IN THESE recessionary times, another Philadelphia industrial concern - Trade for Larry Fitzgerald, Inc. - appears to have suspended activity. The news will come as a great shock to many, seeing as how the business seemed to be thriving just days ago. Especially hard-hit were the print and broadcast divisions of the company. Layoffs appear to be inevitable.
So, now what? The Eagles have to get somebody, don't they? And if they don't, what does that say about the strength of Donovan McNabb's voice within the Eagles' organization?
As political theater, this will be a fascinating performance to watch in the coming months. Because McNabb made it clear that he believed the Eagles needed playmakers in all three phases of the game - wink, wink. So far, the Eagles have not addressed his phase, other than to bring back tight end L.J. Smith and declare him healthy.
Now that the Randy Moss flirtation is over, along with the Fitzgerald fantasy, if McNabb cannot beg himself a wideout this spring - somebody, anybody; Bryant Johnson, come on down - does the quarterback have any juice at all within the organization anymore?
In 2004, McNabb lobbied for Terrell Owens and got him. In 2005, so many controversies later, McNabb proclaimed late one night after a loss to the Redskins that the Eagles were better off without Owens, and that was the final nail. The man, back then, was The Man. His opinion mattered, even as people criticized him for keeping so many of his opinions to himself.
Now, though, who knows?
Let's go back to the list of needs that the Eagles carried into the start of the offseason, and see what they have done so far. The order of need is mine, and it might even have changed a little along the way. (So sue me. )
But it was always defense first. It was the only sensible way to approach their problems.
So, the list:
1) Pass rusher. The Eagles have addressed that with the signing of defensive end Chris Clemons from Oakland. Time will decide if it was a good signing, but the need has been addressed.
2) Young cornerback. My thought was to draft a guy here, the eventual replacement for Lito Sheppard, on whom the Eagles soured last season (despite whatever they said publicly). Instead, the Eagles threw a sinkfull of cash at Asante Samuel from the Patriots. Need addressed.
3) Return specialist. The preference here would be for a veteran, not a drafted kid.
4) Wide receiver. Why only fourth on the list? Because if McNabb is still McNabb, if you still think he can play, then the need is not for a field-stretcher. It is for a big red-zone target the quarterback trusts. McNabb has complained enough that you need to give him this much. This cannot be a draft pick. Cannot. And they are pretty much down to Seattle's D.J. Hackett and Arizona's Johnson, unless there is some other trade improbability upon which we will now begin to fixate.
5) Young free safety. This is the highest draft priority remaining, finding the eventual replacement for Brian Dawkins. Maybe he returns punts, too. But this one is an absolute necessity.
6) Young offensive tackle. Given that nobody can be sure about what Winston Justice is or isn't, and given the age and contract status of Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan, having a potential starter in the pipeline is crucial.
7) Veteran backup linebacker, now that Takeo Spikes is gone.
9) Rotation defensive tackle.
If you look at what they have done so far, it is clear the Eagles are building on defense. It has been obvious for months that this was the way to go, that this was the way the Eagles could make the biggest impact on their 8-8 football team.
They didn't rush the passer last season, and they didn't create turnovers, and they needed to fix it and they have worked to fix it. The wide-receiver thing fell behind that on the priority list - it really did. That is how deficient the defense was in taking the ball away and creating field position in 2007.
If they use their first-round draft choice to take a safety, or if they package their second-rounder with Sheppard and move up to a better second-rounder and take a safety, they will have pretty much rebuilt the defense on the fly, and done it in about 2 years. If these guys are players, they will give defensive coordinator Jim Johnson enough coverage skill and enough versatility to be able to design the blitzes that will get there like they used to get there - and without giving up too many big plays.
True, true, they need to get McNabb some kind of a weapon - and, no, a healthy Smith at tight end does not entirely fill that bill, not given the clarity (and frequency) with which McNabb begged for help. If he is your quarterback - given the history, given everything - you need to give him somebody.
But what if they don't?
What would that say about
McNabb's stature then? *
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