Eagles off-season look at defensive back
Lockout? We don't need no stinking lockout!
While the NFL's work stoppage may have had you take a blowtorch to your favorite Swoop doll, we here at Bird's Eye View, in an attempt to cure the blues, will proceed as if the lockout never occurred with an off-season look at the Eagles this week.
We'll go position-by-position, or something like that, with a look back and a cautious peek ahead. We won't likely know for weeks if the league will be able to conduct free agency or allow any other player movement, but the draft will take place unimpeded.
Of course, the draft is also weeks away. So let's kill some time and look first at the area in which the Eagles may need to address first in the draft:
What then: Here's how the Eagles' starting defensive secondary looked by the end of the season: cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Dimitri Patterson, safeties Quintin Mikell and Kurt Coleman.
Samuel is the only one of the three guaranteed a spot next season. Patterson, despite wild inconsistencies, was the choice at right cornerback after Ellis Hobbs was lost for the season. He's probably the fastest defensive back on the team, but he is too easily fooled and is better suited to special teams. His skills as a gunner were probably why the Eagles tendered Patterson -- albeit only at the right of first refusal level -- a restricted free agent if last season's CBA rules remain in place.
Mikell hasn't missed a start due to injury since 2007. He's led the Eagles in tackles in three straight seasons. And he's one of the true bona fide leaders on defense. But he hit the dreaded 3-0 in September and his contract is up. He's also had less of a big-play impact with each passing season. I spoke to Mikell two weeks ago and was under the impression that he didn't believe the Eagles were bringing him back. He hadn't been to the NovaCare Complex since the end of the season and hadn't spoken to any of the coaches, even new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.
If Mikell isn't re-signed, Coleman is the likely candidate to take over at strong safety. He didn't embarrass himself when pressed into free safety when fellow rookie Nate Allen ruptured his patella tendon in December. Coleman is smart, and he's a complement to Allen because he's better against the run than the pass. But at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds he isn't that big-bodied assassin the Eagles defense has longed for in the middle.
Last month, Allen said that he was on track to make a full return by training camp. But that was before the lockout. His rehabilitation won't be assisted now that he can't work out with the Eagles' Rick Burkholder and his team of trainers. Allen had a fine start as a rookie but was exposed by certain offenses as the season wore on. He's bright and a solid centerfielder, but needs to bring more of an edge to the position.
What now: If, say, Allen and Coleman are the safeties and Samuel the left cornerback that leaves right cornerback as the primary area of need in the secondary. Hobbs hasn't officially announced it yet, but he's retiring. The only cornerback on the roster with a legitimate shot at filling that spot is Trevard Lindley. Some wondered why the rookie didn't get much of an opportunity last season but the truth was that he was lost. Some of it had to do with Sean McDermott's complex scheme, but Lindley confounded his coaches all year.
Some of the Eagles talent evaluators have been touting Brandon Hughes' credentials. Acquired off the Giants' practice squad in November, the 24-year-old played in the meaningless season finale against the Cowboys and was active. Eagles GM Howie Roseman picked up former Jet Isaiah Trufant last month, but that was probably a move made out of boredom. Jorrick Calvin, Jamar Wall and Gerard Lawson remain on the roster. Joselio Hanson may have one more life left with the Eagles as the nickel.
More than likely, the Eagles starting right cornerback for 2011 isn't currently on the roster. The courts could allow free agency before there is a new CBA. Or free agency may not start until there is a deal which, depending upon the timing could produce a free-for-all signing period before the season. Either way, there is talent to be got.
Nnamdi Asomugha is the biggest draw and rightfully so. The Oakland cornerback is one of the top two at his position (Darrelle Revis being the other) and will command top dollar on the open market. That could keep the Eagles out of the chase since they already have millions of dollars devoted to Samuel. I'm not sure if I buy that argument, though.
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh decided not to use their franchise tags on Johnathan Joseph and Ike Taylor, two above average corners. Atlanta tendered Brent Grimes at a first round level, but that's assuming he remains a restricted free agent. If the Falcons corner becomes unrestricted, the Eagles may make a run at the Northeast High product.
As for the draft, there won't likely be a cornerback as good as Pro Bowler Devin McCourty (chosen 27th overall by the Patriots last year) when the Eagles select at No. 23. Patrick Peterson of LSU and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska are widely considered the top two prospects in the upcoming draft and the Eagles would probably have to trade up to acquire either one. Peterson, possibly the top overall pick, is a long shot, but the Eagles have Amukamara high on their board.
Some mock drafts had the Eagles choosing Jimmy Smith, but character concerns have followed the Colorado corner. One report has several NFL teams taking Smith off their boards because of previous arrests and attitude issues. If that is indeed the case, the Eagles – who often emphasize character in their evaluations -- could be among those teams. Of course, the reports could just be attempts to lower Smith's stock.
The Eagles aren't likely to select a safety high in the draft. Aside from Allen and Coleman, they have relative newbies Colt Anderson and Jamar Adams still in the system. And let us not forget about Marlin Jackson, the Eagles' first free agent signing from last off-season. Jackson ruptured his Achilles tendon during the spring and was lost for the season. He's under contract for 2011, but a return is in doubt. In the last three years, Jackson has torn ACLs in both knees to go along with the Achilles injury.