Technically, we’ve been previewing the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles for several weeks. It seems every day we’re writing about a new move they’ve made to improve an already stellar roster. This was a Super Bowl-caliber team prior to their free agent feast, but now they’ve become the deepest, most talented franchise in professional football.
They’re the team everyone’s talking about. The offseason champions. And despite a laundry list of flashy signings, somehow, some way, they’re under the salary cap. Here’s what they’ve done in the last 17 days:
- Signed the league’s top corner, Nnamdi Asomugha.
- Signed two defensive linemen — Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins — who had a combined 19.5 sacks in 2010.
- Added young play-making cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie via a trade with Arizona.
- Replaced Kevin Kolb with Vince Young, who is well-suited to back up Michael Vick at quarterback.
- Made significant improvements to the right side of the offensive line by signing tackle Ryan Harris. (Also drafted guard Danny Watkins in the first round in April.)
- Signed former Giants receiver Steve Smith, who could take over as the team’s No. 3 receiver when healthy.
- Added depth on the defensive line by bringing in Anthony Hargrove and Derek Landri.
- Gave LeSean McCoy some help with the addition of veteran running back Ronnie Brown.
- Also signed tight end Donald Lee, safety Jarrad Page, wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins and guard Evan Mathis.
And at the end of the day, the only departed starters they’ll miss are Quintin Mikell, Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims. Not a bad trade-off.
The Eagles have been really good for a really long time, but Andy Reid still doesn’t have a ring on his finger after a dozen solid seasons in Philly. This year, they’re tired of being really good. This year, they’re going for unbeatable.
2010 in a nutshell: Vick performs like an MVP as they win the NFC East with a 10-6 record. But Super Bowl hopes are dashed abruptly when they lose a heart-breaker to the eventual champion Packers on wild-card weekend.
Three predictions for 2011:
1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel will intercept a lot of passes: Put two ball hawks opposite the league’s most effective shutdown corner and it’s bound to happen. Quarterbacks will be forced to keep it away from Asomugha and wherever he’s providing blanket coverage, which should give Philly’s other two premier corners a chance to make countless big plays. An improved pass rush and a pass-happy division won’t hurt either.
2. If they don’t win the Super Bowl, it’ll be because of the run defense: The only glaring weakness on this roster? A linebacker corps that is pretty much anonymous following the offseason loss of Stewart Bradley. A lot will fall on the shoulders of rookie Casey Matthews. The fourth-round pick has been penciled in as a starter alongside Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou. Those three have a combined 19 career starts. And while the addition of Cullen Jenkins helps up front, I’m concerned that the guys in charge of stopping opposing running backs could drag this team down.
3. Vince Young will be called upon, and he’ll succeed: Young is a moody, immature dude. But a new environment should help, and he goes from a team riddled with on- and off-field issues to a winning atmosphere in Philly. Assuming he accepts his role as Michael Vick’s backup, Young will have a chance to become Vick 2.0 if/when he’s forced into the lineup to replace Vick due to injury (inevitable). Young has similar tools to the ones Vick has, so he shouldn’t have trouble getting acclimated to an offense that has more weapons than he’s ever had to work with.
The final word(s): I’d love to see them acquire a veteran linebacker or two, but that might be asking too much. Assuming they don’t get hit by the injury bug (luck is part of this game) and those linebackers don’t fall on their faces, the Eagles will easily be the best team in football in 2011. I think they cruise to the division title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC with 14 or 15 wins. Super Bowl prediction coming in September.