Last week we took an in-depth look at the off season moves so far by the NFC East rival New York Giants. Now, we turn our attention to what many considered to be the best team in the NFC East at the end of last season despite ultimately missing the playoffs – the Philadelphia Eagles. Even the most casual Cowboy fan remembers that the Eagles have historically been the source of a lot of pain and anguish for the Cowboys – including a complete sweep last year in both division games, neither of which was even competitive. First was a 34-6 shellacking in Philadelphia at the end of October where LeSean McCoy gashed our defense for 185 rushing yards. Then, a lackluster performance on Christmas Eve in Dallas leaving a 20-7 lump of coal in every Cowboy fans’ stocking. This was the game where Romo injured his hand early in the game and McGee avoided the shut out with a touchdown pass in the last 7 seconds to Miles Austin. The game wasn’t ever close and should have been 27-7 except for Jason Avant losing the ball just before he crossed the goal line with just under 5 minutes left in the first half turning a TD into a touchback. Some teams just play better against certain other teams and the Eagles are that team for the Cowboys – no matter the records, it seems like we struggle to compete. So, let’s take a look at what the Eagles have done to improve their team so far this offseason.
Overview: The self proclaimed “Dream Team” was anything but dreamy in 2011. Feeling pretty good about themselves after stealing free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha away from the Cowboys in the eleventh hour of free agency (that probably turned out to be a blessing), the Eagles had high hopes for the 2011 season. But, Michael Vick did not repeat the stellar season he had in 2010 and the offense turned the ball over way too frequently. Juan Castillo, the new Defensive Coordinator, implemented his unorthodox “wide 9″ defense and the team struggled mightily to grasp the concept early in the season. I would not expect them to have the same struggles this year with a full off season and preseason. And with the very favorable schedule they’ve drawn, it would take a major injury in my opinion or some other upheaval (DeSean Jackson anyone?) to keep this team from winning the NFC East. It makes me throw up just a little in my mouth to say that, but I have to call it like I see it and just hope I’m wrong. First, let’s look at the free agent moves they’ve made.
Trevor Laws, DT – Signed with St. Louis; a 4th year player, Laws was not the core of the defensive line but an important piece of a unit that performed at a pretty high level by the end of the season. They have people to replace his body in the scheme, but how that unit gels remains to be seen.
Asante Samuel, CB- traded to Atlanta for a 2012 7th round draft pick; with the addition of Asomugah last year in free agency and acquiring Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in the Kevin Kolb trade with Arizona, Samuel was considered expendable. But, DRC was almost invisible on this team last year while Samuel continued to perform at a high level despite being 31 years old. This was a cap-related move but I think they might regret this if DRC can’t step up or if one of the two starters goes down with injury. They won’t have nearly the depth behind the two stars they had in 2011.
DeMeco Ryans, LB – Traded a 2012 4th round draft pick and swapped 2012 third round picks with the Houston Texans; after the Casey Matthews experiment failed in Philadelphia, the Eagles went after and got a solid, experienced middle linebacker. Playing behind that formidable defensive front, Ryans will be a force and instantly makes their defense better.
Demetress Bell, T – from Buffalo; with perrenial pro bowler tackle Jason Peters going down with a ruptured achilles in late March, the Eagles were in desperate need to replace him and did so by signing Bell. But, he’s had some injuries and has been known to get hit with a lot of penalties. He is expected to perform well enough but is hardly a complete replacement for Peters.
2012 NFL Draft
Round 1 – #12 overall: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State – after watching the Cowboys bold move up to the #6 spot to get Morris Claiborne, the Eagles made a trade of their own – swapping first round spots with Seattle and giving them a 2012 4th and 6th round pick – to get Cox who was widely regarded as the best defensive tackle in this year’s draft (89.5 pre-draft grade). He is projected to be a certain starter and will add talent and depth to an already high performing defensive line. The Cowboys moved up 8 spots in the draft and gave up a 2nd round pick. The Eagles moved up 3 spots and gave up 2 later round picks. On paper, it feels like the Eagles gave up less but the ultimate evaluation of both these trades will depend on who has the better career – Claiborne or Cox.
Round 2 – #46 overall: Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California - a little on the short side at 5′ 11″ but fast (4.47 40 time) and physical. Will provide depth and may even break into a starting role this season as an outside linebacker next to DeMeco Ryans. Kendricks had a pre-draft grade of 79.7 and was the first of two second round picks the Eagles had. That may be what ultimately hurts the Cowboys – not having any 2nd round picks while your division rival picks up 2 quality players.
Round 2 – #59 overall: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall – a versatile player that can play standing up or with his hand in the dirt, Curry is considered a pass rushing specialist. Although not a defined need for the Eagles, he was just too good to pass up (84.5 pre-draft grade) at that stage and will likely work his way into the rotation on third downs. But, he is a little undersized and will find it tough sledding against big, athletic NFL lineman week after week.
Round 3 – #88 overall: Nick Foles, QB, Arizona - a kid with a strong arm but a bit of a stretch in the 3rd round (pre-draft grade of 71.0). He will be a project of sorts and may be a bit of an insurance policy at backup for an oft injured Michael Vick. Will struggle to contribute anything meaningful this coming season barring a significant injury by the other QBs on the roster.
Round 4 – #123 overall: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia - projected to be a 3rd rounder, the Eagles got good value here (pre-draft grade of 82.0). Boykin is fast and very athletic but is short (5’9″) and will likely struggle against bigger receivers. He may contribute as a nickel corner this year and on special teams – he could even spell DJAX on punt returns at times.
Round 5 – #153 overall: Dennis Kelly, T, Purdue - pretty much an unknown player (no pre-draft grade) so we’ll have to see if the Eagles can develop him into a player that provides anything more than depth. He’s big – reportedly 6’8″, 308 pounds - but as we all know it takes more than size in the NFL. This one feels like a flyer.
Round 6 – #194 overall: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa - pre-draft grade of 68.2, not bad for a 6th rounder. He’s a big kid at 6’3″ but will need to learn to block and run more precise routes in the NFL.
Round 6 – #200 overall: Brandon Washington, G, Miami – pre-draft grade of 66.0, considered a project that could eventually become a starter (4th or 5th round value). Provides depth now and the Eagles will hope to develop him.
Round 7 – #229 overall: Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas State – a big, physical runner that the Eagles don’t currently have in their arsenal but will be a long shot to make this team (pre-draft grade of 49.0).
The Eagles had a lot of picks in this year’s draft as a result of multiple trades in prior years. Overall, they appear to have done well – getting players with good value and that filled some needs. Based on the number of offensive lineman signed in free agency (mostly role players), clearly the team sees that side of the line as a potential achilles heel with the loss of Peters. Michael Vick is certainly capable of being productive on the run, but he’s unlikely to stand up to the beating based on history – which would put the Eagles’ season in Mike Kafka’s hands. The Eagles are also a little thin at TE behind Celek and at running back behind McCoy. An injury there could derail their season.
As is typical for the Eagles, they had a solid off season. No dramatic moves but quietly went out and filled their greatest needs, resigned some of their own key free agents (G Evan Mathis), and drafted what should be a few starters. As discussed in previous articles, they have a very favorable schedule and should be the favorites to win the NFC East going into the season. Let’s hope the Cowboys can prove the experts wrong and exact a little revenge for last season’s sweep. We won’t see the Eagles until a November 11th road trip to Veteran’s Stadium – by then, we’ll have a better idea of who has the better team.
Topics: 2012 NFL Draft, Brent Celek, Cowboys, Dallas, Dallas Cowboys, DeMeco Ryans, Demetrus Bell, DeSean Jackson, Eagles, Fletcher Cox, Giants, Jason Peters, LeSean McCoy, Michael Vick, NFL, NFL Draft, Philadelphia Eagles