The Eagles begin their offseason program today, the first of the Chip Kelly era. In Phase 1, players are allowed to have classroom meetings with coaches and have their strength training supervised by coaches and staff. As the Eagles take their first steps of the 2013 season we look back on the team’s five best and worst moves of the offseason:
Five best moves
1. Signing Connor Barwin and James Casey
Both former Texans are relatively young, both signed sensible deals, both appear to be good fits for what the Eagles plan to do, and both have a lot of upside. Barwin gives the Eagles a 3-4 pass rusher who’s two years removed from a double-digit sack season, and Casey is a versatile tight end whose numbers have improved in each of his four NFL seasons.
2. Keeping Duce Staley and Ted Williams on the coaching staff
Williams has been with the Eagles longer than any coach in franchise history (this will be his 19th season), and his track record coaching both tight ends and running backs is phenomenal. Duce? The guy is just as inspirational as a coach as he was as a player, and that’s saying a lot. There’s something to be said for keeping a couple familiar faces around, and Duce and Ted were the obvious choices from the shambles of Andy Reid’s staff.
3. Beefing up special teams
Several key acquisitions so far should have a positive effect on what’s been a terrible special teams unit – re-signing Colt Anderson; adding linebacker Jason Phillips and receiver Arrelious Benn, who should both help on special teams; and replacing punter Mat McBriar with Donnie Jones.
4. Cutting ties with Nnamdi and DRC
Fortunately, GM Howie Roseman and Kelly realized what we all know – Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t have bad years last year. What they did went way beyond just having a bad year. Looked like Nnamdi can’t play anymore, and DRC didn’t want to play anymore. Both were Pro Bowl corners not too long ago, but fortunately Kelly and Roseman weren’t tempted to keep one or both of them here and try to get them back to their previous level of play. That wasn’t going to happen. You can add Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins to this one, too. The Eagles had to move on, and they did.
5. Signing Cary Williams
While a lot of the Eagles’ offseason free agent signings come with red flags – Bradley Fletcher has two ACLs, Kenny Phillips had micro-fracture surgery, Patrick Chung fell out of favor with the Patriots, Sopoaga as noted is coming off a poor season and even Barwin had a down year in 2012 – Williams looks like a terrific acquisition. He’s 28, has started 16 games the last couple years and is coming off a career-best four-interception season with a Super Bowl champion. You never know, as we learned with Nnamdi and DRC, but Williams should give the Eagles their best cornerback play since Lito and Sheldon were in their prime.
Five worst moves
1. Re-signing Michael Vick
It’s not that I’m anti-Vick. I’m not. I loved the move in 2009 when the Eagles signed him. But now? For a new team with a new coach and a new direction? Vick not only represents an era the Eagles and their fans would like to forget – the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since he got here – but he’s also going to be 33 in June, he hasn’t won a playoff game since 2004 and he hasn’t played a full season since 2006. This should be a season to find out about Nick Foles and the other young quarterbacks, not another year of Michael Vick.
2. Hiring Billy Davis as defensive coordinator
In fairness, Jim Johnson’s resume wasn’t exactly sparkling when Andy Reid hired him in 1999. Turned out he was a legend. But the Davis hiring was bewildering. Davis has averaged a new job every 2.3 years since 1992. Davis has been a defensive coordinator twice – 2005 and 2006 with the 49ers and 2009 and 2010 with the Cards – and his units were ranked 14th, 30th, 30th and 32nd in points allowed and 20th, 29th, 32nd and 26th in yards allowed. Everybody you ask raves about Davis, so maybe the numbers don’t mean anything. But with guys like Ray Horton and Kirby Smart available, it certainly was an odd choice.
3. Signing Isaac Sopoaga
Sounds good. Eagles are going to a 3-4, Sopoaga is a durable, experienced veteran nose tackle who started last year for a Super Bowl team. But when you dig a little deeper, the signing doesn’t look so great. Sopoaga had just six quarterback pressures and 21 tackles as a run-stuffer last year, was on the field for just 31 percent of the Niners’ snaps and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 82nd-best inside lineman in the league (out of 85 they rated). PFF wrote that he “offers nothing as a pass rusher [and] his inability to make plays in the run game stands out.”
4. Moving everybody’s locker
I totally get that Kelly wants to do everything differently. And anybody who watched a single minute of the 2012 Eagles would agree. But come on now. The notion that randomly shuffling lockers around, so an offensive linemen and defensive back might be next to each other, a tight end and a linebacker, whatever, that’s High School Harry stuff, as Buddy Ryan used to call it. The notion that grown men will benefit from being separated from the guys they need to work with is just silly.
5. Leaving Lehigh
It’s easy to make a case for moving training camp back to the NovaCare Complex. A lot of teams are doing it. Chip Kelly just doesn’t like the concept of training camps. Easier to rehab guys when you have all the medical and training resources of the NovaCare Complex. But training camp at a remote location has been part of Eagles history for 80 years, Lehigh for 17 years, and it’s just sad to see nearly a century of tradition tossed aside and tens of thousands of fans missing out. Sure, there’ll be a few open practices at the Linc, but anybody who’s spent a day up in the mountains of South Bethlehem watching practice from a few feet away, getting autographs, seeing the players interact with their teammates and coaches and fans on a daily basis knows summer football will just never be the same.