SO, NFL FREE AGENCY starts tomorrow at 4 p.m., and Eagles fans, like fans everywhere, want their team to gobble up anybody who might help get the Birds to the Super Bowl.
Just one problem with that.
Who won the Super Bowl last month? The Giants. OK, name all the big-time free agents who contributed to that title. There was . . . ah, nobody. Not a single key contributor joined the G-men as a 2011 free agent. In fact, the Giants took some grief for that inactivity, back when the Eagles were snapping up all the "bargains" in the frenzied post-lockout free- agent bazaar. That four-game winning streak at the end of the regular season wasn't the only "fool's gold" in Jeffrey Lurie's vault.
The year before, the Packers won the Super Bowl. Same thing - name a Packer starter or important sub who arrived that year in free agency. But don't waste a lot of time searching. There weren't any. (Though the Pack signed corner Charles Woodson as a free agent back in 2006, and he eventually became a big part of the title team.)
You want to win a Super Bowl? Draft Eli Manning and Jason Pierre-Paul, and sign an undrafted Victor Cruz. Or, draft Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, and sign an undrafted Cullen Jenkins. That is how football championships are won.
The Eagles know this, and they have often preached it. But their recent drafts haven't produced a lot of greatness, particularly on defense.
Last season, with the league year turned topsy-turvy and the signing period reduced to a few days, the Eagles thought they saw an opportunity to do something that doesn't often happen in the NFL, substantially boost their talent level on the open market. That still might pay off down the road, like the signing of Woodson did for the Packers, since they'll have Jenkins, Jason Babin and Nnamdi Asomugha as key cogs this year.
But as most folks noticed, adding a bunch of free agents didn't produce "dream team" results in 2011. Quarterback Vince Young, the guy who came up with that description, was among the most disappointing of those post-lockout additions. He will move on, along with running back Ronnie Brown, whose ridiculous pass attempt while being tackled in the San Francisco loss might have been the 2011 Eagles' signature moment.
So this year, with the collective bargaining agreement settled, free agency is back on the regular schedule, well before the April 26 start of the draft.
What can we expect from the Eagles? Probably nothing earth-shattering.
First, the Eagles have some in-house business. They want to re-sign guard Evan Mathis and defensive tackle Derek Landri, who played for the veteran minimum last year and thus aren't allowed to sign new deals until free agency starts. The Birds almost certainly will retain their lone restricted free agent, defensive tackle Antonio Dixon. They might have some interest in bringing back another defensive tackle, Trevor Laws, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Scuttlebutt holds the Birds made an offer to Laws during the season that was rebuffed, which is mildly surprising, if true. Laws, a solid part of the d-line rotation the past two seasons, still hasn't really justified being drafted 47th overall in 2008.
Obviously, the hole the fan base wants filled most desperately is at linebacker. The Eagles have been tough to read on this subject. Just last week, head coach Andy Reid talked about how the young 2011 linebacking corps matured as the season went on. He didn't seem to think the fact that every member of that group was strictly a situational player when the season ended was a big problem.
But the Eagles will at least add depth to their linebacking in free agency. Reports have linked them to former Strath Haven High and Penn State star Dan Connor, a Carolina Panthers free agent. Connor, 6-2, 231, hasn't been a full-time starter lately in Carolina when other players were healthy. The top two inside linebackers available seem to be Detroit's Stephen Tulloch (5-11, 230) and Atlanta's Curtis Lofton (6-0, 241). Also out there is former Colts defensive captain Gary Brackett (5-11, 235), from Glassboro High and Rutgers, who is coming off shoulder surgery. Tulloch has long been a focus of Eagles fans, because he has played behind the wide nine front in Tennessee and Detroit. How much you pursue free-agent linebackers might have to do with whether you think you're going to be able to snag Boston College's Luke Kuechly in the first round of the draft.
The Birds also should be interested in safety depth, though they aren't likely to find anything in the market that will advance their cause much more than 2011 FA signee Jarrad Page, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers after signing a minor league deal over the weekend. The Dodgers probably will be more inclined to overlook Page's tackling deficiences than the Eagles were. The Birds also could add a wideout, but probably not a top-shelf one. They could use a backup running back to replace Brown.