Saturday, March 8, 2014

Top Seven Needs For Philadelphia

Nate Allen played decent, but the safety position is weak overall.
The free agency frenzy is set to begin in about three days. Legal-tampering opened up earlier today, however I doubt many rumors stem from it.

There are many talented players that will be available when the clock strikes 4pm ET on March 11th. Before I list specific players I think the Eagles will target, I wanted to rank the areas of need Philadelphia should focus on.

1A. Safety

It's doesn't take an NFL expert to realize Philadelphia's safety play has been atrocious. This HAS to be improved in 2014. Too many missed assignments, too many broken coverages, too many missed tackles, too many poor angles in pursuit, just all-around inadequate play.
There will be opportunities to bolster the talent. Earl Wolff flashed at times last year, and should make a leap in year two. Nate Allen may be back after he tests his sure-to-be-thin market. Allen played decent football in the latter half of the year.

Free agency has a deep safety class with many productive players. The 2014 draft class has some solid prospects as well. Bottom line: Howie is armed with over $20 million in cap space and plenty of available talent to solidify a position that has been in flux since 2009.

1B. Outside Linebacker

I view this as a bigger need than safety, which probably surprises most of you. The reason it's not above safety is simply because the Eagles have more capable bodies under contract at OLB than at safety. 

Barring a trade partner, Brandon Graham and Trent Cole will be back in 2014. Cole had a decent year in '13, but he's 32 and descending. Graham doesn't seem to be viewed as more than a rotational player in Billy Davis' scheme. Barwin had a good year one in Philly and should continue that production.

There are three reasons I think adding a starting OLB would vastly improve this defense:

  1. The best coverage in the NFL can only last so long. It doesn't matter if it's the Seattle Seahawks' secondary, if there's no pressure on the quarterback, somebody will get open. Good defenses harass the quarterback on a consistent basis, even if they're not able to get the sack.
  2. Trent Cole did an admirable job changing positions, but he's not comfortable in coverage. This limits the exotic looks Billy Davis is able to show.
  3. Using Trent Cole in a situational pass-rushing role would improve his effectiveness. His legs would be fresh, his burst would be back, and he could rush inside and outside.
I think Eagles fans will be surprised how aggressively the team pursues pass-rush help, whether it be at OLB or DL.

Trent Cole had good moments last year, but there are more
dynamic options to improve the pass rush.
3. Defensive Line depth

I like the Eagles young, talented starting line. However, second unit players like Clifton Geathers and Damion Square weren't very effective. Geathers is likely gone, and Square could make a jump in year two, but it's a position that needs more talent.

In today's NFL, teams view 6-8 of their defensive linemen as starters. The Eagles currently have maybe four. There are many mid-level guys in that $1-3 million per year range that would strengthen a unit with thin depth.

4. Cornerback

Many NFL analysts view this as a major need in Philadelphia, but I disagree. Peter King said Howie Roseman should take a long, hard look at free agent corner Alterraun Verner. Todd McShay has the Eagles taking OSU CB Bradley Roby in his most recent mock draft.

I don't see the Eagles investing much money in free agent corners. Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Brandon Boykin make a pretty solid trio. The reason corner is number four on my list is because, this unit severely lacks depth. Roc Carmichael just isn't good enough to be the next guy up.

I would be surprised if the Eagles invest a first round pick in CB. I think with improved safety play and a more fearsome pass-rush, this really could be a strong unit. I would like to add a young, mid-level corner at about $2M per year, then draft some depth in the middle rounds of the draft.

Boykin was a big time play-maker last season.

5. Kicker

Alex Henery is not good.

6. Return Specialist

DeSean Jackson is a dynamic punt returner, but Chip Kelly would ideally not like to risk injury to the offensive weapon. Brad Smith could be the guy to return kickoffs in '14, but he didn't flash much last season.

There are a good amount of proven return men in the free agency pool, I'd like to see the return game as a big area of improvement heading into the season.

7. Interior Offensive Line Depth

I said it would surprise me if the Eagles focused on CB in free agency and early in the draft, well it would not surprise me to see Philadelphia grab a guard in the third or fourth round of the draft.

Herremans is a force in the run game, but struggled at times in pass protection. This unit is rock solid, and a definite strength of the team, but the depth is a concern. Plus, I think Kelly would like to see somebody push Herremans at RG.

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