With the Eagles’ season now in utter ruins after their record-breaking Monday night shellacking at the hands of Seattle, you may have been wondering how I was handling it. Would the latest embarassment in this once-promising season drive me to the brink? Hell, no! I’m an Eagles fan. This is my comfort zone. Suffering is what we do.
When Andre Dyson picked up Ryan Moats’ third quarter fumble and sprinted towards the end zone for the Seahawks’ third turnover return for a touchdown (a fourth return came up disappointingly short, when Seahawks' safety Michael Boulware was tackling at the Eagles' two-year-line), I was rooting for Moats not to catch him. I wanted this defeat to be as bad, as ugly, as foul as possible. I wanted to see just how far down rock bottom would be. I reveled in the misery. This kind of grotesque defeat, on national television no less, is right in the wheelhouse of your diehard Eagles' fan, if not in his DNA.
So what now? Brian Westbrook is out for the rest of the reason with a Lis Franc sprain of his foot. So long as he comes back healthy next season, I don’t really care that he’s not playing. This season is over. Let’s see what Moats can do. Moats had a bad game on Monday, but so what? This was his first game of the season after spending most of it in dress clothes. He didn’t play any more poorly than anyone else on the field, with the exception of Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins, who continued to play with intensity even as the affronts to their dignity mounted, culminating in a 42-0 uber-debacle.
Moats will bounce back. I think he’s a player, so I’m looking forward to seeing whether he can get in a groove and carry it over to next season.
Speaking of which, the Eagles’ offseason needs have become very clear. The Birds will draft somewhere between 10-15, because as badly as they’ve played, there’s still a lot of teams that stink way worse. And I think the Eagles still have a great foundation for success. With the right offseason moves and a Bikram Yoga-like cleansing of the toxins that lodged themselves in the tissues of the team’s locker room -- this latter part may be as simple to achieve as allowing the players to get away from the game and rejuvenate during an extended offseason, uninhibited by any pesky, time-consuming playoff games -- the Eagles will be right back at the top of what is still a weak National Football Conference.
I agree with Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan that in the first round of the draft the Eagles have to acquire a play-making outside linebacker or defensive end, someone who will provide an explosive talent upgrade on the defensive side of the ball. The good news is that where the Eagles are drafting is a perfect place to do that. Last year DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys and the Chargers’ Shawne Merriman were taken between 10 and 15, and the Chiefs’ stud rookie linebacker Derrick Johnson, whom some draftniks considered the top player in the draft, was taken at 15. The Eagles should be so lucky for a guy like that to fall to them this year.
Despite the defense's struggles, I think the D-line will be in relatively good shape heading into next season. Impressive rookie Trent Cole will continue to develop, and though Jevon Kearse hasn't been the destructive force fans imagined when the Eagles signed him, he's no slouch, and provides an athletic presence. Adding two quality draft picks or one draftee and one free agent, along with the development of rookie tackle Mike Patterson and the return of Jerome McDougle (who admittedly may never make an impact in this league), should be sufficient for the line to hold up its end of the bargain next year.
In the secondary, I expect Lito Sheppard -- whom defenses targeted, isolated and exposed this season a year after he went to the Pro Bowl -- will rededicate himself this offseason and come back in great shape and with a chip on his shoulder. He was overrated last year because of some flashy touchdown returns, but he's not as bad as he looked this year either, and the Eagles do not have to do anything drastic at the position. Lito will be a starter for this team for a long time. Lito lost his confidence, but he's a naturally brash player with good physical skills, so I think he'll get his confidence back in order without much if any of a hangover.
Behind him is Rod Hood, who has been maligned by fans, but I think he's a solid player who covers, tackles and plays with intensity. Behind him are Dexter Wynn and Matt Ware, both of whom are in their second year now, I believe. If by next year the Eagles don't have confidence that either of those guys can step in and contribute hif Lito Sheppard continues to struggle or is injured, then why are they on the team? If either one of them doesn't have the confidence of the coaches, and my feeling is Ware is the better player now, then he should be cut and replaced by a mid- to late-round draft pick.
At safety, the Eagles are a year away from having to address the position, in my view. The Eagles could devote a high draft pick to safety if the best player on the board happens to be one when they pick, but linebacker and defensive end are more pressing needs, as far as returning to contention next year is concerned. Dawkins is getting older, but he's going to be able to play in this league for another 3-5 years. The Eagles haven't extended the contract of Michael Lewis, who is a good player, but who has had a tough season. Maybe his contract status is in fact on his mind, as some have suggested.
But if the Eagles let Lewis walk, and there are plenty of teams who will bid for his services, then they have three players already on the roster who would be able to pick up the slack. Reserve Quentin Mikell has played very well when spelling Lewis, while J.R. Reed may be back next year from his freakish injury to a nerve in his leg. Meanwhile, third-round pick Sean Consedine, who has missed all of his rookie season with injuries, will come back at the very least with an understanding of the Eagles defense.
In sum, the defensive backfield could very well warrant a selection in the first four rounds, either at safety or cornerback, but I don't think it's the highest priority for this defense. The other option is to sign a dependable mid-range free agent.
Free agency is where the Eagles will probably have to go to solve their short-term problems at wide receiver next season. With Greg Lewis struggling and Todd Pinkston coming off an Achilles tear, the Eagles will need someone next year who can come in right away and start. Reggie Brown, the Eagles' best prospect at the position, will be in just his second year, so the Eagles can't afford to sign another rookie, especially given three factors: the difficult learning curve for rookie receivers in the Eagles' (overly) complicated West Coast offense, the Eagles' poor track record selecting receivers high in the draft (Freddie Mitchell and Billy McMullen being the latest), and the lack of a Braylon Edwards-type guaranteed playmakers at the top of this year's draft.
The free agency route points at one player: the Colts' Reggie Wayne. He's not as explosive as Chad Johnson, but he's a tough, intelligent and strong player who runs precise routes, doesn't drop passes and who would anchor one half of the starting receiving corps. Other options may become available, perhaps even through a trade, but right now Wayne is the best option looking ahead to free agency.
The only other need on offense, with the offensive line in good shape and with McNabb coming back healthy and with his head (we hope) together, is at running back, where a bruiser to complement Westbrook would add a new dimension to the Eagles' offense. I happen to like Lamar Gordon and think he's played well and with passion, but if the Eagles choose to upgrade the running back position by adding a big back and let Gordon walk, is there any prospect more drool-inducing than USC's LenDale White? He's a likely late first-round selection, provided he comes out, but if he slides to the early second round the Eagles could find him there or package a later pick and move up and take him.
That's my take on the Eagles for today, and I am spent.
NFL notes and errata
Being that I am looking for work, I have occasion sometimes to see ESPN's afternoon programming, and am equipped to ask the question: is there anything more annoying than watching braying jackasses like Skip Bayless and Woody Paige on shows like "Around the Horn"? That crap is unwatchable and truly makes you dumber for having seen it.
"Pardon the Interruption," on the other hand, I like. Merrill Hoge, meanwhile, is still one of the biggest tools I have ever had the un-pleasure to watch on TV, and I'm pretty goddamned sure that perm on his head is a hair piece. Sean Salisbury, on the other hand, is at this point okay in my book, though his more-acrimonious-than-they-really-need-to-be debates with John Clayton give me the creeps. And kudos to Steve Schlereth, by the way, the goateed former 'Skins offensive lineman who is almost shockingly thoughtful and well-spoken.
As for Clayton, have you noticed you'll never see the guy from the side? My guess is it's because the sides of his head appear to be shorn or bereft of hair. He looks like a low-ranking officer in the Nazi SS. What gives? Either he has a disease, or he's fighting a nasty and unconventional case of male pattern baldness. Either shave it all off or wear a wig, buddy. I'd give you a pass on the piece.
The crop of Cro Magnon men that Fox installed as NFL color commentators in an attempt to create Madden clones is still going strong. I recently heard Bill Maas, who is at the top of the lunkhead heap with cross-eyed dunce Brian Baldinger, say that so-and-so was doing something "at this stage of the juncture." It doesn't get no better than that.