Eagles Position Themselves Well with Early Moves by Matt Lombardo

Former Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl QB Vince Young is the latest addition to the Philadelphia Eagles’ growing and impressive nest  of talent

Back when the NFL season was in doubt and even a truncated off-season hung in the balance, the Eagles continuously floated the idea that they were going to ‘push the chips all in’ and make a dramatic push for the Lombardi trophy in 2011. Now, less than one week into the free agency period the groundwork for such a plan is being laid by the front office. The initial moves have lacked the luster of what the Patriots, Dolphins and some other teams have already executed, but the Eagles roster is transforming before our eyes.

The worst kept secret in the NFL since before the lockout even began, was that Kevin Kolb was Arizona bound. Three days into free agency, Howie Roseman got the best possible deal for Philadelphia’s one time quarterback of the future. By prying Pro-Bowl caliber cornerback Dominique Rodgers Cromartie and a second round pick from the Cardinals, the Eagles added a significant piece at a position of immediate need as well as the prospect of adding a starting contributing player with a second round pick in the draft next year. Kolb, a 2006 second rounder’s legacy in Eagles history is limited, but the investment in him now yields the possibility of two impact players on this roster for the coming years.
While the Cardinals should feel satisfied with landing a franchise quarterback, certainly filling a gaping hole while simultaneously placating soon to be free agent superstar wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Roseman deserves accolades for selling Kolb’s potential based largely on back to back 300 yard passing games in 2009, for an impact corner and a draft pick. 
The Eagles are now expected to sign former Titans quarterback Vince Young to a one-year deal to back up Michael Vick. Young has been on the Eagles radar for some time, and despite an acrimonious end to his days in Tennessee, he provides the depth and talent that Philadelphia needs behind Vick and his reckless abandon style under center. In his career, Young has amassed a 30-18 record as a starter.
While the Kolb trade overshadowed the Eagles first foray into free agency, signing former Titans defensive end Jason Babin to a five year $26 million deal, it can’t be overlooked. The Eagles defensive struggles last season are well documented so it’s no surprise that adding a pass rush and rebuilding the secondary are obvious priorities. Rodgers-Cromartie clearly addresses the team’s anemic pass coverage in 2010, and by signing Babin, the birds have added another fastball opposite Trent Cole. Babin and Cole are hunting buddies in the offseason and now plan on hunting down the quarterback in 2011 and beyond.
The Eagles have had Babin in their crosshairs since hiring former Tennessee defensive line coach Jim Washburn. Babin recorded 12.5 sacks for the Titans last year while playing under defensive line guru in Washburn. Reuniting with him was clearly a priority for him.  “He wants the best out of every player and for every player,” Babin told me on 97.3 ESPN FM in South Jersey on Thursday. “I was inspired, he’s not afraid to apply common sense to life and football situations.”
After adding Babin, in all likelihood the Eagles will turn their attention to the linebacker position that is in a state of flux. It’s clear that newly minted defensive coordinator Juan Castillo saw the need for change at the position when the Eagles released Stewart Bradley, Omar Gaither, Ernie Sims and Akeem Jordan. The move signifies a departure from the attack style blitzing scheme of Jim Johnson and a shift towards a more zone oriented, Tampa two type of coverage system. Given Bradley’s ACL troubles, and weakness against the pass it was time to move on. Gaither, Sims and Jordan all lacked the cover skills necessary to succeed in a system that makes covering running backs out of the backfield and tight ends a priority. After the moves, the Eagles six linebackers on the roster have a combined experience of one and a half years in the NFL.
It’s expected that at some point the Eagles will address the linebacker position soon. Names to keep an eye on are Stephen Tulloch, Nick Barnett and Barrett Ruud. Tulloch is a solid stay at home linebacker who has steadily improved in coverage in recent years, making 158 tackles in 2010 and would likely be the best fit of the free-agent bunch. The Eagles are also high on second year middle linebacker Jamar Chaney who will start in the middle this year and have high hopes for rookie Casey Matthews who they used a fourth round pick on.
Fans can leave it to their own druthers whether or not the Eagles have ‘Gone All In” with their initial free agency moves. But as the foundation for a grander plan, and by simply addressing key needs on both sides of the ball early in the off-season carousel, Howie Roseman and company have emerged as early winners. Questions remain, but with the slew of talent about to hit the waiver wire as early cuts are made, the Birds have positioned themselves well to add complimentary players to a roster that remains a work in progress. 


Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL


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