As Eagles have learned, free agency not a quick fix

As Eagles have learned, free agency not a quick fix

March 5, 2013, 2:30 pm
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When Nnamdi Asomugha is finally released, presumably in the next few days, it will officially mark the final sad whimper of what Vince Young once deemed The Dream Team.
In the span of a little more than a week, following the end of the lockout during the summer of 2011, the Eagles signed Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith and Young and acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a trade.
When the smoke had settled, the Eagles had added six Pro Bowl players and a Pro Bowl alternate to a team that had gone 10-6 and came one play away from beating the eventual Super Bowl-champion Packers in the playoffs.
It was the biggest addition of veteran talent in Eagles history.
And it wrecked the franchise.
The Eagles told us forever that you build through the draft and not free agency. They followed this philosophy for years and went deep in the playoffs just about every year.
Then they tried to do things differently. And they still haven’t recovered.
If we’ve all learned anything from the past two years it’s that everything the Eagles warned us about building through free agency was right.
You can add a guy here and there, but you can’t win when you try to make up for poor drafting with mass big-ticket free agency additions. We watched first-hand as the Redskins tried to win year after year through free agency and fell flat on their faces. Then the Eagles tried it. And they fell flat on their faces.

So with free agency scheduled to start next week, it’s crucial that the Eagles don’t fall into this trap again, even with as many holes as they have. It’s temping, but it’s destined to fail.
“You’ve got to do it the right way,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “There’s no short cut for doing things the right way, and you learn these lessons. We’ve learned some very hard and true lessons.”
Why did the Eagles go 12-20 after piling up so many Pro Bowl veterans? Two reasons. First, those Pro Bowl veterans turned out to be simply not as good as the Eagles thought. That’s one of the risks with signing free agents. You’re getting guys in the middle of their careers, and often, guys in the middle of their careers are starting to decline.
Asomugha just can’t run like he used to, and when a cornerback can’t run, he can’t play. Babin’s decline from 2011 to 2012 was remarkable. Jenkins was a big effort guy but just wasn’t a special player by last year. Smith, Brown and Young were disasters.
But the reasons the Eagles’ Summer of 2011 free agency binge failed to go deeper than just poor talent evaluating.
Build through the draft, and you build with guys who’ve been raised on a certain work ethic and who have a connection to their teammates and the city and the uniform and the owner and the coach. This is all they’ve known. It means something.

Build with high-priced veterans from other teams and they’re generally not going to be committed to being Eagles. They don’t understand the city. They didn’t grow up here. Philly is simply a stop along the way for them. Just another payday. When they lose, ahh, who cares?

That’s what we saw the last couple years. Guys stopping through. None of them were true Eagles. Why do so many former players -- from Ron Jaworski and Bill Bergey to Ike Reese and Jeremiah Trotter -- still live here? Because Philly means something to them. It’s home.
“[Players] who are born and bred with us and drafted by us as opposed to people who come from different cultures and are trying to fit in,” Roseman said.
“We’ve got to get back to having a core group of guys that are Eagles. That bleed green, that are passionate about this city, that are passionate about playing here and really genuinely care.
“When you bring in players from other places, you think that maybe they’re good fits, but you don’t know until they’re here, and it affects the chemistry.”
Free agency can help a team that’s close get over the top. It can plug a hole or two. Adding a Troy Vincent or Jon Runyan will make any team better.
But, if the Eagles are ever going to get this thing back headed in the right direction, it’s going to have to be through the draft. No matter who the coach is.
The Eagles have drafted poorly for a while now. Quite a while.
The last seven drafts have produced precisely two Pro Bowl players -- DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy -- and none of the 17 defensive players they’ve taken in the first three rounds since 2003 has made a single Pro Bowl team.
The outstanding Eagles teams of 2000 through 2008 won with home-grown talent.
We don’t even need to use their full names in most cases, because they were true Eagles … and still are.
Dawk. Trott. Donovan. B-West. Tra. Trent. Duce. Lito. Ike. Sheldon. Willie T. Jermane Mayberry. Corey. Michael Lewis. Shawn Andrews. Bobby Taylor.
That’s a football team. Those are Philadelphia Eagles.
That’s what this franchise has to get back to.