewer sees things slightly differently in terms of what's left to accomplish up front.
"Probably not a lot. The left side of the line is pretty well set with Jason Peters and Todd Herremans," Brewer explained. "They lost center Jamaal Jackson right off the bat last year. So he should be back and has been a very solid contributor for years. The expectation is that Watkins slides in at right guard, and I know the team is still pretty high on Winston Justice at right tackle. He had a really good 2009 season, but was up and down in 2010, which ended with him getting benched in the playoffs. However, we found out after the season that his knee was in such bad shape by the end of the year that he needed it scoped almost as soon as the off-season began. So that put some of his troubles in perspective. I don't really see them adding any type of significant free agent at any of the positions."
Options in free agency: At cornerback, the Eagles are expected to be a major player in the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes. Long considered one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks, Asomugha is set to leave Oakland after spending the first seven years of his career as a Raider. It'll cost a pretty penny to ink Asomugha, who is also 30, but teaming him with Samuel would give the Eagles the best pair of corners anyone's seen in quite some time.
At quarterback, Brewer speculates that Matt Hasselbeck could be an option.
"I think they'd absolutely add a veteran QB if they traded Kolb," Brewer said. "I haven't heard even a hint of who that might be, but one guy who would seem to be a fit is Matt Hasselbeck. He's played in a similar west coast offense to the one the Eagles run, so there would be a limited learning curve. Like I said though, that's pure speculation."
That would obviously be contingent on Hasselbeck, who will turn 36 early in the 2011 season, accepting a backup job - even if it's one that could land him a championship ring. Another under-the-radar option with experience in the west coast offense is Bruce Gradkowski, who has spent the last two years with - you guessed it - Oakland.